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Something that has been bothering me for some time now is the concept of what a "public" charging station is. Ask yourself this question now... what do you understand if you are told that a charging station is a public charging station?

There is no standard or accepted definition and it seems to be causing a lot of confusion amongst electric car owners.

See here...

Is it really this hard?

I have had my Nissan Leaf now for over 2 years and at one point I was perhaps the most travelled Leaf owner in the UK having driven it from my home in Cornwall all over the UK... Newcastle, Scotland, Manchester... even Amsterdam! Well, I stopped doing long trips about a year ago and so I definitely no longer hold that accolade, if I ever did! I stopped using the Leaf for long trips. It is simply too difficult and time-consuming. However, I still look at planning a trip now and then in the hope it is getting easier. I think it is. There are more fast charging stations available now and many more slower ones for destination charging. However, finding out about what stations are available is still very hit and miss. There are now many web sites that have a database of stations with varying degrees of accuracy and completeness but as far as I know, there still is no reliable single source for EV owners to use to plan a trip safe in the knowledge that the data is accurate or indeed anything like complete.

Open Charge Map has that aim though. It's objective is to compile a complete catalogue of charging stations and to make it freely available to EV owners via its own web site and phone apps and to other web site creators to make the data as available as possible. I think that this is a laudable objective and I plan on helping with that effort myself soon. However, there is something that is still seriously confusing with regard to the data on any database be it Open Charge Map, Zap-Map or anywhere else... when is a charge station considered "public"?

For example... if a hotel installs a charging station for the use of its customers is that public? Sure, the public has the ability to use it because if they choose to buy the services of the hotel, such as a night stay or a meal in the restaurant, then they have access but what if they choose not to buy from that hotel? Often they cannot then use that station. To me that is not a "public" charging station. It is a private station for the use of the hotel customers only. A similar situation exists with toilets. Most restaurants and hotels have toilets available for their customers and most will not permit non-customer access. There are often signs saying "Toilets - customer use only". These "private" charging stations are the same.

Another example is a charging station that is accessed via a membership RFID card... POLAR, ChargeMaster, Source London etc all fall in this category. Are they "public"? I suggest that they are only available to members of the appropriate membership scheme. Sure, any member of the public can join but that is true of any private "club". It still makes the private club "private" to its members only - not "public".

Finally, what about the various charging stations at car dealers? You don't have to join any membership scheme to use those do you so surely they are public? Well I can only speak for the Nissan dealers because they are the only ones I have used but I know for certain that most dealers do not encourage use by non-Nissan cars. Some will allow it and others will now. Not exactly public!

So are there any "public" charging stations anywhere? I am sure there must be and you may know of some but there aren't anything like as many as the databases and web sites suggest.

So am I complaining at that? Not really. I think that things will progress and develop according to market drivers (pardon the pun!) and so I am not really commenting at all on the charging stations themselves or the organisations that are deploying them. I think I am just concerned at how public access, or lack of it, is being recorded and reported. Most charging stations at the moment are recorded on the various databases and web sites as "public" or "public access". Some have caveats that membership is required but in reality they are not "public" at all as there is almost always a significant element of membership requiring pre-registration and sometimes payment or a requirement to buy a service or product to gain access. Like I say, I have no issue with those pre-requisites per-se but we should not then be recording those stations as "public" should we? They are really "private".

I believe that by any sensible assessment of most charging stations that exist today a better description would be "private". To call them "public" is quite misleading especially to new EV owners who often cannot clearly determine what they must buy or what scheme they must join to be able to charge.

Eventually this will have to be sorted out but right now EV drivers that see a charging station listed as "public" should always check out what they must do or what they must buy to gain access... there is bound to be something and it often needs to be applied for days or even weeks ahead of when you want to charge.
 

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Hi Paul,

I don’t know how you ever managed those long trips in the Leaf. I would be too anxious to even try. I have not managed to charge at a so called “public” charge station yet on 3 attempts at the Central Milton Keynes shopping complex. I have subscribed to the “Chargemaster Network” but to date have been impeded by non electric vehicles parked in the bay, charge point “out of order” and other electric vehicles charging. Based on this experience your successful travels are much admired.
 

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Paul Churchley said:
So are there any "public" charging stations anywhere? I am sure there must be and you may know of some but there aren't anything like as many as the databases and web sites suggest.
I think you are needlessly splitting hairs.

I've used the ZCW charging point at Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh. You don't have to go into the centre, but you do have to pay for parking. Does that count as public under your definition or does the parking fee make it a private club?

I think it counts as a public charge point if, as a member of the public, I can use the point. If I have to pay a fee, whether parking, or for a scheme membership, or by buying a service that doesn't change the fact that it is public. A private point would be like the 4 in the car park next to where I work: they are only available to people who have access cards to that car park. Or even the charging point in another car park opposite where I work: that car park has no barriers, so there's nothing physically stopping me going and using it, but it isn't public.

Another charging point that I think we'd both agree is public would be the one at the Eden Project. No fee for parking, no requirement to buy anything, but kind of pointless using it unless you're going to visit Eden.
 

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Fair enough... that is why I have raised the issue... to get peoples views and yours is a perfectly valid one. Thanks.

To me it isn't splitting hairs though. Sorry :)

Take the situation that exists for ICEs. You never need to pre-register with a petrol station or a particular oil company to buy petrol. You just turn up and use. That is what "public" means to me. It is available to any member of the public... not subsets.

I am a massive supporter of Ecotricity and I use them as a good example of what I mean... to use Ecotricity charging stations you must pre-register and get a card. It is effectively a membership scheme. Because of that their charging network is not available to the public unless they joint their scheme. I accept that the scheme is open to the public but until you are a member the Ecortricity charging network is closed to you. It is not a public network.

May be the issue doesn't arise much now because us early adopters are so used to having membership cards that to us there has not been many truly public charging stations. There are some though... the sockets at Cribbs Causeway, Bristol are truly public. They are open to any member of the public that parks at Cribbs Causeway with no cards, no registration, no pre-arrangement. I am sure we can all think of a few but the fact of the matter is that to a newcomer they see "public" and think they can charge there and the likelihood is that they can't unless they join the appropriate scheme (perhaps paying a fee) or buy the appropriate service or product.

It might be that none of this matters to you and that is perfectly fine but I think as time goes on it will become more and more of an issue as to whether charging is "turn up and use" or whether there are pre-requisites and I for one would like to see that differentiation in how they are listed... just saying they are "public" is not enough IMO. I accept that my definition of "private" may also be inadequate and so perhaps the answer is to have different subsets of "public" but right now many of the databases are lumping them all together as you have done. But many so called "public" stations require advanced registration and that doesn't help when searching for a charging station when you are desperately low of charge.
 

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Paul,

I agree with you, the term "public charging" has not yet reached most ordinary people's concept of public.

Any charging station which you cannot pay a fee to immediately charge is, IMO, not public.

If you travel a lot there is no way you can equip yourself (in advance) with the miriad of regional and national membership cards in order to charge the car at each stop.

When I park at a public car park I can (almost) always use the same single card to pay the fee anywhere in the country. Why can't "public" charging stations accept credit cards as well as, or instead of, membership cards?

I would love to consider a Tesla Model S for my next car but due to the lack of reliable and accessable public charging I will stick to my, anxiety free, range entending Volt.

Andy
 
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