Monday, 13 April 2009

Are Friends Electric?

Encouraging news recently, of fresh efforts to breathe life into the Electric Car industry. Gordon Brown has made mention of incentives to be included in the forthcoming Budget (though, unsurprisingly, there was only sketchy detail available behind the headline...) and London Mayor Boris Johnson has said he's keen to see London continue to blaze the electric-vehicle trail. Both men want to see wider networks of charging points (though, personally, I suspect Brown's enthusiasm will wane when he realises that a charging point is not a place at which the motorist queues to be relieved of cash!) and grants to boost British manufacturing.

I'm delighted that the concept is being given fresh impetus. I've been driving an electric vehicle for my daily commute for the last 6 years and I love it. I've probably got one of the UK's higher electric mileages under my belt and I'm a firm convert.

BUT. (You could sense there was a "but" coming, couldn't you?)

Government has serious Form when it comes to transport initiatives and the wise will view the latest plans with caution. There've been previous attempts to encourage "greener" road travel, such as the "Convert to LPG" scheme in 2003. This was a great idea: switch your vehicle to LPG, with the help of a generous grant, and enjoy the delights of this clean fuel at roughly half the price of petrol. Lovely! Only lots of people went for it and (a) the grant fund ran out; and (b) the government had second thoughts about the preferential tax status afforded to LPG, and up went the price.

The same idea of a system of grants was put in place to encourage purchase of the first wave of electric vehicles. Same thing happened: people took up the offer, the Treasury took fright and the grants largely dried up.

I hope it'll be different this time, but I fear more of the same. Short-term thinking gets them all excited about the headline-grabbing possibilities of grants and schemes, but the long-term funding is another matter.

Then there's the ideology problem. Plenty of UK Local Authorities are fundamentally opposed to the Car. Will they embrace the call for a multitude of easy-to-use on-street recharging points, or will they see them as encouraging private car use and hindering the march toward the holy grail of Modal Shift towards public transport? The City of London was one of the first to encourage electric vehicles, back in 2003, granting free use of their car parks and meter bays. But last year, guess what? They decided that this was encouraging people to bring electric vehicles into the City, which wasn't really what they had in mind. So the parking benefits have been withdrawn.

Hats off to Westminster Council, who have stuck to their guns on this issue, and continue to offer free and discounted parking, together with an extensive (and extending) network of charging points.

Enough of the politics for now. What about the experience and technology of Driving Electric? More on that in our next, thrilling instalment!

No comments: