In the electric car world, there are generally two different types of anxiety that come with driving long-distance trips: range anxiety and charger anxiety.
The former — the fear that you won’t reach your destination without running out of power — can be conquered by experience and careful planning. The latter — the fear that you’ll arrive at a charging station to find it broken or vandalised — can only be treated with up-to-date information from charging providers, careful redundancy provision at charging locations, and comprehensive support.
In the UK, utility company Ecotricity, which owns and operates the highly-successful Electric Highway of rapid charging stations, has always been at the forefront of helping customers overcome range anxiety and charger anxiety by providing a 24-hour telephone support line. As well as helping owners with technical problems, its telephone helpline is invaluable for those wishing to check the status of a charging station before they make a long-distance trip outside of office hours and will even help stranded customers find an alternative place to charge in the unlikely event that all of its charging stations at a particular location are offline for some reason.
Today however, the Gloucestershire-based company has announced it will end its 24-hour support service for Electric Highway customers as of tonight, operating only during office hours (8:30am-5:30pm, Monday-Friday) from Tuesday, 10 March. For those taking note, that’s tomorrow.
In an email to its customers, Ecotricity CEO Dale Vince said that the change comes about as the Ecotricity Electric Highway enters into a new phase of charge point installation and provision.
Instead of a 24-hour helpline, the company says a new online resource, available from tomorrow, will address the most common issues that customers call the electric highway helpline about, which we presume revolve around basic first-time questions about using the network or obtaining a charge.
Despite the drop in the level of telephone support however, Ecotricity says work is continuing at a pace to ‘iron out’ some of the faults with the rapid charging hardware that is currently part of its network. Referring to the upgrade as ‘going very well,’ Vince says he hopes the upgrade should be completed within a few months. After that, Ecotricity plans to continue to double-up on charging stations at each of its existing sites, ensuring there’s always more than one rapid charger at each site to both help alleviate bottle-necks as well as provide physical redundancy at each site in case of a failure.
It also plans an expansion of rapid charging sites in the coming months, expanding onto A-roads in rural areas not connected to the motorway network. This is especially important for users in areas like Wales, Scotland, the rural south-west and East Anglia, where there’s currently a chronic shortage of accessible rapid charging infrastructure for electric cars.
While Ecotricity doesn’t specifically state it, its decision appears to be one influenced by financial logic: put the available money where it is most likely to be used.
For the heaviest Electric Highway users who have become accustomed to calling up the 24-hour helpline to report a fault with equipment or check the status of equipment at weekends, the switch from 24/7 support to office-hours only is obviously a frustrating one.
But at the moment we feel it’s important to note too that Ecotricity, unlike other charging networks, is still offering unlimited free recharging for those registered to use its Electric Highway. Both Charge Your Car and Chargemaster/Polar, the other two main providers of rapid charging for electric vehicles in the UK, charge a fee upwards of £5 per 30-minute rapid charge session.
Eventually, Ecotricity will also levy a fee against customers for each rapid charge, but according to Simon Crowfoot, MD for Ecotricity’s Electric Highway, “We don’t expect to be charging for some good while yet.”
With a new website promised in the coming months, as well as a new smartphone app to allow customers to check live availability and status, Ecotricity’s Electric Highway will soon become far easier and reliable to use. But as owners across the UK start to react in horror to the news of the loss of 24-hour support, we’re curious to know what you think about this announcement.
Do you think Ecotricity’s decision to end 24/7 support for its customers is premature? Do you think it’s an understandable change ahead of a more reliable, serviceable network?
Or perhaps you think moaning about a free service that provides free fuel for your vehicle is disingenuous?
Leave your thoughts — for and against — in the Comments below.
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