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Long lines at Tesla Superchargers as holiday travel swamps system

Tesla Supercharger lines

For nearly the entire year, Tesla’s Supercharger network provides free high-speed charging to Teslas hopping between cities. But when it comes to holiday travel, things get busy, and the queues get big.

A video shot yesterday at the Supercharger in Barstow, CA shows a line at the station of Teslas waiting to juice up. The driver who shot the video was number 21 in the queue, and with wait times upwards of two hours just to get to the charger, Tesla’s going to have some unhappy customers on its hands.

With 8 Supercharger stalls available and a little over 20 cars in line, owners should be through the charging station in about an hour and a half, at best. But according to reports, owners are leaving cars in the charging stalls after they’re done charging to stay inside and eat, leading to waits of over two hours in some cases.

The problem isn’t just Barstow: another user posted from Burbank, CA, saying that they’ve been “Waiting to charge in Burbank, been waiting 35 minutes already, 6 cars behind me. Not a single driver of the charging cars is in their car, I need about 6% charge to make it home.”

Tesla is tackling the leaving-cars-in-chargers problem by introducing an “idling fee” of $0.40 er minute for cars that are left on the charger after they’re done. But that still won’t tackle the underlying problem for Tesla: a lack of charging capacity at peak time.

Unfortunately, the math just isn’t in Tesla’s favor. Chargers are more expensive to install than gasoline pumps, and since charging takes around 30 minutes compared to the 3-5 minutes to refuel, vastly more Superchargers would be needed to keep wait times low at peak times.

Things are only going to get worse for the Supercharger network as the cheap Model 3 starts being delivered, increasing the number of vehicles trying to use the network.

Sure, Model 3 owners will have to pay for Supercharging use, and the introduction of a peak time fee could further lower the demand on Superchargers. But for the immediate future, holiday travel season is still going to see long lines, frustrated Tesla owners, and gloating SUV drivers rolling by.