Just over 10 years ago, I decided to leave my job to go on a two-month road trip across America.
During the weeks leading up to my trip, I spent hours planning my route, imagining all the wonderful places and people I’d encounter along my journey. Because I was on a tight budget, I also made sure to research where to find the cheapest and nicest gas stations. Not only did I want to avoid higher gas prices, but I also wanted to know where I could safely spend the night if worse came to worst.
A lot has changed since my big cross-country trip: America is on its way to an electric revolution as Congress considers two pieces of once-in-a-generation legislation that will usher in big changes for how Americans get around.
This is great news for our lungs and our planet. These bills would provide billions of dollars to begin building out a nationwide electric vehicle (EV) charging network, transitioning our public transit and school buses to electric and boosting the federal EV tax credit to make personal zero-emission vehicles more accessible to all Americans.
As we consider a switch to EVs, we also have the opportunity to hit the reset button on our gas stations and create a future that better fits our 21st century needs.
It’s no secret that EVs take longer to charge than fueling up gas-powered cars. While some eager road trippers might see this is a drawback, it may actually be a blessing in disguise. In fact, our country’s transition to EVs may be a perfect time to reimagine what our pit stops will look like in a renewably-powered future.
Currently, gas stations are not places where you want to spend much, if any time, as a stop to refuel requires a dose of toxic fumes at the pump. Filling up our gas tanks is often followed by a brief trip to a restroom in dire need of cleaning and a convenience store that serves mostly junk food.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Instead, imagine pulling off the highway into a charging station that doubles as a park and includes a short hiking or horseback riding trail, basketball court or a playground for kids. To better appeal to those looking for a snack, new stations could be designed as cultural hubs, combining fresh, locally-produced food and live music or a bookstore where passersby can swap their favorite road trip reads. Or for those looking to really stretch their legs, all-electric fueling installations might include a pop-up gym with exercise equipment, yoga mats and pay-by-the-minute massage chairs.
Unfortunately, there is currently a law that prevents the installation of EV charging stations at park-and-ride lots and rest areas along federal highways. How dumb is this? It’s time to revisit this outdated legislation and revamp our vehicle-fueling paradigm in an effort to expand our nation’s charging capacity, incentivize EV ownership and reduce range anxiety.
Transitioning to electric cars presents an opportunity to improve our everyday transportation experience. But before we do the hard work of writing new laws, we need to imagine what a better, cleaner-powered future will look like.
By giving our gas stations a much-need makeover we can spark the beginning of a new era of American road tripping - one still filled with the exciting sights and sounds that come with exploring an unfamiliar place - but without the harmful air pollution and climate-harming greenhouse gas emissions.
With any luck, charging stops may even become a destination that families look forward to visiting year after year, planning their trips around where to fuel up, just like I did many years ago.