As the UK hits the accelerator on the electric vehicle (EV) transition to meet its ambitious 2030 targets, people have started to question the accessibility of electric cars.
Unfortunately, there are still many people who – while convinced about electric cars’ role in the green transition – believe that EVs are simply inaccessible for them.
At loveelectric, we’re passionate about democratising EV access: we’ve written before about how this motivation led to the birth of our company. But what does EV accessibility look like when living in a high-density city or the far-flung reaches of the glorious Scottish Highlands? Or if you are one of the estimated 2.7 million disabled drivers in the UK?
We’ve identified three core accessibility barriers:
- The price is too high
- The infrastructure isn’t ready to support an all-electric car fleet
- Electric cars aren’t physically accessible to people with disabilities and mobility issues
However, as we’ll see, EV costs will soon drop; the infrastructure continues to improve year on year, and; accessibility plans are in place to ensure all people can physically access and operate electric cars.
The future of electric cars must be accessible, and here are a few ways that the automotive industry is making that happen.
EV costs will drop
It’s no secret: electric cars are expensive. As people across the UK feel the financial strain when fueling their petrol- or diesel-powered vehicle, many look to electric cars to ease that pain. However, with electric car prices still rising, it seems to be an inescapable fact that, for many, an electric vehicle is simply out of the question.
To transition to a fully electric car fleet, car costs must drop to ensure anyone can access an electric car.
Indeed, the perception that electric cars are only accessible to a few may soon be a distant memory. The second-hand market is booming, battery costs (the most significant indicator for e-car cost) are falling dramatically, and technology continues to improve, bringing more cars to the market.
The EV market is still very new, with 530,000 EVs out of the 32.5 million cars on UK roads. But these stats are more optimistic than they first appear: this growth has been exponential since 2016, and 14.5% of new car sales in the UK in 2022 were electric.
This optimistic outlook relies on a simple strategy. In 2006, Elon Musk unveiled his “Master Plan”:
- Build a sports car
- Use that money to build an affordable car
- Use that money to build an even more affordable car
- While doing the above, also provide zero emission electric power generation options
This strategy – reducing costs as low as possible so anyone can access your product and market – proved remarkably successful for Henry Ford, one of the founders of the fossil-fuelled automobile industry. Just as Ford’s strategy was a critical step towards global access to private, fast and reliable transportation for the first time, we are racing towards the time when green, efficient electric cars are accessible to us all.
In the meantime, grants are available for people who meet eligibility requirements – further decreasing the price of using an electric car:
- Plug in Car Grant: get up to £1,500 off the purchase of an electric car
- EV homecharge scheme: get a 75% discount on the installation of a home charging point (England only)
- Energy Saving Trust grant: get up to £300 off the installation of a home charging point (Scotland only)
- Workplace charging scheme: employers can get up to 75% off the cost of charging point installation
The future of affordable, accessible electric cars is nearly upon us. But, in the meantime, a salary sacrifice scheme can help you save up to 50% on a new electric vehicle. Check out how loveelectric can make that happen.
A connected electric network
Plenty has been written about the UK’s EV infrastructure. With reports of a disjointed and inaccessible electric network, those looking to switch to electric are understandably wary about whether an electric car is really for them.
There’s no denying that our infrastructure has some catching up to do. For example, in 2021, EV sales increased by 76%, while the charging infrastructure increased by only 33%.
This issue is not localised to one particular area of the country, with both urban and rural communities struggling to access charging infrastructure. Rural communities, in particular, are often subject to greater electricity costs and are overlooked when building public charging spaces.
While pricing for electric cars is expected to drop as the market matures, we can’t avoid the impact of rising electricity costs on wallets – especially in the more remote areas of the UK.
Those in rural areas often pay a higher premium for electricity, meaning people charging an electric car in remote areas will take a bigger hit on their wallets. Energy prices vary by region due to several factors, including the number of customers an energy company has and the charges imposed by the energy supplier in your area.
However, thanks to the recent energy price cap announcement, the jury is firmly back in court: it is still cheaper to charge your EV than fill a petrol or diesel tank.
People living in high-density urban areas also face struggles when it comes to charging their electric cars. For example, 33% of car owners across the UK – and 60% in cities – don’t have access to off-street parking, limiting the ability to access safe and secure charging.
