With chronic pollution problems and terrible congestion, London, England, is a city that is keen to encourage its citizens to make the switch from noisy, polluting internal combustion engined cars to cleaner and greener forms of transport like public transport, bicycles, and electric vehicles. Along with the perk of offering those who travel around London in an electric car complete exemption from the usual £11.50 ($18.38) per day London congestion charge, London’s own electric car charging network Source London offers users unlimited electric car charging for just £10 per year.
But ever since it was launched back in 2011, Source London has become synonymous among British electric car owners as being unreliable and problematic, with continually broken charging posts, notoriously poor customer support that was only available during office hours, and many ineffective parking policies leading to ICEing of a large proportion of points.
So when news broke last December that French company Bolloré — the same company that owns and operates the highly successful AutoLib electric car share scheme in Paris, France — was going to take over day-to-day operations of the Source London network under the BluePoint London brand, electric car owners, advocates and industry insiders all hoped the newly formed Bolloré subsidiary would rescue the state of charging in central London.
Just a month after the French-owned company took control of Source London however, it discovered more than one third of Source London’s charging points were offline or broken. Something owners had come to expect, the poorly-functioning charging network was something of a baptism of fire for the newly-formed BluePoint London.
Things were worse than the company had imagined. As well as broken and obsolete points, the Source London network contained a number of charging points which had been installed by previous operators with no regard for what would happen when things broke. Or in other words, charging points had been installed and forgotten about.
“We took over Source London in September after having won a public tender, with a goal to expand the network considerably and offer a better service to Source London members, all at our cost and no cost at all to the boroughs or private partners,” Phillipe Fabri, Deputy Project Manager at BluePoint London told us earlier today. “Sadly, we came to realise that the network contained many faulty or obsolete charge poitns, and that many partners had no agreements with manufacturers to maintain these points; we may therefore have to replace some of the existing points with our own hardware.”
Talking with Fabri on the telephone, there’s no mistaking BluePoint London’s sincerity on the issue of wanting to turn the existing network of more than 1,300 public electric car charging points into a reliable, functioning charging network for Londoners to use to charge their electric cars.
But in order to match the kind of reliability and uptime achieved by its sibling networks in Paris, Bordeaux and Lyon, BluePoint London has a monumental task ahead of it. And in order to remedy the difficulties within Source London into a reliable, working network, it needs the cooperation of an almost unimaginable number of partners, hardware manufacturers, and the countless legislative boroughs throughout the greater London area.
That’s due to the fact that while BluePoint London has taken over the day-to-day operation of the Source London network, it doesn’t have the necessary permissions to access and work on all of the charging stations in the network.
It’s a problem which stems back to the days when Source London launched in 2011 by combining pre-existing electric car charging networks from more than 30 individual boroughs within the greater London area.
Prior to Source London‘s inception, each London borough ran its own individual charging station program, with its own access cards, charging rules and parking privileges. While some of the larger boroughs joined together to form collaborative partnerships, allowing roaming in between different parts of town, most electric car drivers who wanted to be able to charge in different parts of London needed multiple RFID smart cards to use with the many different networks.
Each scheme came with its own agreements regarding charging station ownership, maintenance and access.
Today, BluePoint London is tasked with not only maintaining the Source London network and bringing it up to speed, but also ensuring it has all the necessary agreements set between the various partners and landowners on which charging points are located to ensure that it can keep the network functional and reliable.
“Importantly, to achieve any of our goals, we need to reach an agreement with the boroughs giving us the power to work on their infrastructure or replace it when needed,” said Fabri. “We believe citizens of London can also help by telling the boroughs that they support Source London and our efforts to make London the EV capital of the world. “
Ultimately, Bolloré aims to bring its famed electric car sharing scheme to London, supplementing existing public charge points with its own design of electric car charging stations and car share kiosks in a set of agreements that will be laid out independently of the agreements it is laying out with existing Source London partners and boroughs.
That’s the future: for now, bringing Source London up to spec is its key priority.
“In short, we do not have the power to properly maintain Source London. We are willing to maintain it at our cost and no risk to the borough, but to do so, partners must sign the agreement which they have received,” explained Fabri. In other words, Source London requires not only hard work from its new operator, but also drivers, legislators and existing Source London Partners.
And only time and patience will be the way to measure this particular endeavour’s success or failure. We hope it’s the former.
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