We need electric car charging infrastructure to change before it’s too late. Following our recent investigation, Citizens Advice gives us its view.
This is a guest post by Citizens Advice. All views expressed are its own and not necessarily shared by Which?.
Which?’s recent investigation highlights many of the challenges people face with electric vehicle (EV) public charging. As the official consumer watchdog for energy across Great Britain, Citizens Advice is familiar with many of these issues. We also represent consumers on the Electric Vehicle Energy Taskforce.
Last year, we looked at a year’s worth of tweets about public chargers using a programme called Method52 which analyses what people are saying online. We identified four key challenges that the government needs to address to make public charging smoother and drive up confidence in EVs.
As the government consults on improving the consumer experience at public chargepoints, their proposals will need to fix these four problems:
🔋 1. Unreliable chargers are frustrating
In more than half (58%) of the tweets we looked at, people had experienced a problem while using a public chargepoint. Establishing a minimum availability of working EV chargers across an operator’s fleet would help address this, and we’re pleased that the government is proposing to do this.
The cost of this shouldn’t be shifted onto consumers. It’s critical that maintenance costs and plans are agreed before chargepoints are built, and that effective monitoring is put in place.
We know that even with the right standards in place, things can still go wrong. That’s why we support the government’s decision to make it mandatory for chargepoint operators (CPOs) to provide a 24/7 helpline for consumers.
🔋 2. It’s too hard to find a public charger
In nearly one in five (19%) of the tweets we looked at, people complained about the quality of data on chargepoint apps. This included chargepoints missing from apps, broken chargepoints displayed as working, or chargepoints displaying incorrect information on speed or cost.
Government is now proposing a ‘standard’ for openly available data, with mandatory data such as location, power-rating and pricing that has to be made available.
This is a crucial step – but we know that the varying quality of smartphone apps makes the task of finding a chargepoint difficult. The government should also monitor whether the system is working for people, and take action to improve it if not.
🔋 3. Paying to use public chargepoints can be difficult
Consumers regularly complain about having to download and use multiple apps and company-specific cards to pay. The government’s plans to mandate alternative payment methods that don’t require a mobile or fixed internet connection is very welcome.
Government is also looking at implementing a roaming solution which would allow people to access different chargepoints using one method (such as a membership card or app). This already exists in other countries and should be available in Great Britain.
There are numerous ways to do this – it’s essential that consumer experience and cost should be prioritised whatever route the government takes.
🔋 4. Prices are confusing
Pricing at public chargepoints can be difficult to understand. Some charge for units of energy (p/kwh) while others charge based on the time spent charging. We previously called for the government to introduce a standardised p/kwh metric.
It’s good news for consumers they have decided to do this, as it will help people to understand and compare costs.
We think there should be some flexibility for companies to make different offers – it helps to drive competition and innovation. It can also help to avoid chargepoints being blocked by parked cars. But it’s vital that the government tracks how it works in practice, to make sure people understand what they’re paying for and when.
Accessibility and safety
In the past we have raised concerns about accessibility and safety when it comes to public chargepoints, and we’re really pleased to see that the government wants to know more about this.
If the government is serious about phasing out petrol and diesel cars, it is essential that public chargers are designed to be used by everybody. We’ll continue to draw on our evidence to highlight these problems.
Our work on public charging is just one way that we are advocating for an improved experience for EV users. Citizens Advice is the voice for consumers on the Electric Vehicle Energy Taskforce. Our recent research paper looked at EV and smart-enabled tariffs and their implications for people.
This was a guest post by Citizens Advice. All views expressed were its own and not necessarily shared by Which?.
How do you feel the rollout of electric car charging points has gone so far? What do you think should be done to bring about improvements?