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The Saga of Gill-Hank

Imagine, if you will, that you have arrived at a large and reasonably luxurious hotel, with a heavy bag in tow. The bag is not too much of a nuisance, it has wheels and so you can drag it along, but you sure wouldn’t want to have to carry it upstairs. You check in with reception, and head to the two lifts to go up to your 10th floor room.

To your dismay, you find that both lifts are out of order. You ask the concierge how long they will be out, and how you can expedite their repair, and she tells you that you need to contact the Help Desk number that is listed inside the lift. Sure enough, when you go back you can see that there’s a sign on the wall showing the name of the lift manufacturer and some contact details for them, and another larger sign with the name of a different company that operates and supports the lift. Heartened that this must be a modern and responsive company – after all, they have listed a Twitter handle, Webpage URL, and email address – you ring the Help Desk.

Oh no, says the bright young thing on the other end of the crackly phone, thank you for calling us but we just support the lift when it is working. For repairs you need to contact the manufacturer. Puzzled, you double check the number for the manufacturer, and ring them. This takes some time to go through the various levels of phone robot, before you reach someone you presume is human.

Thanks for letting us know, he says, we’ve already logged a fault in our system indicating those two units are malfunctioning, but our hands are tied and you need to talk to the building owners. You thank him and go back to the concierge to find out how to contact the building owners. Frustratingly, you discover that you cannot ring the building owners, but they do have a web form you can fill out and they will email you back. You hand over your credit card details to sign into the rather expensive WiFi, and settle down in the lobby with your laptop.

While waiting for the email response, you decide to try tweeting at the first company. Ding! Within seconds you get an automated response telling you the fault has been logged and should be repaired pretty soon. Ding! A manual response tells you that you need to talk to the manufacturer. Ding! The building owner’s mail arrives, disavowing all responsibility and giving you the phone number of the architects.

By this time you may be getting a little terse, and rather keen to be able to get into your room without lugging a heavy suitcase up 10 flights of stairs. You only want to use the lift, for God’s sake, and don’t care who is responsible for getting it working.

The architect finally answers, after the phone has rung out twice. Nope, not our problem. You need to talk to the building owners, or the concierge, or the manufacturer, or someone. We only designed the elevator scheme. The building owners then sold the elevator scheme to a French services company. No, sorry, they don’t have a phone number or email address. You hang up the phone, and watch parents putting their hands over the ears of their precious young things as they hurry out of the lobby.

With gritted teeth, you Google the name of the French company, in conjunction with variations on ‘elevator’, ‘lift’, ‘malfunctioning’, ‘incompetent’ and ‘possible malfeasance’, and start finding year old press releases and forums for elevator users. Digging into the forums, you begin to unravel the knotted mess.

It seems that the building owners sold the elevators to this French company, who also took on responsibility for running the help desk, or at least renting an office for a bright young thing to sit in and answer the phone and Twitter. The premise was that this French company would include the elevators in a brand new scheme trumpeted widely across the capital’s news organs, wherein a fleet of new user-pays, social-media-connected, environmentally friendly and vegan elevators would be rolled out. Some day. Real soon now. February at the latest. Maybe March.

These innovators also promised to take on at least part of the maintenance costs for units that they had not yet integrated into the New Scheme. Well, some of the maintenance costs. If the concierge contracts with the manufacturer to get the repairs carried out, then our French friends will pay up to £500 of the costs. Even though the manufacturers indicate that the average repair cost is about £5000.

Armed with this, you go back to the concierge, who shrugs and tells you they’d never heard of this arrangement, and besides, they don’t have the money to cover the repair costs. And no, they can’t put the repairs on your credit card. No, sir, sorry sir, we can’t carry your suitcase up to your room for you. Yes sir, we do understand your frustration, and would appreciate it if you could put the fire-axe down and accept a complimentary drink at the bar while you wait for the police to arrive.

Very roughly, this is the story of Pod Point electric car charger Gill-Hank.

We needed a car somewhat larger than our delightful little Fiat Panda, but were loath to purchase an enormous petrol or diesel guzzling behemoth. We’d seen the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV around through last year, and thought it looked pretty neat, but it did not come up into our heads until we started looking for a new car. It certainly looked an attractive compromise between being big enough for our needs, and green enough to mitigate our guilt noodling around on short hops through London. The deciding factor in the end was how we would charge it: our apartment block has a shared locked underground car park with no accessible power, but Pod Point Gill-Hank was right outside our front door, and so we took the plunge.


