Ontario electric vehicle advocates are warning that the province’s C$20-million vehicle charger installation program is largely a failure, with slow installation, poor placement, and inconsistent maintenance of publicly-funded charging stations triggering sharp criticism of the main private contractor on the project—even though the province is still leading on overall EV sales.
The 2016 commitment to install 500 charging stations under the Electric Vehicle Chargers Ontario (EVCO) initiative is being written off as “a screw-up” and “a failure” by some users and industry organizations, the Toronto Sun reports, with much of the problem appearing to centre on an inexperienced contractor that won the competitive bid to handle the bulk of the installations.
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“According to customers, government-funded charging stations frequently sit unused, the government lacks the ability to track how often or whether they are used, and some users complain those in service are frequently broken and in disrepair,” the Sun states.
The tone was very different two years ago, when then-transportation minister Steven Del Duca declared that, “by investing in charging infrastructure that is fast, reliable, and affordable, we are encouraging more Ontarians to purchase electric vehicles, reducing greenhouse gas pollution, and keeping our air clean.”
Two years on, the Sun states, “instead of the reliable, affordable network of charging stations, just over half the charging stations (55%) that were supposed to be constructed by March 2017 have been built, 55% of the new charging stations are concentrated in downtown Toronto and the GTA—which is already saturated with charging stations—instead of on provincial highways between cities where the Liberals said they were needed.”
Toronto Electric Vehicle Association founder Paul Raszewski said the lion’s share of the implementation work for EVCO was awarded in an $11.4-million contract to a Mississauga green energy firm that, according to the Sun’s investigation, had limited past experience that would qualify it for the work. Ontario government officials said the company, Koben Systems Inc., won the competitive bid through a proper process. But since the company came onboard, “there have been a lot of delays installing those locations. Some of them still have not been completed and those that have, there are issues with them,” Raszewski said.
The chargers “are not being serviced properly, some of them are malfunctioning, and when people call the number, they say they’ll respond within 48 hours,” he continued. “When someone’s stuck out there with no charge—in -41°C weather—obviously, members are very upset by that. The government is not responding, so I guess they’re putting their tails between their legs and not commenting on it. I think they now know they screwed up.”
“This company really needs to get their act together,” wrote one disgruntled EV user on the KSI website. “The 50-kW units barely put out 20, if you can get them to start at all. Neither Android nor iOS app works properly, credit card readers on the machines don’t work. The rates are much higher than their competitors for a slower charge. Today, I was stranded in -20 weather, kids in the car, trying to activate the only quick charger in Belleville. Six phone calls later, we are giving up and camping out at a nearby hotel…This is critical infrastructure and it is useless when I need it most.”
Of the 500 charging stations to be installed under the EVCO program—including nearly 300 Level 2 and more than 200 Level 3 chargers—Koben is responsible for installing 337 and maintaining them for five years. In January, the Ontario transportation ministry said 151 of those units had not yet been installed. “According to media reports, permits, land rights, and other impediments contributed to the delay,” the Sun notes. “And the government insists that while it is working with KSI, the EVCO chargers are owned and operated by the funding recipients and not by the province.”
Raszewski added that there are already enough privately-owned chargers in downtown Toronto, where 55% of the EVCO devices are located. “Where chargers are actually needed is along stretches of highway outside of the Toronto area and in apartments and condos,” writes Sun reporter Jenny Yuen.
KSI bid $10.8 million for its contract, in contrast to more experienced charging network operators like Quebec’s Arza Network Canada at $14.6 million, Toronto’s Plug’n Drive at $16 million, and Autochargers.ca of Vaughan, Ontario at $20 million.
“We were extremely disappointed,” said Autochargers.ca CEO Gleb Nikiforov. “The province could have had the best equipment, backed up by the best companies in the market,” and in the end, going with the cheapest bidder may have been a serious error. “I think (KSI) went full throttle on it and promised too much, the Ministry believed them, and they didn’t fulfill their promise,” he told the Sun.
While he identified a reliable network of public charging station as a critical element of a successful EV rollout, along with public education and buyer incentives, Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers’ Association President Mark Nantais said the difficulties with EVCO wouldn’t slow down electric vehicle production. ““The home recharging, consumers have that,” he said. “And vehicles now have a greater range. We’re not going to stop doing what we need to do to put these vehicles into the market.”
“The preference toward at-home charging is so strong that the perceived barrier of charging duration may not be a barrier at all, at least not at home,” agreed Eric Schmidt, digital marketing manager for FleetCarma, a Waterloo fleet management company that tracks EV charging habits.
“Only 3% of all charge events, 6% of energy consumed by EVs was at a fast charger,” he added. “Instead, there is an overwhelming preference for Level 2 home charging which accounts for approximately 69% of all charge events and 75% of all energy.”
FleetCarma places EV adoption in Ontario well ahead of other provinces, with a 110% increase in sales from 2016 to 2017.