London not quite the electric car capital of Europe

Paris launches an electric car hire scheme

The Mayor announced with much fanfare at the C40 Climate Change Summit 2009 inSeoul, how he was going to make London the “electric car capital of Europe”.  His aim was to get 100,000 electric vehicles (EVs) in use on London streets as soon as possible, served by 25,000 plug points and 1,000 electrical vehicles in the GLA fleet by 2015.  As Chair of the Environment Committee, I had the opportunity to examine how the Mayor has done in reaching his own target for electric vehicles to see whether London has succeeded in charging ahead with the electric vehicle revolution we were promised.  The report was published yesterday attracting much media  interest.

 Undoubtedly, there are a number of worthy environmental benefits to be gained from having more electric vehicles on the road.  They do not emit dangerous tailpipe pollutants and they produce much less noise on our roads.  However, we do also need to look at the life-cycle carbon costs for an electric vehicle and ensure that the electricity powering them is derived from a renewable energy source.  This would, without doubt, strengthen the environment case for electric vehicles. 

Yet, despite the obvious environmental benefits, generous government subsidies and perks such as free parking, we still only have 2,313 electric vehicles registered in London, a mere 0.08 per cent of London’s 3 million fleet and way off the Mayor’s original target of 100,000.  At the current rate, it will take the Mayor 665 years to reach his original target of 100,000 EVs on London’s roads!

So, the reality is that it’s been much tougher to deliver than envisaged.  However, lessons can be learned from other cities and towns which are pushing on with their own electric vehicle revolution.  As part of our investigation, we visited Paris and also Sunderland in the North East of England.  What we learned was that a clear strategy is needed to ensure that the locations chosen for the charging points are appropriate for electric vehicle users.  One particular area which was highlighted during the trip to Sunderland was their work to ensure there are sufficient rapid chargers available at key points on major roads to help ease drivers’ “range anxiety”.  This would make electric vehicles much more appealing to longer distance drivers.  The progress in the North East has also been helped by having a Nissan plant producing electric vehicles in Sunderland, although interestingly, they are designed in London.  Nissan’s presence and investment has done much to enhance the North East’s Low Carbon Economic Area status.  We also learned that, in both Paris and the North East, figures for EV charge points per population are better then London’s, therefore, it is not surprising that both regions are making very good progress with their own EV targets.  For example there is 1 charge point per 6000 in London compared to 1 for every 349 Parisians.

If EV ownership does not take-off soon, adopting the Parisian approach may be a good alternative.  They recently launched their Autolib EV car hire scheme.  This is designed to diversify the transport on offer inParis and surrounding towns and it’s estimated every 3,000 electric vehicles will see 22,500 polluting cars withdrawn from the roads.  In the past, we’ve followed Pariswith their Velib bike hire scheme with our very own version. We may do well to follow their lead again but this time with a version of their EV car hire scheme forLondon.  I believe we should all be watching the progress of the Autolib in Paris with great interest.