There had been a charging point there since we moved to the building in early 2012, and somewhere in the last two years it was replaced by this newer unit from Pod Point. Then, sometime in mid-2015 some idiot backed into it and took it off the air.

In retrospect we should have done the research to uncover the… interesting… state of public charge points in London, but as it stood we contacted Pod Point on 11th February 2016, a week or so before we picked up the vehicle, to organise repairs. From that point the saga becomes Kafka-esque.

The history of the charger became more clear when I stumbled across this Financial Times article from February 6 2015: Boris Johnson leaned on TfL in May 2011 to set up the charging network, which was badged Source London Scheme, and TfL in turn leaned on the boroughs to wear the cost of installing and maintaining the units. It would have been somewhere around then that Greenwich Council or Berkely installed the first unit. Once in, maintenance was… neglected… on the units, with a chaotic patchwork of costs and conditions across London, until TfL flogged the whole thing off to BluePoint London in September 2014.

BluePoint London are a subsidiary of the Bolloré group, and picked up the network for the bargain price of £1 million, on the condition that they would also pick up the maintenance and support. Well, sort of pick up the maintenance – the arrangement was that they would cover up to £500 of the repair costs, after the relevant borough had organised the repairs with the manufacturers and then invoiced Bolloré. Given that the repair costs are potentially higher than £500, the boroughs have generally elected just to leave the units dead rather than continuing to wear the costs. This has allowed Bolloré’s representative Christophe Arnaud to say with wide-eyed innocence that everything must be going swimmingly, because BluePoint is not being pursued for reimbursement by the boroughs.

Digging around to find out more about BluePoint London is rather interesting. There was a fair amount of noise in the press in the last quarter of 2014 about the deal, much of it coming from press releases from Bolloré or BluePoint London, full of glowing promises that the network would be restored to full operating state post-haste. At that time 23% of the overall network was dead in the water, although the proportion was higher in the central parts of London. A quick look at the crowd-sourced ZapMap map, or the maps provided by PodPoint and Source Point London, reveals that the network is at least as stuffed now.

As an aside, there’s no indication that Gill-Hank, or it’s two older compatriots elsewhere on the Royal Arsenal, were ever operational.

There was another burst of activity in mid-2015, when BluePoint announced the imminent roll out of an electric car sharing scheme similar to the one that Bolloré run in Paris, certain to be up and running before Christmas. Or at the latest by February 2016. Writing in March 2016, I can say that I’ve not seen any indication of wheels on the ground, or anything other than a press release. Also in the news in May 2015 were announcements that BluePoint were running around re-negotiating the maintenance deal with individual boroughs, with a view to take on direct responsibility for the units that had rolled out under the Source London Scheme, although possibly not financial responsibility.

Greenwich was one of the boroughs that had signed up, with a certain amount of fanfare, so you would hope that their would be a smooth relationship between the borough and Blue-Point. In reality when we contacted them in late March, they first indicated that the units in question were on private roads and so they had no involvement, then said they would let BluePoint know, although they seemed surprised that this was something they might be involved with.

Before leading you through the saga, I do need to bring the dramatis personae on stage properly, as there is an entire HBO BlockBuster’s worth of characters to keep track of.

Woolwich Arsenal is (just) in the Royal Borough of Greenwich, which is run by the Greenwich London Borough Council. Despite the council offices and town hall being in Woolwich, it generally appears as if the only piece of Greenwich that they pay attention to is that part within one mile of the Cutty Sark. The Woolwich Arsenal site itself was flogged off to and developed by Berkeley Homes, who famously have an interestingly cosy relationship with Council and councillors, and a history of favouring style over substance.

Rendall & Rittner manage the site on a long-term contract with Berkeley, and provide all the day-to-day maintenance, concierge services, security and so on. Royal Arsenal Facilities Management is that part of R&R who have direct responsibility for, well, Managing Facilities.

Pod Point both manufacture charging stations and run a charging network, although within London it looks very much like their network is part of, or largely overlaps with, the Source London Scheme. It’s their name that is plastered all over Gill-Hank, their software running on it, and their RFID card that is supposed to be used on the other two units in the Arsenal. Rather puzzlingly they advertise a 3 Year warranty on leased units, and Gill-Hank is less than 3 years old, you would think that there shouldn’t be any complications around getting it fixed…

Source London were initially the retail arm and public web face of the Source London Scheme, although it’s very unclear how the financing originally worked, as the scheme was launched by Boris and TfL. This is something of a recurring theme in investigating this chaos, a number of players look to be not much more than smoke and mirrors, with no clarity around who owns what – if anything.

