Where to plug? The search for electric vehicle charging stations

Located at the lower level of the Koret Parking Lot, the two charging stations are able to charge three vehicles. PHOTO BY MIGUEL ARCAYENA/SAN FRANCISCO FOGHORN

According to the Department of Public Safety, there are currently a total of 814 parking spaces available for the USF community to use on campus, including the recently added 83 stalls under the new Lone Mountain East dorms. Unfortunately, electric vehicle (EV) owners will only find three accessible spaces with charging stations at the Koret Health and Recreation Center parking lot, but these are limited to only a select number of faculty members. 

“Why don’t we have more chargers? There’s clearly demand for them,” said politics Professor Stephen Zunes. He drives a Chevrolet Volt Plug-In Hybrid and often commutes from Santa Cruz. When he is unable to charge his vehicle, Zunes must use gas to drive back home. Though a personal inconvenience, Zunes says the lack of options to charge his vehicle outlines a bigger issue of limited EV accommodations offered by the University.

David Philpott, assistant vice president for labor and employee relations, handles the unofficial EV charging station program for USF. He wrote in an email that there is actually “no formal policy” in regards to EV charging stations. 

“The University established an Electric Vehicle charging station pilot program in 2017. The first 25 faculty members and staff who signed up were granted an opportunity to participate. A waitlist was established for other faculty and staff members who expressed interest in the program,” wrote Philpott.

Since its introduction four years ago, the program has not expanded. 

Zunes remains confused as to why station access is still limited to the same 25 faculty members who signed up in 2017. “The bigger issue for me is I never see all three spaces full,” said Zunes. “Why not expand it? Why not have other people use it as well, given that they’re available most of the time?” 

Philpott said USF does want to increase accessibility, but the issue has been tied to recent University financial struggles. According to some estimates, the current EVlink Charging Station that is used by the University costs from $2,000-7,000. However, Philpott said “The University has always planned on expanding the program. The University has applied for several grants to help fund the expansion, and the budget cuts have prevented internal funding of the project.” 

Though only a few students commute with electric vehicles, some have still expressed concern over the lack of charging stations on campus. When transfer student Trevor Gross inquired about using the stations this summer, he said it was made clear to him that students couldn’t have access and that the University was working on expanding the program. 

Similar to Zunes, Gross observed that the spaces were not often used. “If there aren’t any faculty using them, I don’t see why they should be sitting there collecting dust when students can take advantage of it,” said Gross. 

Senior nursing student Danielle Hong, who drives a Tesla, agreed that an expansion on charging stations would provide some relief for students. Although she understands that it is limited to faculty use, Hong says what interests her is the University’s discreet way of acknowledging its EV charging stations. “I feel that there isn’t enough being done to even publicize the availability of charging stations on campus.” 

The issue of charging stations has also become a faculty bargaining issue, given that its policy is led by a member of the University’s labor negotiating team. Public Safety, which normally oversees campus parking operations, does not handle this issue, nor does the Office of Sustainability, which leads the University’s green and eco-friendly initiatives. 

When asked why this issue is under the University’s general counsel’s responsibility, Philpott clarified that “Labor Relations, which is under the Office of the General Counsel, was part of the initial rollout and was asked to help facilitate the communication regarding the program.” 

According to Philpott, “In 2016, the topic of EV charging stations was raised during bargaining with the USFFA.” Subsequently, the pilot program was then introduced to faculty members in April 2017. 

Since then, it has evolved into an issue of expansion. Karen Sawislak, general counsel for the USF Full-Time Faculty Association (USFFA) said, “We are hopeful that resources will be identified very soon to create new facilities and that the University will look at creative solutions and partnerships to carry out this important project. Most immediately, we are talking with the University about opening up the existing program to more of our members.” 

According to the USF’s Climate Action Plan, the University has a “moral imperative to act now on climate change” and is currently working towards a commitment to carbon neutrality by 2050. Though “driving less” and “reducing carbon emissions” are some of the key strategies to complete the goal, Philpott said that the University “has made numerous strides and continues to implement various initiatives to reduce our carbon footprint.” 

With only two charging stations that serve three vehicles, Zunes said, “With our supposed commitment to reducing carbon emissions, we’re making it difficult for something that would be so straightforward.”

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