Published June 22, 2012
By Huw Evans
ECOtality’s Blink EV charging stations seem to be causing a number of motorists to see red. According to a recent study by Plug-In America, 25 percent of the EV charging stations seem to be offline at any one time, plus in order to use a Blink station, a driver must have previously signed up to be a member of the Blink Network.
Not only that, but the toll-free number listed on the side of Blink charging stations appears to be of little use as well. A recent incident in California recounted by Green Car Reports saw Chevy Volt driver Jeff U’Ren end up using a free hospital charging station, simply because he found the Blink experience so frustrating.
“It was apparent that I would need a RIFD card to start the [Blink] charging session,” he said. After calling the 1-800 number, U’Ren found out that the operator wasn’t able to turn on the station remotely, nor was he able to “sign me up and send me a card like Coulomb [a rival company that operates the ChargePoint network].”
Tom Saxton, who authored the recent Plug-In America study on EV charging station reliability, also found dealing with Blink frustrating, though he did acknowledge that the company’s phone operators were able to do at least something. “I called the 1-800 number because [the charger] wouldn’t accept my wife’s unregistered RIFD card. The rep was able to assign her card to my account.”
This frustration isn’t the only negative publicity surrounding ECOtality and it’s Blink Network. Earlier this month, in Syracuse, NY, non-profit organization Synapse Sustainability, filed suit against the company. Synapse, which had been given a government grant of $700,000 to buy and install some 68 Blink stations, said that the units do not operate as intended, namely that they can’t perform user tracking and billing functions. The issue has left Synapse fuming and out of pocket, having to pick up the bill for removing the Blink stations and replacing them with others from rival ChargePoint.
Although ECOtality disputes the claims made by Synapse, saying in a statement to Syracuse.com that it “stands behind its product and denies that it made any false representations,” the company has come under further criticism.
Having received more than $40 million of a $115 million U.S. Department of Energy grant to install 14,000 stations, ECOtality has so far managed to put in place less than half that total; furthermore the company is also under investigation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commissions, regarding possible insider trading and has already received several subpoenas.
Getting back to EV motoring itself, the Blink frustration among drivers has even led to some forums to devote a whole section devoted to these charging stations, while the term “On the Blink” has become a nickname when referring to the seemingly problematic devices.
Green Car Reports