Emergent Tech

Bring the people 'beautiful' electric car charging points, calls former transport minister

MPs debate amendments, talk Schwarzenegger in bill's 3rd reading

By Richard Priday

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AEV Bill Britain's new network of charging points for battery operated cars should be "iconic and beautiful" just like the telephone box, according the ex-minister in charge of working out their place in the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill.

This comes from the report and third reading debate of the AEV Bill, which took place in the Commons on Monday night.

John Hayes, former minister at the Department for Transport, said that "one should recognise a charging point, as we recognise a telephone box, a pillar box", and concluded that the points "should be beautiful, by the way."

The Lincolnshire Tory MP has previously suggested the charging points be named after him, in the same vein as London's "Boris Bikes".

After Shadow Transport Minister Karl Turner mentioned the points had already been dubbed "Hayes hooks" in committees, the former minister said he was "delighted that [Turner] has confirmed that they are going to bear my name, which I expect the Minister will also confirm."

Hayes reiterated his support for a nationwide design competition for charging points, and called for more "human infrastructure", such as technicians and engineers qualified to work with electric and autonomous tech, in order to get the programme off the ground - as well as the importance of on-street charging being consistent in form and payment method around the nation.

Later, just before the debate closed, Conservative MP Craig Mackinlay wanted to talk about software and vehicle ownership. After briefly mentioning a hypothetical accident involving "an errant sheep, a drunken cyclist and tin of paint falling from a white Transit van on the Thanet Way" as possible a future scenario a autonomous vehicle might have to deal with, it was then time for the Arnold Schwarzenegger references.

Mackinlay referenced Total Recall's JohnnyCabs as he outlined a vision of a future where private car ownership is almost non-existent.

He concluded his remarks on a apocalyptic note, by bringing up a potential Terminator future where the driverless vehicles turn on us due to "Taxinet", or more likely hostile hacking action by another state causing mass accidents.

The amendments

Aside from making amusing comments, MPs were there to discuss proposed amendments from the second reading that the Bill Committee decided to keep and discard, followed by a final summary of the new laws before the Lords get their chance to look at it.

Transport secretary Chris Grayling's proposed amendment to send data from electric vehicle charging points to the National Grid and electricity providers was approved by the bill committee. Concerns from Labour MP Helen Goodman about privacy and personal data were answered by Oliver Letwin of the Conservatives, who said that any data sent would be "highly aggregated", and repeated that sending data was crucial to ensure electrical systems are used effectively.

Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Transport department, Jesse Norman MP, said tasking "public facility operators" – such as supermarkets, public car parks, airports, train stations – with installing and maintain charging points was too wide a group to legislate for.

He said an amendment that would order Grayling to publish a nationwide strategy on electric charge point was unnecessary, as his department plans to produce a new report on the matter by the end of March, and to add such a requirement into the bill would be "disproportionate and unnecessary".

Third Reading

The third reading was more general in scope. Many MPs thanked Hayes for his work on the bill as transport minister before he was reshuffled in January to the back benches. There was also discussion of air pollution, and how electric cars alone would not solve a problem caused by HGVs, public transport and power stations.

Labour MP Richard Burden quizzed Grayling on the government's preparedness for the tech, referencing the "Autonomous Vehicles Readiness Index", which puts the UK at fifth for tech and 10th for infrastructure, roads and networks in the world, he asked the transport secretary if he could "give any indication of how we can start to turn that around?"

Grayling, who had turned up to take over from Norman, didn't really address this, instead saying that Matt Hancock and DCMS were doing great work in preparing 5G tech, while funding pledges in the Budget combined with the new legislation were exactly what was needed to secure the country's preparedness.

There was also talk of the bill's effect on insurance by former insurance broker Tory MP Craig Tracey, which would allow owners' policies to cover vehicles while operating autonomously as long as they keep their cars' systems up to date. He questioned the decision that owners be responsible for updates instead of manufacturers, as well as asking by what means the transfer of data to insurers concerning autonomous crashes would be guaranteed.

The final debate of the AEV Bill was interesting, both for the details of our electric and autonomous car future, but also for what happens to MPs when you make them stay in Parliament until after 9pm. ®

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