Dozens of charging points for electric cars are due to be installed across the county next year. But is Preston ready for the next transport revolution and are residents and businesses open to ditching petrol power? JAMES ILLINGWORTH reports.
Cheaper to run, environmentally friendly, quiet, quick and reliable. So say the advocates of electric cars as Lancashire is on the cusp of embracing a new transport revolution.
So why are there not more on our roads at present?
Well, it appears that issues with practicality and up-front costs may be a factor, meaning it may be a number of years yet before our roads before petrol cars are a minority on our roads.
A focus on Lancashire’s charge toward electric transport has been sparked by a new scheme backed by County Hall.
Starting in early 2018 - aided by funding from the Department for Transport - the local authority will create 150 charging points.
We have received funding from the Department for Transport to establish a network of 150 charging points to ensure owners of electric cars can find somewhere convenient to charge their battery wherever they go within Lancashire.
County Coun Keith Iddon, cabinet member for highways, said: “We have received funding from the Department for Transport to establish a network of 150 charging points to ensure owners of electric cars can find somewhere convenient to charge their battery wherever they go within Lancashire.
“The scheme aims to increase take-up of electric vehicles by ensuring owners can always find somewhere to recharge locally.
“We have very recently appointed a contractor to install them, and are now working with them to finalise the programme. We expect the first charging points will begin being installed in the New Year.”
Meanwhile, Preston City Council has recently upgraded its facilities at Avenham multi-storey car park.
This lurch towards hybrid or fully electric vehicles is being backed by central government in a bid to drastically reduce harmful gas emissions and ease the UK’s reliance on fossil fuels.
Motorists are also being offered subsidies of up to £4,500 on plug-in cars and £500 towards home charge points as part of Westminster initiatives.
However, these grants aside, the upfront costs may be causing a speed-bump at present, despite the low running costs.
As Preston electric car driver, Robert Ardron, explains: “They are expensive to buy. Mine, for example, is top of the range and around £22,000 new.
“Although you can save around 33 per cent by buying six-month old with 5,000 miles, as I did (£14,750).
“But on the other side, low service costs, no oil, oil filter, air filter or spark plugs and for a 120-mile to 230-mile journey, only one 35 minute charge is needed, which costs around £5.”
Robert, from Ashton, converted to an electric car three years ago and has no regrets.
“I originally bought a Nissan Leaf because as a high mileage business owner, it proved to be very cost effective,” he said.
Figures from the Department for Transport’s Go Ultra Low (GUL) scheme claim electric car users will pay 2p per mile compared with 10p to 12p per person, per mile for petrol or diesel cars.
And the extent of these cost-saving bonuses, plus the environmentally friendly factor, are contributing to increasing rates of ownership, says Poppy Welch, head of GUL.
Over the last six years, the number on our roads has increased dramatically with more than 120,000 now registered.
Latest estimates predict more than 250,000 will be on the UK’s roads by 2020.
Ms Welch said: “For motorists who want to buy a fun, economical, stylish new vehicle, electric cars could be the perfect option.
“As well as this, drivers can save around £900 per year in fuel and tax by switching to electric, with reduced service, maintenance and repair cost also contributing to the savings. In addition, electric cars help to move us towards a more sustainable and greener society.”
For businesses relying on high numbers of vehicles to provide services, the cost-saving potential appear even more appealing.
“With a charging infrastructure in place, a business can unlock an array of cost-saving benefits for its fleet and its employees,” Ms Welch added. “Fleets can typically save more than £700 a month on a fleet of 10 electric vehicles and there is a plug-in vehicle available for all purposes, from saloon cars to electric vans.”
But for Peter Osborne, managing director of Preston’s Millers Taxis, the technology has not yet matched expectations.
He said: “We have been looking at it for four years, we had a major company come in and let us use one for a trial. If they had the range, I would buy a 100 of them. Unfortunately, the range at the moment is about 120 miles but that’s with one person in daylight.
“When you factor in we could be transporting four people in the middle of the night - meaning the lights are on, also draining the battery - that range comes down.
“And it means we would get to Manchester Airport from Preston but only halfway back before needing to charge again, which isn’t ideal.
“We can’t be asking passengers if it’s okay if we pull over and charge for 30 minutes or so.”
With the backing at central government and local level, smart money would back the electric car revolution to be around for the long-term rather than the battery running out of charge.
Driving into the future
Major car manufacturers have pledged to develop models that are affordable as well as having the cost-saving and environmental benefits.
For example, Volvo pledged earlier this year that its new cars from 2019 onwards will be partially or completely battery-powered. Håkan Samuelsson, the Volvo chief executive, said: “This announcement marks the end of the solely combustion engine-powered car.”
More councils are also getting on board. Poppy Welch, head of Go Ultra Low, said: “Local authorities across the UK are acting now in anticipation of an increase in EV uptake with some focusing investment on boosting residential on-street charging infrastructure in areas where off-street parking is not available. To support this, there is a Government fund for local authorities to contribute to the cost of installing on-street charging solutions, which a number of local authorities are already using to lead the way.”
And some private businesses have been getting on board, with the Holiday Inn Express Preston South installing charge points recently. Andrew Sanders, regional general anager at Hospitality First, said: “With more electric cars on the road than ever before, we wanted to ensure our facilities meet the needs of an ever-growing number electric car owners. Four of our hotels are already kitted out with electric car charging points, and we’re looking forward to seeing our whole portfolio completed within the coming months.”
For electric car driver Robert Andron, director of Better Profits Limited, a Preston based accountancy and management consultancy firm, there is no going back.
He said: “I would certainly recommend it to people in a similar position (with a job requiring regular long distance travel), especially if they also have another petrol or diesel car in the family as back up for longer journeys.”
Peter Osborne at Miller Taxis said the revolution could take longer for businesses: “I know there are other companies working on new models that will improve the range, we are waiting for it to become viable.
“Of course there would be capital outlay but there would be savings and we would make money back from that initial investment. I have also looked into the possibility of getting charge points at our site. We’re looking at it, but it might not be until 2019 when these new cars come out.”