After years of unreliable electric charging service on the Massachusetts Turnpike, the Department of Transportation is looking for a total reboot.
The six charging stations at rest stops on the Pike have been permanently taken out of service, the agency said. Now MassDOT is in the early stages of selecting a vendor to remove the non-functional terminals and install new ones.
“MassDOT continues to work to restore electric vehicle fast-charging stations that are currently not in service along I-90 in Lee, Natick, Charlton, and Framingham,” the agency said in an e-mail to the Globe. The chargers were located at rest stops east and westbound in Lee and Charlton, westbound in Framingham, and eastbound in Natick.
EV adoption is a critical part of the state’s plan to reduce carbon emissions causing climate change. But many consumers are wary of making the transition to electric-powered vehicles until they feel confident about charging on long road trips. Back in 2017, when the state added the rest stop charging stations, then-Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Matthew Beaton acknowledged range anxiety as “a commonly cited hurdle in transitioning to zero-emission vehicles.”
The ongoing soap opera has seen several of the Pike chargers out of commission for more than a year at a stretch. And on the busy Memorial Day weekend, with the chargers again out of service, MassDOT arranged for portable EV chargers at four rest stops.
Apart from the state’s six non-functioning chargers, Tesla currently operates the only other stations directly on the Pike, with stations at both service plazas in Charlton. Currently only Tesla vehicles can use the stations, although the company has made agreements with Ford and GM to share the chargers starting next year.
The replacement process will take time, given state procurement rules, said Kyle Murray, Massachusetts program director at the nonprofit Acadia Center, who is following the EV transition. The administration of Governor Maura Healey should move more quickly than the prior Baker administration, he said.
“I’m confident that we will see the pace pick up a bit with the new administration in place,” Murray said. “Obviously they’re still getting their legs under them, and any new policies they put in place are going to have some lag time until implementation.”
The state has recently installed fast EV chargers — which have not suffered outages — at rest stops on I-95 in Lexington and Newton and on Route 24 in Bridgewater. Another installation will be completed on Route 6 in Barnstable by the end of the month, MassDOT said.
The recently installed chargers are manufactured by ChargePoint, while the non-functioning equipment on the Pike was made by EVgo.
EVgo said its contract with MassDOT had “long since expired” and it was not given the opportunity to upgrade the equipment. “We understand that public entities need to go through public processes to upgrade or extend such equipment, and, unfortunately, these chargers were on the EVgo network but could not be upgraded without permission from the equipment owner, so there was no alternative but to decommission the chargers,” the company said in a statement to the Globe.
“EVgo is actively evaluating opportunities to expand our network in the Commonwealth through new utility incentive programs and other opportunities,” the company added.
Under the state climate law passed in August, MassDOT must “make provision for installing” chargers at all Mass. Pike rest stops by next July. That would also include service stops in Ludlow, Blandford, and Westborough that have not previously had charging stations.