Docked electric cars can be worse than dockless scooters for pedestrians, but the UEone is a step in the right direction.
One of the problems we face in electrifying everything and getting off fossil fuels is that rooftop solar disproportionately favors people who own their own roofs, and electric cars favor those who own their own garages or driveways where they can plug in. Both tend to be found in suburbs. But there are many people who live in older and denser cities where houses often don't have driveways or garages, and where people park their cars on the public streets.
Some cities have installed charging stations, but of course they place them in the sidewalk adjacent to the street parking. This is the standard solution for everything: You can't take space away from cars, so instead, they steal it from the pedestrians and wheelchair users and moms with strollers, who now have to fight for space with the charging pylons.
That's why this pop-up charging hub, the UEone from British charging start-up Urban Electric Networks Ltd, is so interesting. Most sidewalk activity happens in the daytime, and most charging activity happens at night, when there is surplus electricity which is often cheaper, so the UEone borrows the sidewalk then. According to co-founder Olivier Freeling-Wilkinson:
Pop-up charging hubs offer a scalable solution for more than 190 million on-street parking spaces in European cities alone, enabling those without off-street residential parking to switch to an EV. If you are one of the 8 million UK drivers that park your vehicle on your street at night, the convenience of charging there as well while you sleep is unbeatable - simply plug-in when you get home in the evening for a full charge in the morning.
More will be installed in Dundee and Plymouth, and according to Innovate UK’s Director of Clean Growth and Infrastructure, Ian Meikle, the UEone “has the potential to be rolled out across the whole of the UK.”
TreeHugger has noted before that "Charging points for electric cars can block pedestrians, prams and wheelchairs but hey, electric cars are great!" Docked cars can be as bad as dockless scooters, worse in fact because you can't push them out of the way. The UEone is a step in the right direction, although probably only if they are set to only pop up in those times when sidewalk traffic is low, and if the minimum safe width for wheelchairs is maintained while it is up.
Of course, this might be my wishful thinking; I cannot imagine people rushing out of their homes in the morning to disconnect their car before the pop-up pops down. They will likely be up whenever a car is there, and that may well be most of the time; many people in London just use their cars on weekends and leave them parked all day during the week.
But it also begs the question: why not put them in the street? If the parking space is marked, why not put them between parked cars? You drive in, you park, you pop your power pylon and plug in. People parallel park between cars all the time, what's wrong with parking between these?
We will hear objections like parking spaces will be lost, or that lousy drivers will bump into them. So instead, motordom will continue to munch away at the crumbs allotted to everyone who doesn't drive. But at least the UEone is only a part-time sidewalk thief. It is more svelte than some of the others we have seen. People who don't drive should be grateful for that, right?