How many people actually use public EV chargers? To find out, we staked one out for the day
22 July 2018

Forty-five minutes ago, I was drumming my fingers on the steering wheel of my petrol Volkswagen Golf while stuck in a queue at my local filling station.

Now here I am at one of the UK’s busiest public electric vehicle charge points, and it’s deserted. Forty minutes later, it’s still deserted.

So much for my plan to record a day in the life of a charge point. I swear Chargemaster, the UK’s biggest charge point network that was recently bought by BP, told me this Polar-branded location was one of its busiest. Its actual busiest, believe it or not, is Harvester Flamstead, just off junction nine of the M1. Makes sense, I suppose: busy execs catch a coffee while their Nissan Leaf gets a shot of juice. Twenty-five minutes later, emails answered and calls made, they’re on their way.

I should be there, but Harvester doesn’t want a reporter and his photographer bothering customers. That rules out Chargemaster’s second-busiest location: Harvester Warwick. Which leaves its third: The Runnymede on Thames Hotel and Spa in Egham, just off junction 13 of the M25. The hotel has no issues with our presence, so here I am with photographer Luc, and only a charging point, two empty bays and the drone of the M25 for company.

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Then, at precisely 9.10am, a Nissan Leaf slips silently into one of the bays. Its driver, Peter Trapmore, tells me he lives 60 miles away on Hayling Island. He makes the journey to Heathrow airport once a month and is flying to the US today.

“I always top up the Leaf here so that when I fly back into Heathrow, I can go back home without delay,” he tells me.

He’s only ever had to wait once for a charge. “Two EVs charging at the same time?” I say, incredulously.

Peter corrects me: “No – only one. There are two bays and two sets of charging cables, but only one car can be charged at a time.”

Not that he’s complaining, especially since the power is free, at least for the moment...

“I pay Chargemaster a standing charge of £7.85 a month for access to its chargers,” says Peter. “It’s up to the site owner whether they charge for the power itself and more of them are beginning to do so. Here at Runnymede the power is still free, but the hotel plans to start charging soon at a rate of 10.8p per kWh.” 

Will that mean the end of his Runnymede run? “Definitely not,” he replies. “It’ll still be cheap power. Shell has just opened a charge point nearby charging 49p per kWh. On that basis, the power I’ve just taken – sufficient for 80 miles – would cost me £9!”

With his car’s battery now reading 85% charged, up from 25% when he arrived 25 minutes ago, Peter judges the Leaf good to go and, with a wave, drives away.

No one is waiting to take his place. Forty-five minutes later, they still aren’t. I consult Zap Map, a website that shows the location of charging points, for the location of others in the area. It shows Costco Sunbury has 16, two of them currently in use. Luc and I shoot over but, when we arrive, there’s just a Leaf in residence, its owner nowhere to be seen. We nip back to Runnymede to find a Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV plugged in but deserted. I suspect that from the blanket on the back seat, the owner is walking his dog. Sure enough, he soon returns, mutt in tow.

“I use this charge point every few days,” says Kim Tuffin. “In the time it takes me to walk the dog, the battery gets to 80% full. I know the Outlander PHEV is a hybrid, but the 30 miles of free electric running it gives me are all I need.”

Charged up, he drives off, leaving us to our lonely vigil. At 1.45pm, a Kia Soul EV slips into one of the charge bays. Turns out its driver, Sean Walters, a retired airline pilot, is an EV evangelist. He also has a Mitsubishi i-Miev and a Peugeot iOn.

“Me and others campaigned for a charger here for four years,” he tells me. “Right next to the M25 it’s perfect, although a power outage in the hotel meant it was down for a few hours recently. If I find a broken charger, I get on to the site operator.

“And another thing: bay markings need to be standardised. There are blue ones, green ones (I like the green ones), but those with plug symbols can be confused with disabled bays. A disabled driver once accused me of parking in what he thought was a disabled bay until I pointed out his error. By the end of our conversation, I’d persuaded him to buy an EV!”

Sean is followed at 2.30pm by Ian Bryant at the wheel of a new Leaf. “I won it in a competition,” he declares, proudly. “So far, my 1000 miles have cost me just 35p in electricity.”

He’s here to give his car’s battery what he calls a “precautionary top- up”. It’s got 40% left, enough for around 70 miles, and a 15-minute recharge will take it to 70%.

“I like to get in early,” says Ian. “This charge point can get busy with commuters from around mid- afternoon, although if they’ve got a decent charge, most people will unplug to save people queuing.”

I check my watch. We’ve been here for more than six hours. It hasn’t been a full day, admittedly, but I’m ready to drop. A day in the life of a petrol pump, anyone?

The EV-angelists:

My day at Chargemaster’s Runnymede on Thames Hotel charger began at 8.30am and ended at 3pm, broken by a fruitless trip to Sunbury Costco. The company confirmed that seven cars visited the charge point during the day: four while I was there, one when I was at Costco (naturally) and two others after I left. This compares with Harvester Flamstead, Chargemaster’s busiest location, which, since the start of 2018, has been used an average of six times, but often more than 10 times, per day.

9.10am Peter Trapmore, Nissan Leaf: “While the battery is charging, I work in the car or walk down to the river.”

12.00pm Kim Tuffin, Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV: “This point is local to me, so while the car is charging I take the dog for a walk.”

1.45pm Sean Walters, Kia Soul EV: “I don’t suffer charge anxiety. I’m a former pilot – I could never afford to suffer fuel anxiety.”

