Written by: Christina Hink, Operations Manager at EVA England

EVA England was established in June 2020 to offer a voice to drivers of electric cars and vans. But what exactly does that mean, and how do we achieve that mission? One such way is to undertake surveys of EV drivers to make informed recommendations to Government and industry. We ran one such study from February to March 2021. 

Over 1,000 drivers of battery electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles responded to our survey on public charging in England. The data was analysed, the numbers were crunched, and the over 700 comments were read, categorised, and considered. The insights we gained were then drafted into a report that informed our response to the Government’s consultation on ‘The consumer experience at public electric vehicle chargepoints’.

What about the results? What does the public charging network that EV drivers want to use look like? In short, drivers want to easily locate and access reliable chargepoints and easily pay for a charge across chargepoint networks. There is a desire for their experiences using public charging to be as easy, if not easier, than refuelling using petrol or diesel. 

92% of EV drivers use public chargepoints at some time or another and this is despite the presence of a home charger (91% of our survey participants had access to off-street parking). Public charging, then, is essential to the electric experience.

Read on to find out more key takeaways from our survey on the consumer experience at public EV chargepoints.

Easy like Sunday morning

  • Key takeaway: most drivers want it to be easy to pay for a charge, and a contactless credit or debit card was deemed the easiest payment method.

If you’re an EV driver today, then you are accustomed to having multiple membership cards and smartphone apps to access the public charging network. If you are soon to be an EV driver (as we all will be someday), then this is something to which you may become accustomed. In fact, EV drivers are used to using RFID cards, smartphone apps, contactless payments, chip and pin, subscription services, phone calls – the list goes on. But as one driver highlighted, the myriad of payment methods is “all very confusing”.

We asked drivers amongst all the different ways to access a chargepoint and pay for a charge, which did they find the easiest – the answer was a contactless credit or debit card. A contactless credit or debit card was followed, although not closely, by an RFID card, a smartphone app and other forms of contactless payment (such as Apple Pay or Google Pay).

But why does a contactless credit or debit car appeal to EV drivers? As one driver suggested:

“Contactless is the future and how I pay for the rest of life.”

When viewed through that frame, contactless cards offer users an easy, straightforward manner to pay for goods and services. It makes sense that drivers would want to pay for a charge similarly. As several comments suggested, EV drivers want to charge their vehicles in an easy, if not easier, method as they would their petrol or diesel car.

Our survey also highlighted that while contactless was deemed easiest, drivers would also welcome options when paying for a charge. Could a payments system in which a combination of contactless, RFID cards and smartphone apps be the way forward?

Roaming with my homies

  • Key takeaway: Drivers would like the ability to use one app or RFID card across all chargepoints regardless of the chargepoint network.

As mentioned in the section above, using a public chargepoint requires certain RFID cards or smartphone apps specific to a particular chargepoint network. If a driver wants to use more than one network, they will typically need to use more than one card or smartphone app.

For the purposes of our survey, we defined roaming as the ability to use one access or payment method across all chargepoints regardless of the chargepoint operator (beyond contactless credit/debit cards). Roaming, for the driver, would mean the ability to access all chargers with one access method, effectively doing away with the need for multiple apps and charge cards. One of our survey participants indicated they had 7-8 smartphone apps to access public charging – a situation we understand to be quite common.

Participants were then asked if they would welcome the ability to use a smartphone app, an RFID card or a QR code (a smartphone scannable barcode). 87% of drivers would embrace the ability to use one smartphone app across all public chargepoint networks. In comparison, 71% would welcome the ability to use one RFID card. 41% would like the ability to use a QR code at public chargepoints.

Several of our survey participants suggested they would welcome a combination of RFID card and smartphone app-based access methods. 

Can anybody find me somewhere to charge?

  • Key takeaway: Drivers typically choose a chargepoint based on its location, and having access to chargepoint data ahead of a charge would save them time. 

The location of a chargepoint was deemed the most significant factor in choosing a chargepoint – more so than the chargepoint network and the cost to charge. So how do drivers find chargepoints in locations convenient to them? 83% of the drivers who participated in our survey indicated that they used an app or a website to locate chargepoints. 

Apps and websites relay critical information to drivers, for instance, the location of a particular chargepoint and if a chargepoint is out of order, which helps inform their decision in choosing where to charge. As it stands, this vital information is reliant on driver input and individual drivers uploading information. There tends to be a delay in the relay of information. It isn’t guaranteed that what drivers see on an app or website is as up to date as possible.  

“I would love real-time info on how many chargers are in use and if there [are] issues with the charger.”

98% of EV drivers who took our survey believed that having access to real-time data ahead of a charging event would save them time. Drivers suggested several pieces of valuable information to have ahead of a charging event, such as:

  • How many chargers are in use
  • Issues with a particular charger
  • Queue length
  • Booking capabilities 

ICE, ICE baby

  • Key takeaway: Having access to a reliable chargepoint means having reliable access to a chargepoint.

There was also a perception amongst drivers that more needs to be done to ensure that a chargepoint is not blocked by an ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicle.

“[The] existing number would be sufficient if they were all reliable, accepted contactless and never ICEd.”

Although our survey did not explicitly ask drivers about ICE-ing or being ICE-d (when a chargepoint is blocked by a petrol or diesel car), respondents frequently commented on the topic. ICE-ing is an issue that we as drivers were admittedly aware of. It was also a popular point made in our previous survey on the phase out date of petrol and diesel cars and vans. 

More important than the issue of ICE-ing itself, drivers had some pretty great suggestions on how ICE-ing could be discouraged or even eliminated. Penalties for blocking a chargepoint and better enforcement of existing penalties were suggested as ways in which to ensure drivers have reliable access to a public chargepoint. 

