Sunday, December 22, 2013

Free Turkeys



Back in the old days, so I was told, a year-end holiday tradition for my employer was to hand out turkeys to employees from the back of a truck. Eventually, by the time I was hired on, the tradition morphed into a gift certificate to be redeemed at a local grocery chain for a frozen bird. Perhaps not as nostalgic as a fresh-plucked hen from the tailgate of a stakebed truck (or at least that how I imagined it, loosely based on folklore passed down from the elders), but still very much appreciated. For me, that small gesture of generosity helped set the mood for a warm holiday season.

As the years passed, the privately held company was sold to a publicly traded one, then broken into pieces and sold off for a tidy profit.  Cultural practices and traditions that once set us apart from other companies gradually disappeared, including the free turkey. Layoffs, a shrinking market, and shareholders with expectations changed the climate and cadence of the workplace. Even the company-funded year-end parties have been curtailed. We had to be lean and mean. The little holiday touches that reminded me that this company cares about its employees seemed to have completely faded away… that is, until one day last week when I pulled into work. Because on that day, there were twice as many dual-port Chargepoint EVSEs than the day before. Eight EV parking spaces in total, taking up maybe a third of the first floor parking spaces that were along the west wall of the structure. It was an awesome sight. I’m not sure what was playing on SiriusXM, but it might as well have been a chorus of angels at that very moment.  That visual had way more impact on me than discovering a free turkey certificate in my company mail slot. I pulled my Focus Electric into the last available space and plugged in.

It was actually no surprise to me that the additional EVSEs were coming. Last September, after leaving a strongly worded note on a plug-in that wasn’t plugged in while parked in an EV spot,  I called the Commuter Services office for help. I reported the indecency and asked them to please put up some signage telling folks to not park there if they’re not plugged in. They gave me a phone number to call of a guy in Facilities that might be able to do something about it. So I contacted him, and it turns out he wasn’t just some worker bee like me – he is the company’s Sustainability Program Manager. I let him know of the time that I was denied a charging opportunity twice in one day at two different charging sites (each with two dual-port Chargepoint EVSEs at that time) because the last available space was taken by an unplugged EV at each site. He was very empathic about my plight, asked me for suggestions on signage (which I still owe him), and mentioned that he was planning to double the number of EVSEs by the end of the year at our location if all goes well.

The situation worsened in October and November… although the previously inconsiderate (or more likely, uninformed) EV drivers were starting to play nice, there was a very noticeable increase in the number of plug-ins at work vying for the charging spots; many times I had to wait until after 5pm to charge up. Worried that the additional Chargepoints may not come in time to satisfy the growing demand, I set up an account with EVConnect so that I can charge at a nearby Metrolink station that had a couple of EVSEs. Just in case.

Fortunately by the beginning of December, construction started to accommodate the additional EVSEs. It took a couple of weeks to complete – the foundation had to be prepped and poured for the outdoor units, and both the outdoor and garaged units had to have two metal pylons installed in front of them, in case someone pulling in forgets that the brake pedal is on the left, not the right. For a few days, the existing EVSEs in the garage were unpowered, probably in an effort to bring the new ones online. This meant that all the plug-ins were then competing for the four outdoor charging spots at a building about a mile away. I did feel bad when I beat a Volt and C-Max Energi by mere seconds to take the last available spot one Friday morning, but hey…. at least they can get home on gasoline; I needed to pump at least 9kWh of juice into my car’s battery to start my weekend. I quickly plugged in and avoided eye contact.

As promised by our trusty Sustainability Program Manager, we now have sixteen EV charging spots to serve our sites. What surprised me is that on the first morning of service in the parking garage, all eight spots were being utilized; six Volts, a Leaf, and my Focus Electric. The eight outdoor spots, probably due to a less convenient location, were only half-ultilized. Those that previously chose not to deal with the EVSE shortage are now enjoying the benefit and convenience of charging at work, and those like me who have to charge at work to get home can now rest easy that there will be a space available. To top it off, there is clear margin to serve more employees when they inevitably replace their ICE vehicles with plug-ins in the coming year.

I sent an email to our Sustainability PM, thanking him for the thoughtful holiday gift. He wrote back, excited about being able to make it happen here in California and about putting in our first EVSE at a Texas facility, with more locations to follow.

Sounds pretty wonderful to me. Perhaps this is the start of a new workplace holiday tradition.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Provoked

I don’t know about you, but when a dog walks up to me and sniffs my butt, it’s awkward. Perhaps even a bit violating, at first. But it’s typically excusable for a dog to do that, since to him it’s a friendly gesture. He’s just saying “Hello, human.” I turn around, then end up giving the dog a rub on the head after letting him sniff the back of my hand for a few seconds. He wags, I smile, we part ways. Life is good.