However, the number of public charging points is increasing yearly, with the latest figures showing 30,146 charging points across the UK. Councils are providing local charging points near high-density housing, and manufacturers are contributing to the developing network to ensure the infrastructure keeps up with EV demand. Many of these charging points are at service stations, increasing those spaces' accessibility, safety and familiarity.
Even in the unlikely scenario that there isn’t a public charging station nearby, even the most nervous driver can drive without fear. Long gone are the days when batteries could support a range of just 85-90 miles. Instead, with the best-performing EVs granting ranges of over 300 miles, you can explore even the most remote parts of Scotland without a care in the world (except for the environment, that is!).
So, electric cars are getting cheaper, and better infrastructure is rolling out across the UK. But what happens when you physically can’t access that infrastructure or need to make costly modifications to your car so you can drive it? Let’s talk about disability and EV accessibility.
Physical accessibility is on the rise
Like many other drivers, research in 2021 by Motability and Designability found that disabled drivers in the UK also want to transition to electric. With one in five people in the UK living with a disability, Ricardo Energy & Environment estimates there will be 2.7 million disabled drivers in the UK in 2035. Of these 2.7 million, the researchers estimate that up to 1.35 million, or 50% of these drivers, will be at least wholly or partially reliant on public charging infrastructure, meaning they will need to charge their vehicle away from home.
And, as we’ve seen, charging away from home poses its own problems. For wheelchair users and those living with disabilities, public charging points exacerbate these difficulties - and create new ones.
Indeed, Motability and Designability found that the lack of accessible charging (and cost!) put disabled drivers off electric cars. They highlighted three key barriers for disabled drivers to transition to EVs:
- More accessible parking near charging points
- The accessibility of charging points themselves, including handling the charging cables
- Unclear signposting about accessible charging stations
The lack of accessible charging solutions prevents disabled drivers from adopting electric cars. Not only is this a problem for disabled drivers, but it also holds back the urgently-needed transition to a fully electric fleet.
On paper, an EV is an excellent choice for those with limited mobility. With more safety features built in as standard – such as lane keep assist and adaptive cruise control – EVs are leading the charge. In addition, as all electric cars are automatic, they are also easier to adapt for people with reduced mobility, such as installing an accelerator on the steering wheel.
However, echoing Motability and Designability’s research, Falchetta and Noussan (2021) found that, while we have witnessed a considerable expansion of the UK’s charging network, stark inequalities persist across the country, both in terms of accessibility and of the charging points available to users.
Unfortunately, accessibility and inclusivity have not been at the forefront in designing much of the UK’s EV infrastructure. Motability conducted research into the accessibility of EV charging infrastructure, estimating that there could be 1.35 million disabled drivers or passengers reliant on public charging infrastructure by 2035 – yet many may not be able to use it.
People with mobility issues may struggle to access public charging infrastructure as it is simply not as easy as refuelling at a traditional petrol station. Charging poses its own set of challenges. While charging at home offers more control and options to meet accessibility needs, people have far less control over charging points when out and about. Cables are heavy, and chargers are often mounted on a kerb. Safety always takes priority with UK legislation, so you’ll notice that public chargers tend to be ‘up’ on a kerb. This is fine when you’re non-disabled, but it can be a nightmare if you’re a wheelchair user.
However, the future of accessible public charging zones looks promising. In 2021, Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN) published a report outlining the key barriers and challenges in EV transition for disabled motorists.
As a direct result of the research, SSEN will bring together stakeholders – including manufacturers and governments – to assign responsibilities for working towards a fully accessible EV infrastructure.
Not only are accessible public chargers being investigated, but so too are home charging and using EVs as a backup power supply for a house.
Critically, this project will identify the solutions required to overcome current accessibility issues and support disabled drivers in the EV transition.
Looking towards the future
The future of EVs is accessible and affordable for all. With prices for electric cars forecasted to drop, infrastructure being built at an ever-increasing rate and clear plans to ensure physical accessibility to the network, it is clear that the time when everyone can access an electric car is closer than ever before.
In the meantime, we’re helping get as many people out of their fossil-fuelled cars and into electric. Salary sacrifice is the most accessible and affordable way to get behind the wheel of an electric vehicle. There's no deposit required, and it is up to 50% cheaper than traditional leasing.
Not only is it great for employees, but it’s also a no-brainer for employers. An EV salary sacrifice scheme offers unrivalled value to employees, helping attract and retain the best talent in your industry. It is also cost-neutral for the company and bolsters green credentials.
The electric vehicle revolution is underway. Check out why we loveelectric – and why we think you should too!
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