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Charging ahead to achieve lower emissions

Charging ahead to achieve lower emissions

We spoke to Elizabeth Bohun at Oxford City Council about their major trial of on-street electric car chargers. 

Like many cities, Oxford faces transport challenges from high traffic congestion generated by a growing economy, a dense population, and high numbers of people travelling into the city for work. Diesel and petrol vehicles that travel into and around the city contribute to air pollution levels which have seen Oxford continue to breach air quality objectives for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) within the city wide air quality management area.

Cars contribute over 50% of NO2 emissions on some link roads within Oxford. So in its 2014 Low Emission Strategy, Oxford City council identified ‘encouraging uptake of UltraLow Emissions Vehicles (ULEVs: such as plug-in hybrids or fully electric cards) by improving ULEV charging infrastructure’ as a priority.

A particular challenge in Oxford is that around 28% of households live in terraced houses, many of whom have to park their car on the street. This is a barrier to charging an electric car at home, and hence to having an electric car at all, because these residents cannot install their own charger.

Go Ultra Low Oxford (GULO) is a major trial of on-street electric car chargers that aims to address this barrier. The trial is led by Oxford City Council, in partnership with Oxfordshire County Council and the University of Oxford’s Transport Studies Unit.

The GULO project has been made possible thanks to an £800,000 grant from the Office for Low Emission Vehicles’ £40m Go Ultra Low Cities scheme. It is part of the Government’s drive to make every new passenger vehicle sold in the UK by 2050 an ultra-low emission vehicle.


To find the best options for residents who face the problem of needing to park on Oxford’s narrow streets, Oxford City Council is trialling six different charging technologies: installations are underway and due to be completed by the end of 2017.

The forty trial chargers will be used by trial volunteers living in the city. Ten of the chargers are available for the general public and ten are for CoWheels car club (who are bringing ten new electric car club cars to the city).

The chargers being trialled in Oxford were selected from bidding manufacturers on the basis of their ability to solve the particular challenges of on-street parking. They fall into three broad categories:

• Lamp column integrated chargers

• In-home chargers paired with pavement cable channels (to safely take the cable from inside the house to the car)

• Three different free-standing charging pillars in slim line single and double socket designs, with features including load management.

NewMotion – a Dutch founded company who bring a wealth of experience from the Netherlands to support the project – were selected to manage the chargers “behind the scenes” enabling them to be used by the public and managing the payments for charging. Details of charger suppliers and models can be found via the Go Ultra Low Oxford website www.goultralow@oxford.org 

Installing chargers on-street gets complicated quickly and there are challenges to overcome. The process has touch points with a wider range of other services and local concerns. These include:

• street furniture policy such as where the lamp posts are located and manging clutter;

• parking policy and restrictions; and,

• the capacity of the electricity grid to cope with the energy needs of the chargers.

Creating dedicated electric vehicle charging bays requires public consultation of Traffic Regulation Orders (TROs) and can be a lengthy process if objections are received and proposals have to be reviewed and altered. There is a consultation process for the TROs. However, our experience is that this is not the same as fully engaging with local communities regarding the changes happening on their streets, and this needs to be done early on to smooth the way.

Indeed, local residents have a wealth of relevant knowledge that can help. Choosing locations is much easier with some knowledge of the parking behaviours on each street! Signage for electric vehicle charging bays can be a sensitive issue, particularly in heritage conservation areas. Rules around time limits and access to bays can require extensive wording to be legally enforceable – making road signs relatively large and leading to local objections. The trial will help us to manage this risk when we roll out more chargers. We will evaluate the benefits of low density installations which use dedicated, signed bays to guarantee access, compared to solutions which can be installed at high density across whole streets (e.g. lamp post chargers) without dedicated bays and with a faster installation process.

Local street furniture policy can have a significant impact on both charging pillars and lamp post chargers:

• Policies requiring lighting columns to be moved to the rear of footways when replaced make many lamp columns unsuitable for an integrated charger.

• Policies requiring street furniture to be positioned 450mm from the edge of the kerb can limit suitable locations for free-standing pillars on streets with narrow footways.

Where next? Initial research is revealing that the social interactions and motivations of our participants have an impact on how chargers are used and where they should be installed. In particular negotiations on parking, access to chargers and feelings about the look and feel of chargers.

So as we plan how we will roll out at least another 100 chargers across the city, we are looking at the possibility of a whole-street approach in which we would work with the residents of a street to assess all their concerns upfront and alongside technical considerations.

The University of Oxford’s Transport Studies Unit is researching the social and technical implications of the scheme and their evaluation, along with the practical lessons learned will also inform the roll out strategy. In short, this is just the starting point for Oxford to Go Ultra Low!

Elizabeth Bohun, Environmental Sustainability Projects Officer from Oxford City Council will be talking about this project and related work in Oxford at the ‘Low emission vehicles, charging and infrastructure – the local authority role’ event being held at the Council Chamber, The Corby Cube, George Street, Corby, Northants, NN17 1QG on Tuesday 30 January 2018.  This is a free event for APSE Energy members


Promoting excellence in public services

APSE (Association for Public Service Excellence) is a not for profit unincorporated association working with over 300 councils throughout the UK. Promoting excellence in public services, APSE is the foremost specialist in local authority frontline services, hosting a network for frontline service providers in areas such as waste and refuse collection, parks and environmental services, cemeteries and crematorium, environmental health, leisure, school meals, cleaning, housing and building maintenance.




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