The Reality of Owning an Electric Vehicle In Northern Ireland is shocking…

A recent report issued this week by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) highlighted a huge surge in the sale of Electric Vehicles (EV) with a 20% increase in EV registrations in the UK. Figures for New Car registrations in Northern Ireland are down 0.9% from January 2016 levels compared with increases in the rest of the UK and figures for the uptake of EV registrations specifically for Northern Ireland are not available so we do not know if this upward trend applies to NI.

This report rekindled my interest in the uptake of Electric Vehicles as in 2016 I decided to break from convention and buy my first Electric Car as I believed strongly in the adoption of a zero emission mode of transport and I thought I would do my bit.

The car I purchased, The Renault Zoe was great, but sadly after two months of ownership I ended up having to swap the car for a conventional vehicle as the obstacles that encountered in Northern Ireland / ROI in relation driving an Electric Vehicle primarily in the Newry area, were for me too great to overcome.

During my ownership period I had the opportunity to liaise with most of the stakeholders in NI involved in all aspects of administering the EV scheme as well as other EV owners and I thought these experiences were worth sharing with Slugger’s readers.

My main observations were: –

·         Over a period of two months, at least 50% of the public access charge points I tried to use were out of order at any one time. As well as NI, this observation also applied to M1 main motorway service stations en-route to Dublin

·         Disabled badge holders were more often than not parked in EV allocated parking spaces which prevented my vehicle from being charged. Parking enforcement attendants confirmed that they were unable to issue fixed charge penalty notices to Disabled Badge Holders parked in EV spaces.

·         EV charging points located on private land, more often than not had petrol / diesel engine cars parked in the EV charge points e.g. petrol stations, hotels etc.

·         The Department of Regional Development (DRD) who paid for and installed the EV charging network before passing ownership of the network to ESB / ECar, confirmed to me that there is no agreed service level agreement in place to deal with EV charge points that are out of order and that ESB / ECar will repair them ‘when they can’.

·         ECar / ESB confirmed the due to low take up of the technology could only keep it in working order if users let them know when EV charge points were not working and sometimes this was slow to happen. They also confirmed that due to the different type of charging points that exist across Ireland, as they are not all from the same supplier, the availability of spare parts can often delay repairs.

·         DRD confirmed that they do not have any interest in relation to ‘private land’ on which EV charge are points located and therefore are unable to enforce any illegal parking in EV allocated spaces with any enforcement being the responsibility of the landowner. This is unlike the rest of the UK where enforcement can be made in relation to charging points located in private land. Two of the private landowners I spoke to thought it was DRD’s responsibility to enforce illegal parking in EV allocated spaces.

·         Parking Enforcement confirmed that there were often unable to enforce penalty notices for illegal parking in EV spaces on the high street due to and absence of signage or readable road markings in place advising motorists of EV parking bay restrictions.


Petrol / Diesel cars parked in EV charge points in Newry City Centre.

  The conclusion of my short period of EV ownership was Northern Ireland is not geared up yet for electric vehicles. As ever we are more than capable of investing taxpayers money successfully on the infrastructure but there is a complete absence of systems or processes or service level agreements for running and administering the network. There appeared to me confusion as to who was actually responsible for day to day issues administering the EV network as Ecar / ESB / DRD, The local Councils, Parking Enforcement, private landowners often contradicting each other when asked about specific technical issues regarding the administration of the scheme.

It seemed to me that following my discussions with the various stakeholders in NI, is that they all agreed that the EV network is not functioning correctly, but no one organisation seemed to be ultimately responsible as each stakeholder just pointed the finger of blame at each other.

As is typical for NI we seem to be masters at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in that we invest millions in the technology and then struggle to operate it efficiently and without clear responsibility or accountability.

It seems to me that every time someone looks closely at the inner workings of the various government departments they just aren’t functioning the way they should be as this is another that can be added to an already long list of dysfunctional public services.

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