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USA: Driving an electric car in Boston, now with less pain

(Eliana Monteforte for
That’s me smiling, because now I don’t have cold sweats worrying about the city’s nearest charging station.
In April last year, my neighbors thought I’d burn the building down while charging one of the first Nissan Leaf electric cars. Outside of the Charles Hotel parking garage in Cambridge, there were exactly zero public charging stations in the Boston area. It was cold, which meant the batteries had even less capacity than they normally do. I almost got stranded on my way to work. It was bad.

Now, after a week with a 2012 Nissan Leaf (base price $36,050), it’s comparatively peachy to drive an EV here. Boston installed three public stations outside City Hall a month after my first test drive, and in October, Brookline placed two charging stations in Coolidge Corner, less than a mile away from my condo. The Boston Globe even has a high-voltage charging station, though it’s not for public use. Thankfully, due to the recent 95-degree weather we’ve had, I didn’t have to worry about the battery losing charge (in more extreme heat, it can).

Ordinarily, the Leaf and other electric cars like it have a range of up to 100 miles. It varies widely based on temperature, whether you’re blasting the A/C or heat, and if you’re on the highway or just putting around the city. Do a combination of all these things and you’ll most likely see about 80 or so miles before the car begs you to recharge.

So how was it? Well, it’s still a little frustrating, but all of the stress I had before was gone.

There are three metered spaces outside City Hall on Cambridge Street, pictured with me above, that are reserved for electric cars. After paying the standard $1.25 per hour, you have to call ChargePoint, the company that manages the stations, and give them your name and e-mail address. Then you have to tell them what car you’re driving, whether you want 120 or 240 volts, and the ID number of the station.

After a few minutes, the station clicks and unlocks the charge connector, whereby you just plug in and walk away. If you have a ChargePoint card, which you can tap against the station, you don’t need to call. Luckily, the spaces are almost always open (barring events like the Phantom Gourmet beach party), the electricity is free, and you’re allowed to stay there for four hours versus the two in most parts of the city. I parked after 8 p.m., so it felt pretty special to nab this kind of a parking space for free.


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