Reports, surveys, new standards under development – it feels like over the past year the EV charging industry has sat up and taken notice of the need for accessibility in the infrastructure it’s rolling out. But it’s still at the very start of it all, with many accessibility features being a wish list rather than a requirement.
“There are 1,000s of chargepoints going out there at the moment, and very, very few of them are accessible,” Graham Footer, chief executive of Disabled Motoring UK, told Current± as he sat down to detail the current barriers – and just what can be done.
“This has been a missed opportunity, and we need to catch up and catch up fast if we are to transition 2.3 million disabled motorists across to EVs, which is our aim. That's what we want to do.”
When EV charging sites are not built with accessibility in mind, it leaves many drivers unable to use them – excluding them from the transition.
There are many barriers to disabled drivers that need tackling, but the consensus seems to be that on the whole, these are not only fixable, but often easily so.
Barriers include the bays not having enough room around them, for instance meaning a wheelchair user is unable to open their door fully to get a wheelchair alongside the car to transition into to then begin charging.
Others include bollards around the chargepoint and the heights of the machinery, which can be either too high or too low. The weight of cables, particularly for rapid chargers, can be challenging for some people with dexterity problems to operate. Then other elements such as understanding the technology can be an issue for some people with cognitive disabilities.
High curbs can also pose a problem, while poor signage and lighting can also be a barrier. Some of these are not just barriers to disabled people, however, with many of these impacting on other groups of people such as older people and parents with young children.
Improving accessibility across the EV charging rollout
“We're not talking about a massive overhaul, we're talking about designing inclusively from the start,” Catherine Marris, head of innovation at Motability, said.
But including accessibility in an EV charging site is not always up to the chargepoint operator (CPO).
“The hard bit is the fact that we can't control all the elements in all cases. And then when we do launch a site that doesn't meet this criteria, what's interesting now is that people are very quick to criticise the site – rightly so,” Osprey Charging CEO Ian Johnston said.
This discrepancy often comes about due to the ownership of the land. When CPOs own the land, they are in complete control of what that site looks like, and can put in any number of measures such as canopies, lighting, CCTV, spacing around the bays, dropped curbs etc.
But a large number of EV charging sites are now being deployed on a tenancy basis for a retailer or retail park, and the challenge then comes in convincing that retailer to remove some of its parking bays – a source of revenue – to accommodate larger, more accessible EV charging bays.
While some of Osprey’s partners have been “brilliant”, Johnston said that the understanding is not yet there for all retailers, which is why he said having government standards is so important.
Standards are currently under development by the British Standard Institute, having been commissioned by Motability and the Department for Transport. This came after Motability found the EV charging industry is generally on board with accessibility, but doesn’t necessarily know what is meant by accessible charging, with a standard then being the ideal way of providing that clear information.
The current aim is to finalise the draft standard for summer/autumn this year, with the standard then setting the minimum requirements for accessibility across all charging infrastructure.
Marris said there’s been a lot of goodwill in the industry and people interested in the standard, but the charity also wants people to have assurance that these standards will be the norm by the time the transition to EVs has fully taken place.
“So we are exploring other routes to make sure that the standard is taken up,” she said.
Other activity in this space includes Motability working with fellow charity Designability on designs for accessible chargepoints, a survey undertaken by AA and projects such as SSEN's Equal EV, which recently produced a new report on the viability of technology to remove barriers for people with disabilities and vulnerabilities.
It also looked at the role of distribution network operators (DNOs) such as SSEN in this, particularly in the case of power cuts. Suggestions included a community of first responders as well as vehicle-to-home and a temporary charging service to support vulnerable customers with EVs, all enabled through the Priority Services Register.
The vehicle-to-home element is being developed, Richard Hartshorn, EV readiness manager, SSEN said, with the DNO having talked to a number of local authorities and academics about possible trials, while it is also exploring the potential for temporary charging services.
Varying levels of accessibility
So beyond land ownership and a level of understanding, why aren’t more EV charging sites accessible?
Hartshorn said there’s a level of maturity with some of the CPOs which can impact on this.
“There are some well-established players in the market who have covered the key elements that they need to establish a successful business and are now able to consider other elements they need to bring in to create the fully rounded business that customers expect.
“Whereas there are some up-and-coming parties that are breaking into that space that perhaps haven't yet got the size of the business or the capital behind them to start covering every element that they really should do,” he explained, suggesting this is one area the government seems to be keen on regulating.
When it comes to EV charging in general, meanwhile, Osprey is advocating for a minimum accessibility standard across all EV bays as opposed to a requirement for one in ten or one in five, as many drivers will want to park in the widest or easiest bay to drive into, which can then block access to an EV charging site for a disabled driver.
This was somewhat echoed by Footer, who said that ultimately there has to be the ability for a disabled driver to find accessible charging.
“We would like to see all EV charging accessible, but if that isn't viable, then there should be at least some percentage in there for accessible charging so it's not completely non accessible. We would like to see at least one in five chargepoints accessible,” he said.
The ultimate goal, however, is wireless charging.
There are benefits to CPOs of all this as well, of course, with accessibility measures opening up their infrastructure to a very large group of consumers, while also providing a better charging experience for all consumers.
As Marris said: "From a market perspective, it's great for you commercially because more people will want to use your infrastructure.
"From a societal perspective, it means that the government and communities can achieve their goals of transitioning to EVs, but we have to take everyone on that journey with us. We can't leave people behind because we're not thinking about inclusivity."