The Complexity of the Commons; EV Chargers

There are two kinds of EV users: Those who charge at home and the Gypsies; those who have to hunt from public charger to public charger.

I am the first kind and therefore an incredibly enthusiastic EV user. Occasionally I have dabbled in the romance of the EV Gypsy, but will admit that I am too old to still appreciate the Gypsy life. I can also imagine that the present relatively gentle cooperation of EV life on the road will become less romantic as more and more people will be vying for a spot on the EV charger.

Undoubtedly more EV chargers will become available, but inevitable we will all become victims to the inspection paradox and start to think that the world is filled with jerks who plug into a public charger and never leave.

We will then have entered the Tragedy of the Commons. The Tragedy of the Commons is seen as an ironclad reality by the uninitiated, but Game Theory analysis shows that this is not necessarily so. It is possible to maintain a Commons if the percentage of non-cooperators can be suppressed (non-cooperators are more descriptively called “jerks”).

Jerks are suppressed by four means: Predictable punishment, truth (which is a form of predictability too), fairness, and transparency. Taking into account that countries are a form of commons, one can see that there is nothing magical about these means. Successful countries have these means and unsuccessful countries lack them.

At present these means are not exercised in the public EV charging commons. There are public EV chargers where one can plug in, and a proper commoner will immediately leave once enough charge has been provided. Meanwhile, a jerk can plug in at one of only a few public chargers in Jersey City and also use it as a free permanent parking spot. (This is why rest areas work pretty well for public chargers; nobody wants to stay there longer than needed.)

In the present relatively small EV community, jerks can still be managed by public shaming (transparency), but once the community becomes larger and more anonymous, that mechanism will become progressively less effective.

However, it occurs to me that EV chargers themselves can be configured to very effectively provide the means of Commons control within the charger technology. Keep in mind these means have no effect on private chargers; here we are dealing only with chargers in the Commons. Therefore, let’s call these chargers “Comchars”.

In many ways these chargers work like typical public chargers, but they have some specific features as follows:

  1. 1. They are very clearly marked as Comchars and maybe of a special color. This will prevent users from being able to claim they did not know they were on a commons charger. (Transparency and truth)
  2. 2.  They will charge to 80% battery capacity for typical charging rates. (Fairness)
  3. 3.  For charging over 80% capacity, the rate will increase significantly. (Fairness, with predictable punishment)
  4. 4.  If still plugged in at full charge (or still at the charging spot based on camera observation), the same account will be charged a parking rate that is muuuch higher than the charge rate. (Predictable punishment)
  5. 5. When the car is fully charged, the charger will display a red flashing light. (Jerk transparency) There is no need to key the car or to tow it in the first instance, because the jerk is benefitting the commons as per points 4 and 6. As such there is no reason for any other EV user to feel the need to take the law in their own hands. At the same time if an EV user happens to know the owner of the car at the flashing Comchar and they decide to help in moving it off the Comchar, more power to them.
  6. 6.  The excess fees for post 80% charging and full charge parking will revert to the system (whether shopping mall, town or country) and can be applied to reduce standard charging rates or to the installation of additional chargers in the system. (Fairness)

It occurs to me that the development of these Comchars could be a great crowdfunding business. As far as I know there are no patents on these charger features and because I now published them, they cannot be patented.

Once the Comchars become available, installation could take place at the very local commons level, or at any larger scale. As usual, there will be people who somehow think they would be infringed in their freedom or have some special right to leave their EV wherever they want. However, that argument relates to a false freedom; you are either part of the commons, or you are not. Everyone should be free to choose to be in or out of the commons, but you can’t be both.  If you don’t want to participate in the commons, charge at home, or at your country club, but there will be charging jerks there too.