'No corners to cut' in EV transition challenge

Unite calls on government to urgently support charging infrastructure as No. 10 climate spokesperson reveals she doesn’t “fancy” an EV “just yet”

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In less than 10 years’ time, new diesel and petrol vehicles will be banned, and Unite has called on the government to ensure that affordable and accessible electrical vehicle infrastructure is in place well ahead of the 2030 deadline.  

A new report from the transport select committee found that as the situation stands now, the government is failing to deliver the electric vehicle charging infrastructure required to support the successful transition to electric vehicles.

The report highlighted the worrying issue of unequal charging costs that affect those less well-off. For example, home charging costs with private charging points are subject to just 5 per cent VAT while on-street charging incurs 20 per cent VAT. Given that 16 per cent of rural homes and 60 per cent of homes in towns and cities do not have a driveway or garage and so cannot charge at home, this creates a strong disincentive for the majority of people to adopt electric vehicles.

The committee also noted the postcode lottery of public charging points. In April 2021, there were just under 21,000 public charging points across the UK, with the majority located in London and Scotland. Only just over 4,000 were rapid charging points.

While estimates vary, a recent Policy Exchange report said that the UK will need at the very least 400,000 public charging points by 2030 to support the transition to EVs, and charge point operators will need to invest between £5bn and £10bn in addition to the £1.3bn the government has earmarked for charge point infrastructure.

Meanwhile, last month, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) urged the government to intervene in the electric vehicle charging market to tackle the issue of ‘charging deserts’ and to ensure more charging points are available outside of London.

The CMA expressed concern about the dominance of one company, Electric Highway, a subsidiary of the private energy firm Gridserve, in the electric charging market, noting that Electric Highway’s exclusivity agreements with three motorway service providers “increase barriers to entry for other chargepoint operators”.

The CMA also highlighted the problem of ‘subscription traps’ for public charging points, where users must have an account. At present, only 9 per cent of public charging points accept contactless payments, compared to petrol stations that are all almost entirely accessible without the need for consumers to have an account. The CMA said such subscription traps create yet another barrier for the adoption of electric vehicles.

This week, the government’s commitment to the transition to electrical vehicles was called into question after prime minister Boris Johnson’s climate spokesperson Allegra Stratton revealed in an interview that she drives a ‘third-hand’ diesel vehicle and said of switching to an electrical vehicle, “I don’t fancy it just yet.”

Stratton, a spokesperson for the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow this year, said that electric vehicles put her off because having to stop to recharge her car would slow down her journey to visit her elderly relatives who live “200,250” miles away in Scotland, Gloucestershire, north Wales and the Lake District.

Stratton, who lives in north London, explained in an interview with the Radio Times, “They’re all journeys that I think would be at least one quite long stop to charge,” adding that she would consider buying an electric vehicle if “the stop times for recharging improve so much that it’s half an hour”.

Stratton’s comments sparked widespread criticism, with the AA president Edmund King noting that Stratton was wrong about the range and charge times of electric vehicles.

“Even on a rare journey of over 200 miles, the driver should stop to take a break anyway for road safety reasons, so why not combine it with a rapid charge that takes just 20 minutes to go from a quarter charge to over 80%?” he told the Times.

Unite assistant general secretary for manufacturing Steve Turner argued that the government must lead the way in ensuring a successful transition to electric vehicles to meet the UK’s climate change commitments.

“The government could help make electric cars an easier option for drivers by tackling the issue of running costs,” he said. “At home, charging costs are at the domestic rate but once on the road, drivers are in a world without any regulation of costs.  Charging points and connections aren’t even standardised. 

“For the better off, charging overnight can be fine if you’ve got a private charging point but for the rest of us in terraces or flats, at the moment we have to rely on expensive on road private charging points,” he added. “This has to change. 

“The government is reluctant to move on expanding electric vehicle usage by tackling charging costs while it is still heavily reliant on fuel duty revenue but this is not good enough,” Turner went on to say. “We’ve got a climate crisis that needs to be addressed at pace but a taxation system reliant on polluting and less green engines. 

“There are no corners to cut in this challenge,” he continued. “Electric vehicles will deliver real environmental benefits but the UK must commit to the infrastructure to provide the affordable green energy needed to make them a realistic option for all drivers. 

“The potential for jobs growth and cleaner air for our communities is huge but neither will be realised unless the government leads the way.”

By Hajera Blagg

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