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Dundee EV charging boss apologises for ‘frustrating’ six months as ChargePlace Scotland team looks to the future

electric car chargers dundee
SWARCO charging hub at Princes Street, Dundee.

ChargePlace Scotland boss Stephen Trayner has apologised for a “frustrating” six months while promising electric car drivers better days ahead.

Stephen Trayner is SWARCO’s head of contract operations at its Dundee service centre in the Michelin Scotland Innovation Parc.

The company assumed control over Scotland’s £50m, rapidly growing charging network in July, 2021 in what was billed as the biggest charging network switchover anywhere in the world.

SWARCO initially promised drivers a “gold standard” service, but many experienced more reports of broken or inoperable units instead.

Stephen said an apology was “absolutely part of my message at the end of this year” to customers.

“It is right to acknowledge that it has been a more frustrating period than any of us expected.

“We set a level of expectation pre-migration, and even post, and believed that we could meet all the challenges.

“Some were opaque to us at the time. Some proved more complex. I get it. Totally get it.”

Electric car charging boss Stephen Trayner
Stephen Trayner

DC Thomson writers, for example, drove an electric van from John O’Groats to Glasgow ahead of COP26 in October.

The journey highlighted serious issues in many rural parts of Scotland right at the time when many were at their most open to the actions they could take to help cut emissions.

Stephen acknowledges the responsibility, but highlights the hard work of staff in improving the situation.

“I can sit here and wax lyrical about how great the network is, how expansive it is, but experience defines perception.

“90% of the network is up all day, every day. But if you’re the person who finds one charger and it doesn’t work, then goes to a second charger and it doesn’t work, that’s your perception of the network regardless of what’s happening elsewhere.”

How has ChargePlace Scotland’s Dundee team bounced back?

The company has nearly doubled its headcount at its Dundee base since the start of July.

The launch team of 14 is now 26 workers strong as they continue to tackle faults within the network.

Stephen said the network had grown from only 55 units less than eight years ago to 2,100 and counting.

That reach has put Scotland – and Dundee – at the forefront of the electric vehicle revolution.

The latest figures show that Scottish electric vehicle drivers benefit from almost 40 public charge points per 100,000 people, compared to fewer than 30 in England, just over 20 in Wales and less than 20 in Northern Ireland.

Stephen suggested the logistics of speedy growth, as well as problems with the data the company received on taking responsibility for the ChargePlace Scotland network, had contributed to the problems

But communication with drivers should also have been better, he acknowledged.

“That’s my focus for 2022. It’s to absolutely listen to what’s being said, understand driver experience more than we have ever done up to this point, and be able to provide a network that’s responsive.”

Electric car network still facing ’30 faults’ per day

The network is currently experiencing around 30 faults every day, he said.

That can range from issues drivers have with using the technology to more serious problems.

At the more serious end, Stephen says repair times are now around the 24 hours mark.

“One of the things I’m most proud about doing this in Dundee is we have continued to move forward. By no means is this the vision I have for this network yet.

“But I’m happy that every day we move something forward to an improved state.”

The ChargePlace Scotland problems have frightened some of the electric car curious away from making a purchase – at least for now.

But despite the mixed reviews, Stephen points out interest remains high with a further 5,000 members joining the network in the last month alone.

“The years ahead will tell all. More in terms of private investment. But to have a public network of this size, on this scale, is phenomenal.

“We have our unique Scottish problems, obviously. They include remote locationsand getting electricity to those locations. Then there are the vagaries of mobile signal which the network operates on.

“And last but by no means our changeable weather, which tests the hardiness of any weather proofing in the country.

“There is so much to do, but we have moved so far in a positive direction. I am excited about the future.”