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'Fix Britain’s Third World public charging system or folk won't buy electric cars'

Mike Rutherford thinks firms like Tesla are doing its bit, but the creaking electricity supply industry must up its game

Opinion - Tesla chargers

If you’re looking for prime examples of broken Britain and EV drivers being treated with contempt, I give you the only service area on the M2.

Medway Services (previously called Farthing Corner) was the place that years ago let me and my electric vehicle down badly – thanks to chargers that were filthy, not working and unfit for purpose. Have things improved since then? I’d like to say yes. But...

When, in early July, I dropped into the site for the first time in ages, I was hoping to see a state-of-the-art charging set-up. Instead, I got high-security fencing that cordoned off the low-tech public charging units. And just in case any drivers found the strength and felt the urge to remove the metal fence panels in desperate attempts to purchase the electricity needed to get them home, yet more heavy objects were strategically placed in the long-established bays where vehicles are supposed to park when being recharged. Sabotage? Certainly looked like it.

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There was no word from Moto (the operator of the service area), Gridserve (whose name was attached to the imprisoned charging units), National Grid or anyone else about why and how this “service” area was unable to adequately serve drivers of EVs.

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The entire unhappy scene and the obvious lack of advice and information were bizarre, pathetic and contemptible. I’ve never seen forecourt pumps wrapped in metal cages designed to prevent drivers from buying petrol or diesel. So why do such a thing to a public EV charger? Besides, aren’t motorway service areas and similar sites obliged to abide by duty-of-care laws aimed at preventing drivers of pure-electric cars from becoming hopelessly stranded after chargers are closed down without explanation? And if not, why not?

By late July, the heavy-duty fencing remained, but the seemingly new or newish charging units had been ripped out or ripped off. Who knows? On my next summer visit to the site about a month later, dozens of Tesla-badged chargers popped up, each wrapped in black polythene sheeting and not working. Last time I checked (26 November) they remained unusable and at least one had been vandalised, hit by a vehicle, or both.

So that’s around six months in which public chargers belonging to Gridserve were fenced off, then extracted, while the Tesla ones have sat idle from summer to winter. Incidentally, the consolation prize of a couple of comparatively low-tech Gridserve chargers being reinstalled elsewhere on site in late autumn was something, but not nearly enough.

Exactly who’s responsible for the inadequate electricity supply and lousy charging facilities is hard to say. But the M2 services are in the comparatively wealthy south east, where most EV owners live, drive and recharge. It’s only 20 minutes from Greater London, the capital of what’s supposed to be one of the most advanced countries on the planet.

But unless broken Britain (complete with its bonkers red tape, out-of-touch politicians and iffy infrastructure) fixes its Third World-like public charging system of its own making, I fear that consumers will not be buying pure EVs anytime soon – if ever.

Do you agree with Mike? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section...

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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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