When doing a journey of any reasonable distance in an EV, the biggest stress vector is worrying about whether you will be able to recharge. On the whole, driving an electric car is a much more relaxing experience than driving a traditional internal combustion engine vehicle. I am unsure if this is down to the sound, the smoothness or that when doing long distances, the tendency is to drive a bit more serenely and carefully. Whatever it is, it can sometimes be offset by the general worry, that you will get to a charge point only to find it unavailable for a number of reasons.
Reason 1, Another electric car is plugged in. This is the least stressful of the various options and can often lead to some great conversations about electric transport. Normally you find that you only need to wait fifteen to twenty minutes and it really isn’t a problem for most people. Adding more motorway charging points would of course solve this. I am looking at you Ecotricity.
Reason 2, The charger is broken. If you check services like Plugshare or ZapMap before you leave you can normally anticipate this one and make allowances for it. It is also somewhat sensible to give yourself a fifteen to twenty mile buffer to go somewhere else. If you however get a location with very little charge remaining, you might be out of luck. Flatbed of shame for you. Charging companies seriously need to get their charger maintenance sorted as a priority. Polar tends to have very good reliability ratings, often around 98% country wide. Ecotricity tends to be around the 90% mark which is not really good enough to be fair.
Reason 3, A non-electric car is parked in the charging bay. This one gets a lot of press in the electric car community and it is egregious. What can you do, honestly, if you get to a charger and there is no way you can reach it because someone has been an inconsiderate a-hole and parked a petrol or diesel car in the bay? Imagine the flip side and if an electric car driver parked up at the petrol pump at Tesco and then went shopping. I suspect the car would be towed away fairly promptly. The same does not happen with iceing (iceing is where an Internal Combustion Engine car is parked in a charging bay). There are sometimes car parks that will ticket a car that is parked at a charger inappropriately but these seem rare. It seems to help if the bays are properly marked and painted an obviously different colour. It can help if traffic cones are put in the bays. Most EV drivers will be quite happy to move a cone to get to a charger. In some cases, I suspect that even these methods will fail to deter the icer….. Why is this? Possibly they are just being a bit obnoxious and think it’s funny. Perhaps they feel they have a genuine grievance against the rise of electric cars. I think in some cases they just feel entitled because the bay happens to be nearer the front of the car park. I am honestly not sure and would need to have a chat with someone who regularly does this to find out. Please leave a comment if you have any other ideas.
Then we have the worst possible situation, an electric car that is parked in a bay and not plugged in. This is truly bad, rude behaviour and as a community we should try to educate others about not doing this. DON’T BE THIS PERSON…
What are the solutions?
Having dedicated forecourts for charging would go a long way to mitigate this. No one thinks that the petrol station is a car park, so making charging bays look like them could certainly help. The new charging hubs in Dundee are a great example of a multi-rapid charging area that looks rather a lot like a petrol station but makes use of previously derelict land. You are unlikely to get people iceing these chargers because it probably just isn’t a particularly convenient place to park.
You could ensure that there are more than one charger in a location. I like the Polar rapids rather a lot but they do tend to be single units which sometimes require informing a hotel reception or you get a fine. This puts me off because I am worried I will get there and not be able to plug in. Some Ecotricity sites also only have a single rapid, such as Rownham services West. Have a set of 7KW fast chargers in the same location as the rapid. That way, if there is a queue you can at least put a bit in while you are waiting.
Another thing that we can do as drivers, is use something like the Spark+Volt window cards which give your number in case someone else needs the charger. Or the timer discs that are used in Scotland. Also checking into a service like Plugshare, through which other drivers can contact you without giving away any of your personal details. Of course these would need to be used by most drivers before it would ever become useful, most drivers probably wouldn’t.
I am really interested to hear any other ideas about how to improve this for the whole EV community. What are good ways to make this better?