The Pain of Public Charging 2

Wolverton’s Dead Charging Post (Image: T. Larkum)
Wolverton’s Dead Charging Post (Image: T. Larkum)

In The Pain of Public Charging I described some of the general problems with the UK public charging infrastructure, and these were brought into sharp focus for me recently. Early in the day that I planned to attend Robert Llewellyn’s talk on electric cars in Bedford I knew that the range would be a stretch since it would be after a day at work in Milton Keynes. Therefore at lunchtime I headed out to top up, thinking I could get enough charge in an hour or so to give me some contingency.

First of all I went to a charging location that I had seen in Wolverton, in front of a supermarket. There were two parking spaces in front of the charging post, with a Nissan LEAF belonging to a local electric car club in one of them. Unfortunately, the other had a combustion car in it, so I was ICE’d.

Next I drove to nearby Stony Stratford which I had heard had a public charging point in the market square; in fact I had seen it marked on an online charge point map. After driving around the square a couple of times I parked up and walked into the public library. There I asked the staff about the charge point and they contacted the council staff only to report back that no charge points had yet been installed; the process had only got as far as designating a couple of parking spaces as suitable for a charge point.

The library staff, in an attempt to help, passed me the address of another charge point in Wolverton though they weren’t sure if it was operational or not. Of course, I eventually found the charge point only to find that it was unpowered.

Since by this time I was nearly back to the first charge point I decided to check it again. As I approached I could see it had an empty space. However, as I got close I saw an ICE car pull into it – nonetheless after a quick word with the driver, he relinquished the space and I took it. I tried my charge point cards on it, though, only to be told they weren’t recognised.

I called the telephone number on the charging post and explained the problem. They promised to look into it and call me back. Fifteen minutes later, having heard nothing, I called again only to be told that the charge post was exclusively for the use of the electric car club. I pointed out that it had no signs at all indicating that, but to no avail. They did offer me a charge if the situation was an emergency but I couldn’t honestly say it was, and told them that.

And so I gave up having exhausted my lunch hour, and then some, and having used up a fair bit of my precious range. That was the end of my attempt to charge up in the Milton Keynes area – a complete disaster, in fact, with a full mix of non-existent chargers, exclusive-use chargers, and non-functioning chargers.

The story doesn’t end there entirely, though. I drove carefully in Eco mode back to Northampton, and then on to Bedford for the talk. As ever, ZOE came through and I was able to stretch out the range so that as I left there was just enough range to get home. However, at the event I heard of a local charge point and decided to try it out. In fact, it turned out to be on the way home to Northampton, and was clearly visible at night as it sat in a car park next to the main road and gave out a blue glowing light.

Bedford’s Welcoming Charging Post (Image: T. Larkum)
Bedford’s Welcoming Charging Post (Image: T. Larkum)

I plugged in, waved one of my charger cards at it, and was immediately charging. I stayed connected for 10-15 minutes to give me 10 or so extra miles of contingency range and then headed home.

Bedford had showed how easy it can be to have straightforward, working charging infrastructure – something that Milton Keynes could learn from.