Oxford's future stalls as electric car capital of Europe

Electric car plugged in
Image caption There has been low take up at electric car charging points in Oxford

Unveiled in a fanfare by Transport minister Norman Baker in May 2012, Oxford's plans to revolutionise car travel within the city were ambitious.

It was to become the electric car capital of Europe, installing more than 100 charging points across the city through a partnership with private company Chargemaster.

Customers would pay £50 annually for access to charging points in Oxford, Cambridge, Milton Keynes and Hillingdon.

There was a plan for car rental company Hertz to set up a fleet of electric cars to be rented by the hour, and electric car sharing clubs were to be put in place.

'Operational problems'

However, one year on, these plans have stalled.

The number of charging points remains at 64, with no sign of the extra 50 charging points.

Between June 2011 and December 2012 the Oxford City charge points were used a total of just 79 times.

One charging point at Headington was not used at all.

The fleet of electric cars to hire by the hour has also not materialised, due to what Hertz calls "operational problems".

According to Sam Clarke from Low Carbon Oxford North, who is keen to set up an electric car share club, there are no dedicated car parking spaces to charge an electric car.

"We thought it was a gift there was a charging point at the Diamond Place car park," he said.

"It turns out it's completely useless. If you go there you are very likely to find a normal car parked in the space."

Electric car use is still low in the UK, despite government subsidies of up to £5,000 per vehicle.

'Chicken and egg'

BBC South Transport Correspondent Paul Clifton said it was a "chicken and egg" situation.

"Will people buy electric cars without a charging infrastructure in place, or will the charging points only take off when demand for electric cars can be proved?" he said.

"This is technology in its early days. Electric cars have far less than 1% market share. They are expensive to buy, and they have little or largely unproven second hand value.

"People buying electric are largely trying to make a statement to their friends, rather than because it's genuinely the most economic option," he said.

'In the dark'

However, Oxford City Green Councillor Craig Simmons said there needed to be "over capacity" to encourage more people to use electric cars.

He said Oxford already ran many successful car clubs that could use electric car charging points in car parks, but he was concerned the project had been "shelved".

"We're in as much in the dark as everyone else," he said.

Councillor John Tanner said it was still Oxford City Council's aim to be the electric car capital of Europe, but keeping dedicated car parking spaces empty for electric car users would cost the authority £35,000 a year.

Image caption Oxford's car clubs have been successful, according to councillor Craig Simmons

He said: "We would be happy to make spaces available if there were cars to use them, we can't really have car parking spaces empty just in case someone turns up to charge their car and have people waiting to park outside.

"I've had no complaints from electric car users.

"If we want to have car parking spaces sitting empty for more than 90% of the time because there aren't the electric cars to use them we can do that, but I think it would be a foolish policy."

He offered to meet with Low Carbon Oxford North to find a car parking space for their proposed car share club.

Hertz said in a statement: "While all parties involved are still committed to driving sustainable mobility solutions for the city, other options are currently being explored to serve the community in the short-term."

The BBC contacted Chargemaster, but no one was available to comment.

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