Better yet, drivers also suggested that clear, uniformed signage could deter drivers who do not need a charge to steer clear of a designated EV charging space. As one driver recommended: “Please ensure that the area reserved for electric vehicle charging has bold clear signage and coloured paint on the whole space to help ensure it is kept clear.”

Our survey also revealed that it is not merely an issue of chargepoints being blocked by a non-electric vehicle. There is also a concern amongst drivers that EV drivers who do not need a charge are also using designated EV charging bays as parking spaces.

I would be remiss to not highlight two points from EVA England’s Charging Etiquette Guide (to which all EVA members receive access). We at EVA England believe it is common courtesy to:

  1. Park it to charge it. Designated EV charging bays ought only be used when charging. 
  2. Use it, then move it.  Once you have charged enough to safely reach your next destination, move the vehicle so someone else can charge.

To improve public charging confidence, drivers need to feel confident in their ability to have reliable access to a reliable public chargepoint.

Eight days a week

  • Key takeaway: A 24/7 call centre for issues at public chargepoints would improve confidence in public EV charging.

Perhaps my favourite question from our survey was, “What has caused you to walk (or drive) away from attempting to charge your vehicle at a public chargepoint.” The results revealed several issues drivers currently face when using public EV charging. The top three issues were:

  1. The chargepoint was out of order
  2. The chargepoint could not be easily activated
  3. The chargepoint would not connect with my car

So, what’s a driver to do when there are issues at a chargepoint? As it stands, most public chargepoints include a phone number or contact details for drivers in need of assistance at a given chargepoint. These issues are significant, as 36% of drivers have had to choose a different charger (from the one they originally intended to use) 1 to 2 times in the past year, and 29% have had to choose another charger 3 to 4 times. 

But how helpful are these helplines? 66% of drivers have had to call a helpline at some time or another. That ranged from having to call 1 or 2 times all the way up to 10+ times. Amongst the drivers who indicated they have had to call a helpline, 57% said that the helpline did not resolve their issues. 

Issues with existing helplines included: out-of-hours calls, disconnected calls, unclear instructions, and long call wait times. All of which were highlighted in the free-response portion of our survey. 

When asked if it would be fair for a small cost incurred by the driver when accessing a call centre, 83% deemed it unfair. Drivers, then, would welcome a call centre operating eight days a week… only kidding. A free and reliable 24/7 call centre would suffice.

Take me home, country roads

  • Key takeaway: Increased signage along motorways, A-roads, at Motorway Service Areas (MSAs) and destinations would increase confidence in public EV charging.

In general, drivers perceived a lack of signage indicating public EV charging along motorways, A-roads, at Motorway Service Areas (MSAs) and destinations. 

In particular, signage along A-roads (major through-roads for my non-UK based readers) was suggested as a critical area for improvement. 87% of EV drivers disagreed or strongly disagreed that there exists sufficient signage along A-roads telling them where they can charge their vehicles. 

74% of drivers also believed there was not enough signage at destinations (such as supermarkets). 72% felt there was not enough along motorways, and 65% felt there was not enough at MSAs.

While signage may seem like the least stimulating subject of the survey, one comment really drove the point home:

“People need to see charging [infra]structure in their face to have confidence to purchase an EV and then be able to charge away from home with confidence.”

Increasing visible signage along motorways, A-roads, at MSAs and at destinations would increase drivers’ confidence and potential drivers of electric vehicles in public EV charging. By extension, it would also increase confidence in electric vehicles themselves, giving drivers certainty that they can charge their car when needed.

Don’t stop believin’

Lastly, survey participants were asked to gauge their satisfaction with the current state of public EV charging. Drivers in England rated their satisfaction with public charging at an average of 2.16 out of 5. The most frequently occurring rating was a 2 out of 5.

The final question of the survey was not intended to denigrate public charging in England. Rather, it was designed as a tool by which to evaluate future improvements and satisfaction with public electric vehicle charging in England.

Drivers want to easily pay for a charge at convenient and reliable public chargepoints and across chargepoint networks. Real-time information, such as service conditions and availability of chargepoints, are crucial for drivers planning to use the public charging network. Fundamentally, they want to be able to charge their cars in just as easy, if not easier, fashion as they would their petrol or diesel car. 

Improving public electric vehicle charging confidence now will pave the road to the greater adoption of electric vehicles. 

P.S. Don’t stop believin’… that we at EVA England will continue to work with Government, industry and other key stakeholders to ensure the consumer’s voice is heard as improvements are made to public EV charging.

Afterword

This article has presented several key themes and takeaways that would improve consumer confidence in public EV charging. I have attempted to keep it as brief as possible (I promise, I did try). Our survey also highlighted other crucial areas of improvement, such as increasing the number of chargepoints in general and at a given location and improving reliability along motorways. If you would like to read more about our results, the full report can be accessed here.

Join EVA England

By becoming a member of EVA England, you are helping fund this kind of advocacy work which is keenly being listened to by Government and companies in the EV space. Members also receive a guide to EVs and EV charging, our etiquette guide, discounted products, and more as we continue to grow and develop. Membership to EVA England costs £20/year.

Christina Hink, PhD, is the Operations Manager at EVA England. Having joined the EVA England Team in its early days, Christina has overseen its research outputs to date, crafted the Members’ Pack and is keen to ensure that every member feels supported along their electric journey. 

Survey Soundtrack

  1. Easy” (The Commodores)
  2. Rollin’ with my homies” (Coolio)
  3. Somebody to Love” (Queen)
  4. Ice Ice Baby” (Vanilla Ice)
  5. Eight Days a Week” (The Beatles)
  6. Take Me Home, Country Roads” (John Denver)
  7. Don’t Stop Believin’” (Journey)