Electric vehicle charging in Australia is a mess

19 November 2022

Exactly a year ago, I bought an electric vehicle, and I’ve driven 18,000 km so far on both short and long trips.

I love driving my EV, and it’s absolutely true that you never want to go back to a petrol car after driving one. But we need to talk about paying for charging.

Paying for charging is fair and reasonable. Electricity isn’t free (yet), and someone needs to maintain the (very expensive) equipment. I’m totally onboard with the idea that public chargers are paid.

But the current payment situation is a mess. Here’s what charging at a new station you haven’t used before looks like:

  1. Find the charger on a service like PlugShare, ABRP, or your car’s navigation (if it has such a feature).
  2. If it’s a charger network you haven’t used before, you must install their Android or iOS app, create an account, verify your email, and enter your credit card details.
    • Doesn’t matter if you’ve already got accounts and apps installed for Chargefox, Evie, and Tesla, if you’ve just arrived at a JOLT charger get ready to fill in more forms and install more apps!
  3. If you’ve got flaky mobile coverage, or your phone ran out of juice, stomp on the ground and curse a bit here (and notice nearby parents ushering their kids well away).
  4. Charge up, and eventually be on your way.

This is ridiculous. Imagine paying for petrol by installing an app for each of 7-Eleven, Ampol, BP, Budget, Caltex, Coles Express, Metro, Mobil, Puma, Shell, Speedway, and United. There would be rioting in the streets! Not to mention marketing spam from all of them.

What the process should be is:

  1. Find a charger and park.
  2. Swipe your credit card.
  3. Plug in.

There is really no excuse for not having this at any paid charger. The charger already has mobile connectivity for me to activate it with an app, so it can also talk to a payment gateway. It even has an RFID reader of some descript (similar to contactless payments). I don’t need to install an app for the coffee shop next to the charger. And the kerbside parking meter takes card payments too.

I think what it ultimately comes down to is saving a bit of upfront money, at the expense of usability and accessibility. None of the paid EV chargers I’ve visited between Canberra and Brisbane have had credit card readers on-site.

The RFID tags offered by some providers (e.g. Chargefox) don’t solve this problem because they still require you to set up an account beforehand and carry their cards everywhere.

I wrote to my state MP Jamie Parker about this who agreed with me (easy to do when you’re in opposition) and forwarded this to Matt Kean (the then NSW Environment Minister) who responded saying they’d consider the idea for state government funded chargers, but I’m yet to see any of these appear, nor any corresponding legislation.

What needs to happen is public charging providers need their hand forced. Credit card terminals being present at the charger needs to be required by law. While mobile app payments can be an option, they mustn’t be the only option.

If you agree with me on this, please write to your local or state member of parliament and share the word. Or if you’d like to chat, e-mail me!