2.30pm Ian Bryant, Nissan Leaf: “The afternoons can get busy here but EV users are a polite bunch and there’s never any trouble.”

John Evans

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Join the debate


22 July 2018

The lady with the Outlander PHEV may be losing money. Even with using free chargers, the £7.85 standing charge and small range of the PHEV means its difficult to put enough electricity in per month to be financially viable.

PHEV has 12kwh battery, 2 kept in reserve so can take a charge of about 10kwh. A rapid charge will only go to 80% so 8kwh at domestically about 10p/kw = 80p worth of charge. £7.85 over 10p would mean you need about 10 full charges from flat to 80% to break even against home charging.

but as mentioned, most rapid chargers now have a 10p per kw charge too. So that means 20 full charges with a 25 minute wait per month. Membership just isn't worth it.

Of course for an EV its very worth it and great value, not too mention an exclusive parking spot right out front in some places (to keep cable costs down)

- if there isn't a Range Rover blocking it as they are drawn to any big parking space that is right outside the door and avoids 10 feet extra walk..

22 July 2018

" If I find a broken charger, I get on to the site operator."  Same thing with your plane mate... if you arrive at an airport with fuel tanks at min. and there's no fuel available, it's not as if you can take off and visit the next airport...  Your stuck there until the problem is fixed.

Can see the appeal for hybrid but for EV?

Only cost 30p for 1000 miles. Electricity is free to use etc.    Who pays for the infrastructure? Who pays to install and maintain it? These folk may well believe in Peter Pan if they also think money comes from thin air. BP just paid £130m for the company to rival Shell's network.

"Shell has just opened a charge point nearby charging 49p per kWh. On that basis, the power I’ve just taken – sufficient for 80 miles – would cost me £9!”

They'll be trading their EV's in for a petrol or diesel when reality starts to sink in that an EV is more expensive to run.



22 July 2018

That will come when approx 20% of vehicles are electric, diesel and petrol costing circa £1.28p litre of which vat and duty is over 80p so a typical smallish tank of 50 litres is approx £40 loss to the revenue.Non of the green energy stacks up by economics ,just susbsidized by the masses until it can't be afforded and the model collapses.

22 July 2018

What was this article meant to show? The penultimate paragraph states a user finds the charger gets busy from mid afternoon, at which point you decide its time to go home! 

22 July 2018

 As autonomous Cars get closer and closer along with them all being Hybrid or full Ev’s and as predicted were apparently going to save money range anxiety will all but disappear, how are Governments going to make up the shortfall in a Fuel duty?, will it gradually creep up and up year on year?, will the old hashioned Fossil fuel suppliers cash in by going Electric?, what will the stock piles of unused Petrol and Deisel be used for?, these and other interesting questions need opinions, answers.

23 July 2018
Peter Cavellini wrote:

 ....?, what will the stock piles of unused Petrol and Deisel be used for?, these and other interesting questions need opinions, answers.

Oh I think there'll be petrol cars for a long time yet.

22 July 2018

The lost duty and vat  would have to be recouped one way or another, they could get clever with the chargre and allocate a duty & vat charge at source away from home or at home.there could be a large special duty enery tax payable monthly,it would need to equate to the 80p or so per litre lost on duty and vat re diesel and petrol substitution with electric.There are ultimately no free lunches with this.

22 July 2018

I would say wiith present technology a diesel suv still rules for me and perhaps an electric city car,but until the solid state batteries are available and the costs come down from over 200$ to 70$ per killowatt battery pack,so you are talking redcuing from£13k to £4K,equating to similar costs as current internal combustion engines,that is when in theory prices should be equal to current cars about 8 years time.So fast forward say 10 years range is up to 1000 miles costs reduce an I pace type vehicle to £45k it looks bright. Only problem I forsee is that darned Exchequer.I like the idea of instant power and silence,hope not many pedestrians are injured though as they are so silent.

22 July 2018

I am shocked at some of the ignorant comments made above by people who pass ill-informed opinions as facts.

I have a Nissan Leaf (30kw) and have owned it for just under a year now.  I use it mostly to travel to and from work which is a round trip of 40 miles per day - typically just over 200 miles per week.  My previous car, a Skôda Fabia used, on the basis of the mileage above, about £200 per month. 

Now, I charge using a charging point that was installed just before I took delivery of the car, and the electricity costs me about £20 per month extra on my energy bill - that's about a tenth of what I was paying for petrol!

Overall, I have saved nearly £2000 on running the car in just under twelve months.

Longer journeys are easy.  With a range, fully charged, of about 140 miles, I need to stop for a break every 100 miles or so.  Every service station on the motorway network has chargers - rapid chargers - that will charge the battery from 20% to 80% plus in about 30 minutes: the time it takes for a cup of coffee, trip to the loo and walk the dog.  That costs about £5 and you're good to go.

Owning an electric car is incredibly convenient, and cheap.  This will catch on as more people wise up to EV ownership.


22 July 2018
ursus262 wrote:

I have a Nissan Leaf (30kw) and have owned it for just under a year now.  I use it mostly to travel to and from work which is a round trip of 40 miles per day - typically just over 200 miles per week.  My previous car, a Skôda Fabia used, on the basis of the mileage above, about £200 per month. 

800 miles a month was costing you £200? At say 40mpg and £1.30/litre it should be nearer £118. 

It would be useful if Autocar ran a feature setting out all the costs of running differently fuelled vehicles, say electric v petrol v diesel in a variety of scenarios. 


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