Last Friday night, I arranged to meet my wife for dinner in Newburgh, New York, at a restaurant that has a Tesla Supercharger.

Even though  the battery in my Model S 85 was about 60 percent full, I figured I might as well top it off to 90 percent while we ate. When I arrived, there was a white Model X already plugged in.

That left five empty spaces—fairly typical for this particular Supercharger, which I’ve been watching and occasionally using for the past 18 months.

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After an hour or so, belly full, I came out of the restaurant to see that the Model X had left, leaving me the only Supercharger occupant.  I unplugged, drove off, and didn’t give it a second thought.

But it turns out that I had violated a new Tesla policy announced (by press release) earlier that day.

As a result, it looked like I might have about $12 added to my bill in a couple of weeks when I show up at the service center in Paramus, New Jersey, for my 12,000-mile service.

Tesla Model S at Supercharger site in Ventura, CA, with just one slot open [photo: David Noland]

Tesla Model S at Supercharger site in Ventura, CA, with just one slot open [photo: David Noland]

My crime? Staying plugged in after charging had finished. 

It took only about 30 minutes to top off my battery, but my car had remained in the Supercharger stall for about half an hour more after charging was completed.

According to Tesla’s new policy, the owner of any Tesla that remains plugged in for more than five minutes after charging is completed will be assessed an “idle fee” of 40 cents per minute—or $24 per hour. 

The fee will be collected the next time the owner appears for service at a Tesla service center.

[SPOILER ALERT: This part isn't exactly true ... except in circumstances when it is. Keep reading.]

Tesla Supercharger site with photovoltaic solar panels, Rocklin, California, Feb 2015

Tesla Supercharger site with photovoltaic solar panels, Rocklin, California, Feb 2015

California crowding

The new policy is the result of overcrowding at several Supercharger sites in California that have proved too popular, and now sometimes have lines of drivers waiting for a space to open up so they can charge.

Last week, an annoyed Tesla owner tweeted to Tesla CEO Elon Musk, “the San Mateo Supercharger is always full with idiots who leave their Tesla for hours even if already charged.”

“You’re right, this is becoming an issue," Musk replied. "Supercharger spots are meant for charging, not parking. Will take action.”

And take action he did, in less than a week.

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Other aggrieved owners chimed into the Twitter thread. “Same situation exists in Mountain View. My last three visits ended w/leaving in frustration, only to limp to a Chargepoint.”

Others complained that a commercial car service, Tesloop, has left its cars plugged in overnight at various Superchargers in Southern California.

Clearly, something needed to be done at these California Superchargers. Itinerant drivers who need to charge should not be blocked by full-charged cars still sitting there waiting for their owners to return and unplug them.

The $24-per-hour idle fee should certainly get the attention of the “idiots” who needlessly clog these already crowded stations.

2013 Tesla Model S at Supercharger station on NY-to-FL road trip [photo: David Noland]

2013 Tesla Model S at Supercharger station on NY-to-FL road trip [photo: David Noland]

Tesla’s press release concluded, “…this change will make the Supercharger experience far better for everyone.”

Never mind……

Literally 15 minutes after I wrote the words describing my fears of having to pay $12 on top of my dinner, I learned of another Musk tweet, issued on Saturday.

Addressing the idle fees, he wrote, “We are going to modify this so that people only pay a fee if most bays are occupied. If the site is basically deserted, no problem to park.”

Bingo. Elon gets it.  I’ll spend that $12 on a bottle of wine to toast him instead.

2013 Tesla Model S at Supercharger station on NY-to-FL road trip [photo: David Noland]

2013 Tesla Model S at Supercharger station on NY-to-FL road trip [photo: David Noland]

What next?

Many questions remain. Obviously, Tesla must clearly define “most bays” and “basically deserted.”

Suggestion: idle fees should apply only if all Supercharger bays are filled.

At an almost-full Supercharger, if the empty bays fill up after an eventual idler has plugged in and left, too bad. It’s his responsibility to keep an eye out.

How will drivers be notified of the new policy?

A press release isn't adequate to put every Tesla driver on official notice that he risks a $200 fee by leaving his car overnight at a Supercharger.

E-mails? (I haven’t gotten one, at least not yet.) Big signs at particularly crowded stations?

2013 Tesla Model S at Supercharger station on NY-to-FL road trip [photo: David Noland]

2013 Tesla Model S at Supercharger station on NY-to-FL road trip [photo: David Noland]

If the car is sold, do its accumulated fees follow the car or the owner?

And finally, how about expanding the crowded California Superchargers to include more bays? Or building new ones in between existing locations?

Outside the bubble

Clearly, the new policy will indeed make the Supercharging experience far better at badly overcrowded stations in California. 

Today, however, the vast majority of Superchargers around the rest of the country are still largely underutilized.

I'm an inveterate long-distance driver in my Model S: four coast-to-coast trips, plus explorations up and down the East Coast and California. I've visited roughly 100 Supercharger stations.

In total, I’ve probably had several hundred Supercharger sessions.

Tesla Motors Supercharger station in Oxnard, California.

Tesla Motors Supercharger station in Oxnard, California.

Only once did I have to wait for a charge, in Oxnard, California. (I waited for all of five minutes.) 

I’d guess that during 40 percent of my Supercharger sessions, all over the U.S., I was the only car there. In a similar percentage of sessions, one other car was charging. There were two or more cars—but with slots still available—for the remaining 20 percent.

Outside the urban California bubble, Supercharger crowding is simply not an issue—at least not yet.

Of course, if Tesla succeeds at producing those half-million cars in 2018, life may change considerably.

Lots to think about here. It’ll take more than 140 characters.

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