We Need to be Less Selfish For Electric Vehicles to Succeed

I have an electric car. It’s the best car I’ve ever had. It can comfortably outrun a Range Rover from a standing start. And it costs about 2p per mile to drive.

Whenever I tell people that I have an electric car, you’d think I just told them I owned a diamond mine. My EV, a Citroen C-Zero, cost me £4,700 (including that all-important £150 dealer trade-in for my old vehicle); in the same price band as any other three-year-old car. And although it wasn’t quite as shiny as this one, I absolutely loved it from the moment I first took it on a test-drive.

Citroen C Zero

Electric car adoption is not stalled by price. You can get a Nissan Leaf, an excellent family car, for £6,000 used. The issues are with drivers’ attitudes, which are not helped but the dreadful charger infrastructure in the UK.

The Charger Problem

I know what you’re thinking. Electric cars are inconvenient. I’ll level with you. Charging an electric car in the wild is a complete pain in the arse.

I live nowhere near a public charger (not quite as bad as the “black hole of North Yorkshire“, but pretty close). However, I could conceivably use them on long journeys. To do so, I have to:

  • Find an app that has reasonably up-to-date charger information
  • Get the app or card for the network that the charger is part of; some take any debit or credit card to start now, so this is an improvement, but the network system is irritating to say the least
  • Know which sockets your car uses; mine has two, and there are various names for them, including one based on a very nice Japanese pun
  • Know which charge voltage it can accept and how long the charge will take
  • Figure out if the charger is tethered or if I need my own cable
  • If it isn’t, buy a cable — something like this (yes — that’s the real price; hold me)
  • Plan your journey so you have enough charge to get to another charger in the event that your first choice is broken or busy
  • Remember to take the cable with you, leaving scant room in the boot for anything else.

When you get to the charge point, you will probably find that one of the following occurs:

  • The charger is gone
  • The charger was never there
  • The charger is around the back of a large store in a dark and lonely place
  • A non-electric car is blocking the charging point
  • The charger is occupied by a car that has finished charging, with an owner who is nowhere to be seen
  • The charger bay is blocked for hours by a PHEV while the owner is off buying half of Ikea (no excuse — they also use petrol, remember)
  • There is a long queue for the charger, and it’s unclear who was there first
  • The person using the charger keeps resetting it to try get the last 20% of charge — the bit that takes ages
  • There are no parking spaces to join the queue for the charger
  • The car that is plugged in is no longer charging and you daren’t touch the car to remove the plug
  • The curly cable that you bought won’t reach to the charger from the only free space available nearby
  • After two hours, you still have no charge, your kids are hungry, and your patience is wearing thin, and you’ve spent £20 to park so far
  • When you finally get to the charger, after facing down several large Outlander drivers, it doesn’t start, the plug gets clamped into the socket, and the app you need won’t work because you’re in a poor signal area.

I wouldn’t take my EV-only car for a long trip if I had kids in the back or an appointment to get to. (Trust me, I’ve tried.) This is a genuine barrier to adoption. I’m fortunate that we have an old Prius hybrid that will get us where we need to go when we have to avoid delays. But it’s ridiculous to have to have that as a fall-back option. Many people don’t have any other choice, except for Nissan’s limited rental scheme if they have a Leaf. If they risk doing long journeys using public chargers, they can be stuck in car parks for hours on the way.

C Zero charging
Stromtankstelle Tanke Rheinenergie mit Flinkster-Autos am Parkhaus Lungengasse, Köln

It’s not always this way. I have had several fuss-free charges; I recently topped up at John Lewis in Leeds and it was completely pain-free. But part of the problem is a poor billing strategy that encourages people to park in EV bays far longer than they should. The rest is simple ignorance of other drivers.

Home Charging Issues

I have a home charger from EO, so I tend to slow charge overnight. It’s fantastic. We had it fitted in an ‘en bloc’ garage, and had armoured cable laid through the garden. I have an electric garage door. It should be beautifully simple.

But I frequently get blocked in or out of my own garage where my charger is located. Not being able to charge a bit like having your petrol tank filled with sand. Your car’s going nowhere if you can’t charge it, unless you want to test out the notorious “Turtle Mode” (and I’m not talking about squeaky bum time — although the two certainly go together.)

It takes six hours for my car to charge on a home charger. So if I come back from my son’s nursery with a couple of miles on the clock, I need to plug it in immediately to be able to go get him at lunchtime. Occasionally, I have to go ask “permission” to get to my own charger. This is a bit like having to go round to your neighbour’s house every time you need your car keys. It gets old. Really. Fast.

Again; the problem is not the vehicle. It’s the attitude of other people that spoils EV as a viable option for many people. I truly believe that people will soften once electric cars become commonplace. But right now, you need your car to be parked completely on your own property to be able to charge it freely. Many people just don’t have the option.

EVs Require a Change of Mindset

I’m a passionate believer in the effectiveness of electric vehicles. I save, on average, about £100 a month on fuel, tax, and maintenance. My car is quiet, fast, and comfortable. It’s small — sure. But it’s early days, and cars get better.

Charging on-the-go could be so much less painless if there was an effort to increase public chargers and encourage considerate usage. For example, I’d like to see low-cost charging initiatives, with fees charged for cars that park in the bay for hours once the charge has completed.

And home charging could be so much easier if we all had a bit more consideration for other people, or local councils that were willing to stick their neck out and put chargers in more places.

For all the bad points, I’ve had many positive experiences when charging, chatting to other owners that have helped me out when my charging cable got stuck, or reserving the space for me while I convinced my son to get back in his car seat so I could go and park in the charging bay. Too many drivers are fixated on their own convenience, and electric vehicles require a change in attitude and a willingness to help other people out.

As long as we are selfish about driving, and our reckless use of fossil fuels, electric vehicles don’t have a chance. But if we just apply a little common sense, we would all benefit. Change is coming; my real worry is that drivers are not ready to take advantage of it.

C-Zero by HombreDHojalata (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Charging C-Zero © Raimond Spekking / via Wikimedia Commons.

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