Need to charge your phone and can’t find an outdoor plug? The Napa Valley Transportation Authority has a solution for you: a free public phone charging station.
Announced this past week, the city’s first outdoor charging station is located at the Soscol Gateway Transit Center at 625 Burnell St.
During the COVID-19 pandemic the need for such a station became obvious, said Sanjay Mishra, an NVTA engineer. He’s the guy who set up the charging station outside the center.
The library, a common place to sit and charge a phone, is currently open only by appointment and for limited hours. Popular hangouts like Starbucks have removed indoor tables. Restaurants are hosting far fewer indoor diners. Many buildings on college campuses remain closed.
The homeless are especially impacted by such closures, said Mishra. Homeless Napans used to gather at a rear corner of the transit center to use an outdoor electrical outlet to charge their phones. Other locals would come inside the lobby of the transit center and use the outlets there. However, due to the pandemic, the lobby is closed.
Mishra had an idea: set up an actual charging station, “something much easier and more accessible” and comfortable for everyone.
That’s when Mishra noticed an electrical outlet in the front of the transit center. “This is a perfect spot,” he decided. From there, Mishra had a small metal platform installed above a bench to set phones on, “and we put it to work,” he said. It cost less than $300 to install the charging station.
Four USB charging ports are now available for anyone to plug in. Users still need to provide their own charging cable, he noted. To reach the shelf from the plug, the cord needs to be at least 6 feet long.
Mishra is working remotely these days. But from what he hears, the plugs are being used.
On Wednesday, Napa resident Brian Weldon was sitting around the corner from the charging stations. The bus is his primary mode of transportation, said Weldon. He didn’t know about the new charging station but he likes the idea.
“There have been times when I could have used it,” he said. “Sometimes I have been so desperate I have gotten on a gray bus all the way to Calistoga” just to charge his phone, he said. Weldon was referring to the new NVTA buses that are painted gray. Those buses feature phone charging ports by each seat, he said.
He said he will use the new charging station. “They could probably use some more,” said Weldon.
Napa Mayor Jill Techel said she was intrigued by the idea of outdoor charging stations.
“It seems like the transit center is a perfect location” for the first such station, said the mayor. “As we are looking at racial and socioeconomic justice issues in our community,” that also includes examining inequities and “this definitely could be one.”
She’d like to consider other areas in the community where a public charging station would be appropriate, said Techel. For example, City Hall might be a good spot, she said. “It’s downtown. At this point it’s fairly accessible. It’s a public area.”
With the library and other such indoor resources closed, It’s probably a good time to relook at access to something as vital as a cellphone, Techel said.
Napa County Library Director Anthony Halstead said he also liked the idea. He plans to get more information from the NVTA about the station and how it was set up.
“There’s definitely a community need and I’m sure it will continue,” Halstead said.
“We have so many outlets inside,” and they are well used by people charging phones. Outdoor charging stations would be another good option, especially during emergencies, Halstead said.
“We’re trying to find ways to help people stay connected and this is part of that.”
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You can reach reporter Jennifer Huffman at 256-2218 or firstname.lastname@example.org