'Electric car charging is damaging the switch to EVs'

Mike Rutherford thinks the UK's charging network needs to take lessons from petrol station forecourts

Opinion charging network

Finally, a huge society has published its plans to improve Britain’s EV charging.

I’ll set the scene. EV charging is painless, easy and affordable – if you can do it at home and tap into cheaper (not cheap) overnight electricity tariffs. But, when you’re out on the road, and in urgent need of ‘juice’, EV charging sucks. It’s often neither painless nor easy, and can be unfathomably costly.

Taking that last point first – illuminated, menu-like price lists should be clearly displayed on and around all public charging units. Just as petrol and diesel pumps or car park pay & display machines spell out their prices (and offer printed receipts), all public EV charging units must do the same. In addition, the units, and their surroundings, must be properly lit for safety, security and convenience.      

An Electrifying Britain organisation needs to be established, staffed by experts, to promote and explain the EV cause, manage and grow the infrastructure, and be the go-to place for details on chargepoints and the cost of using them. With a 0-5 star grading system, it could help to incentivise the charging site owners or operators to make their facilities cleaner, fresher and more attractive.

Before mobile phones largely killed off public phone boxes or booths, BT looked after them via a fleet of small vans whose drivers did regular inspection, maintenance, repair and cleaning work. EV charging companies need to adopt a similar, but better, system. And as for companies telling the public that specific sites are open for business with available and working equipment when, in fact, they’re neither working nor available – if there isn’t a law against this, there bloody well should be.  

And what’s with the industry’s obsession with apps that requires paying customers to download them? If the simple turn up, fill up, then pay up (with cash, debit or credit card) system can work at petrol pumps and most public chargers, why can’t it work at all of them?

Finally, compensation. It should be generous and automatically granted to customers who check a website to confirm that a firm’s public EV points are open and working – only to discover them closed, or not working. These firms need to try harder: monitor the availability and fitness of their machines more carefully; visit, service, maintain and clean them regularly; and achieve 100 per cent accuracy, reliability and customer satisfaction. 

Too often drivers turn up at public charging points in good faith, yet they’re greeted by problems that stop them recharging. This must stop. If not, confidence in the proposed switch from ICE to EV may be irreparably damaged. I know that most electric cars are good to great, but there’s no getting away from the fact that Britain’s already creaking public charging ‘system’ and lack of infrastructure and planning are doing nothing to help.         

True, petrol and diesel pumps aren’t perfect. And they’re certainly not the long-term future. But for the time being, they are massively more convenient, reliable and simple to find and successfully use than those far rarer public EV charging points.

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Chief columnist

Mike was one of the founding fathers of Auto Express in 1988. He's been motoring editor on four tabloid newspapers - London Evening News, The Sun, News of the World & Daily Mirror. He was also a weekly columnist on the Daily Telegraph, The Independent and The Sunday Times. 

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