Connected Kerb, the company contracted by the council with the installation and maintenance of 30 new on-street electric vehicle (EV) charging points in Bedford, has defended its service offering after initial issues with its Bedford rollout.
CEO Chris Pateman-Jones acknowledged the rollout of the charging points could have been better but suggested ‘the time to judge’ their service and charging points in Bedford is ‘from now on’.
Peter Kemish, who first owned a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle six years ago and a fully electric vehicle (EV) since 2018, contacted the Bedford Independent to question the council’s contract with Connected Kerb for the 30 new charging points.
In sum, he believed it to be ‘a backwards step’ and raised concerns including:
- the parking spaces not being EV-only
- the pricing of £0.24 per kilowatt hour (kWh) being higher than other local public charging rates
- Connected Kerb app’s effectiveness, including showing chargers on Victoria Road before their installation was completed
Kemish also highlighted an awry what3words address on the Connected Kerb app for Cutcliffe Grove’s charging points.
What3Words is an app that divides the world into three-metre squares with a unique three-word address for each square. Connected Kerb’s address for its Cutcliffe Grove charging points directed to a house further down the road.
The new charging points are on Cutcliffe Grove, Oaklands Road, Park Road East, Russell Avenue and Victoria Road.
Checking the app, the Bedford Independent initially found three of the five Connected Kerb charging point locations in Bedford had what3words addresses provided.
The Cutcliffe Grove and Russell Avenue location addresses directed to houses further along the street. The what3words address for Oaklands Road directed to over two miles away on Windmill Hill, Biddenham.
Also, only four of the six charging points at Oaklands Road were listed on the app.
Within 24 hours of the Bedford Independent contacting Connected Kerb, all five locations in Bedford had what3words addresses which were much more accurate and all six charging points on Oaklands Road were showing on the app.
Connected Kerb’s CEO Chris Pateman-Jones volunteered to be interviewed and he apologised for the initial wrong what3words addresses, although said the intention was not to direct to ‘the exact square metre’ but to ‘direct you to the street’.
Meanwhile, the two Oaklands Road charging points had been temporarily taken off the app due to being damaged by a vehicle collision and were fixed the next day.
Pateman-Jones also acknowledged that two of the six Victoria Road charging points had been put on the app before they could be used and posted prematurely on zap-map by a member of the public.
He emphasised the speed with which all app issues were resolved, and that the council and Connected Kerb successfully contacted zap-map to remove the premature posting.
Pateman-Jones repeatedly described these issues as occurring during the ‘commissioning phase’ of the project, before Connected Kerb marketed to local residents, including with a trial EV vehicle scheme.
He said the installation of the 30 new charging points, all offering a 7kW charge and of the company’s smallest charge point design, Gecko, was ‘incredibly fast’.
Connected Kerb was charged with the contract in early 2021, with the task of completing it in April ‘because of the financial year’. He added: “I think we would be honest and say there are probably things that we can do to make [the deployment of the charging points] better.
“But I guess then I would caveat by saying that, again, it was a commissioning phase and we still haven’t formally launched the system.”
He suggested the time to judge Connected Kerb’s performance was ‘from now’, with the system ‘fully operational’ and whether it gave local residents ‘ultimate reliability, greenest charging infrastructure in the world and something that doesn’t make the streets look ugly’.
The £0.24/kWh agreed with the council Pateman-Jones called ‘a very attractive price for people to charge on the street’.
He noted there are no subscription fees or minimum payments unlike other EV charger companies and the pricing remains cheaper than petrol or diesel equivalents.
Previous commissioned council suppliers BP Pulse/Chargemaster offer a rate of £0.12 for those either with OVO Energy or paying monthly subscriptions.
Their pay as you go rate is £0.18+/kWh outside of this with a minimum £1.20 spend, though the prices rise according to how fast the charger is.
Separately, Brewpoint brewery’s chargers, supplied by Pod Point, cost £0.185/kWh.
Asked how it stood out from competitors, Pateman-Jones said that Connected Kerb’s charging points had ‘unquestionable’ greater reliability, with a 15-20 year shelf life compared to a market average of 5-7 years.
Unlike other chargepoint designs, Connected Kerb has most of the kit beneath the ground. This makes it quicker to repair damage caused above ground and reduces ‘visual impact’.
