The electric vehicle chargers installed at six rest stops on the Massachusetts Turnpike were out of order for the busy Memorial Day weekend, but non-Tesla drivers needing more juice weren’t totally out of luck. The state’s Department of Transportation arranged for portable chargers to be in place at four locations during the busy travel period.
With the half-dozen EVgo fast-charging stations out of order, Somerville startup SparkCharge had several of its bright green vans out to assist motorists needing to recharge at the rest stops. Tesla maintains its own proprietary charging sites at the eastbound and westbound Charlton rest stops, which were fully operational but are currently only compatible with Tesla vehicles.
MassDOT didn’t explain what was wrong with the chargers or when they might be repaired.
SparkCharge staff assisted drivers of Ford, Volkswagen, Polestar, Rivian, and even one Tesla, among other EV brands, company spokeswoman Miranda Maitino said. Consumers weren’t charged for the fill-ups, which helped promote the company, a 2020 alum of startup accelerator Techstars Boston.
Josh Aviv, SparkCharge’s founder and chief executive, said demonstrating that EV drivers will have reliable charging options is one of the key factors in EV adoption.
“Not only is there an inadequate amount of charging stations, but the reliability of the stations are failing EV drivers,” he said in an e-mail to the Globe. “There are other options when it comes to charging electric vehicles.”
Still, the portable chargers were only available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and only at two stops at a time (westbound on Saturday and eastbound on Sunday and Monday).
The permanent EVgo chargers, installed in 2018, have proven to be extremely unreliable — two were out for more than a year in 2021 and 2022 — and the company recently notified customers that several at rest stops in Lee will be removed completely.
That should be only a temporary loss for EV drivers, however. Under major climate legislation signed by then -governor Charlie Baker in August, the state is required to have a plan to add reliable chargers at all of the Mass Pike rest stops and other locations by July 1, 2024.
MassDOT is overseeing the push to add chargers, a key requirement as Massachusetts hopes to persuade hundreds of thousands of drivers to switch to EVs to fight climate change. The state is expected to receive as much as $60 million over the next four years as part of the federal infrastructure law.
The agency “continues to work toward establishing a financially sustainable, equitable, and complete network of fast-charging stations to support travelers taking long-distance trips in electric vehicles,” MassDOT said in a statement. “The process to build out and maintain a reliable charging network is underway and MassDOT’s efforts are complementary to other ongoing federal, state, and local initiatives supporting EV adoption.”
The state has been working with a different equipment maker, ChargePoint, on more recent projects along Interstate 95 and Route 24, which have proven to be more reliable than the turnpike sites so far.
The seemingly intractable reliability problems with the turnpike chargers concerned Senator Michael Barrett, one of the 2022 climate bill’s architects.
“It’s incredibly frustrating,” Barrett said. “If they can’t get this relatively small installation right, it does raise questions of whether MassDOT is capable of spending these millions of federal dollars coming to Massachusetts for EV charger deployment.”