Connected Kerb has also received awards recognition, including a SEAL environmental award last year, for using recycled plastics and steel in their charge points’ design. They partnered the UN and UNESCO for their 75th anniversary celebrations as well.
Pateman-Jones said the company deliberately designed their on-street charge points to not have EV-only bays: “We know from day zero of the project that we will probably have charging points being unused, because they may be blocked by combustion engine cars for the time being.”
This was because Connected Kerb sought to particularly meet the demands of those without home charging spaces on already parking-congested roads, the company’s CEO explained.
All of the 30 new charge points in Bedford were set up without any EV-only parking bays, a council decision.
The council provided Connected Kerb with a list of possible locations, which the company then chose from after analysing factors including pavement width.
However, Castle Ward Green Cllr Lucy Bywater highlighted that the council has now proposed to restrict the parking bays next to the Russell Avenue charge points to EV-only.
The new charging points were funded by £96,833 from central government’s Office for Zero Emissions Vehicles’ (OZEV) on-street residential charging scheme, which pays for a maximum 75% of initial installation costs. The remainder, £32,294, came from the council.
The council’s 10-year contract with Connected Kerb includes it getting a profit share from the charge points’ use.
If the council’s profit share hasn’t fully regained back the £32,294 by the end of the 10 years, Connected Kerb will cover the gap.
Cllr Charles Royden, portfolio holder for environment and highways, commented: “We have worked to install electric vehicle charging points to deliver this key infrastructure for the future, and usage data shows that these are meeting the demand for people visiting and working in Bedford.”
Adding that battery technology has increased distances between charges, Cllr Royden said the council ‘is investing to ensure that there will be additional provision as demand for EV charging increases’.
“We are proactive as a local authority in playing our part to address climate change, and we hope that by working to deliver this vital electric vehicle infrastructure we will help people make the shift away from traditional fossil fuels,” he said.
Previously, Cllr Royden has stated the council’s ambition to install another 60 public EV charging points this year.
A council spokesperson confirmed ‘further sites have been identified and assessed and conversations are now ongoing with local residents’.
A further grant application will be made over the summer.
The council’s integrated transport budget has a ‘substantial commitment’ to developing the borough’s EV charging network this year though, meaning the installation programme is ‘not dependent’ on this.
The local Bedford Conservative council group welcomed the new EV charge points given the government’s ‘tight timetable’ to ban new diesel and petrol cars from 2030.
They also recognised that ‘many of the teething issues around EV charging have now been addressed’.
Conservative group leader Cllr Graeme Coombes said that ‘there is a balance to be struck’ in roads where kerbside parking is limited and EV ownership low.
But he wanted charging costs to be lower and there to be ‘more dedicated EV charging spaces’ as ownership levels increase.
Noting future planning applications require EV charging provision, Cllr Coombes also called on the Mayor and council to ensure housing developments due to be built under previous planning policies ‘don’t lose out’.
Cllr Bywater said that she and fellow Castle Ward Green Cllr Ben Foley had put forward possible charge point suggestions in the ward in autumn 2019 after listening to local residents
“We’re mindful of parking congestion in Castle Ward and the often heated feelings around that, and we know that cycling, walking infrastructure as well as public transport is really central,” she said.
“We also feel that EVs, whilst having a role to play in local air quality, are not the panacea for all our problems including traffic congestion and emissions from brakes/tyres etc.”
Cllr Bywater also wants the council to enable a local car club to reduce parking congestion, especially with more people not needing to commute.
They were told by the council last year though that a car club ‘was not a priority’.
Connected Kerb had planned an official launch event for the charging points this week, attended by their ambassador, and former Bedford rugby player, Martin Offiah and senior council members were to attend. Unfortunately, this was postponed due to local COVID rates.
The company is set to double its charging point locations this summer to more than a thousand.
Pateman-Jones welcomed the Commons’ Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report last week on the country’s looming switch to EV.
He viewed it as ‘bold in saying that there isn’t enough planning, and there needs to be more infrastructure deployed’.
The 30 recently installed charge points bring the total number of publicly available EV charge points in the borough to 82.
Meanwhile, the council spokesperson confirmed to the Bedford Independent that electric waste collection vehicles will be trialled in the borough ‘later this year’.