BluePoint London is part of Bolloré, but is virtually invisible outside press releases – they have no distinct web presence, no (easily) identifiable office, and possibly nobody directly working for them other than Christophe Arnaud, who lists himself as working for Bolloré Blue Solutions – it may be that BluePoint London is nothing but a very thin trade name for a particular branch or product out of Blue Solutions, but it still remains rather odd that an outfit that being very prominently held up in the media as providing the bright new future of an Electric London is a ghost…

Even the location of their office is a mystery. They might be at 125 Wood Street, London, EC2V 7AW or they might be in 33 Gutter Ln, London EC2V, and I am sorely tempted to wander over there some lunch time to see if I can find them. Possibly Blue Solutions is wearing BluePoint London like a mask, and in turn they are wearing Source London as a mask, but none of the publicly available information about these companies mention that – indeed the bulk of the Source London web site has not been updated since 2014, and still suggests that it is a TfL initiative.

So here’s the saga. Since Gill-Hank is prominently badged with PodPoint’s livery, and is running PodPoint’s software, and is on PodPoint’s map, so the obvious first point of contact we pursued was PodPoint. On 11th February 2016 we lodged a support call about Gill-Hank, and we received a response the next day advising that the unit would be soon fixed and they were sending us one of their RFID cards so that we could use the other units in the Arsenal.

Having heard nothing further, on 6th March we lodged a fresh call about Gill-Hank, and followed up on 7th March to advise them that the other two units in the Arsenal were dead as well. Around that time we also chased Royal Arsenal Facilities Management, who responded on 8th March:

Thank you for your email below and we are sorry to hear the issue you are also having with Pod Point. We have also been trying to contact them on the same matter and as of yet have had no joy. Please note that Pod Point are not contracted the estate management in any way however we will be taking other avenues to get these issues resolved.

On 11th March we got a response from PodPoint, who advised that they would get an engineer to visit and asking if I could send some photos of the damaged unit. In a phone conversation around this time I was told that PodPoint had been trying to contact both Council and Berkeley, as the repair would probably require fixes to the pavement as well:


It as around this date that we realised we’d need to sign up to a number of different networks and get their RFID cards if were going to be travelling around the country at all, and on 12th March via Twitter had a conversation with PodPoint lamenting the many RFID cards, and being assured once again that the unit would be fixed very soon.

On 16th March, a little over a month since we first told PodPoint that the unit had been damaged and was non-functional, their engineer visited the site and confirmed that, yes, it had been partly torn out of the pavement, yes, the pavement would need to be fixed and the unit significantly repaired, and yes that they would need Greenwich Council or Berkeley to come to the party to assist with that. Again via Twitter we were assured that the unit was on the fix list, after I tweeted the picture of the damaged unit:

i’ll get someone to look at why one of our units is doing a mini impression of the Tower of Pisa… Thank you


Have an update already! We are working on getting it fixed, thank you for reporting it 🙂

I refrained from pointing out that it had been reported several times already.

PodPoint celebrated National Puppy Day (or was it International Puppy Day) on 24th March by Tweeting a picture of their office pug Sparky – I responded by sending a photo of our dog Bo beside the unit:


Bo is wondering if Sparky will come and help fix Gill-Hank soon?

thanks Bo! We’re looking into it

Twitter seems to be the most effective way of speaking with PodPoint, and they sent me a direct message on 27th March:

Hi Robert! Gill-Hank is currently on our list of upgrades, however we are waiting for the paperwork to go through – which, sadly, is taking it’s time

to which I replied

thanks for that – is there some third party that you are waiting on which I can yell at?

I heard nothing further until the 29th, after I got a response from Royal Greenwich when I poked them directly:

Hi and thanks for that, It’s not ours, but we are flagging up to Bollere/Bluepoint now. Thanks again.

who’s is it then? PodPoint and SourceLondon say it is yours

Hi again. Have raised your query with the service lead. It will be reported to the right place! Thanks again for flagging to us.

More relevantly we got a final confirmation by email from PodPoint that they would not be repairing the unit:

Apologies for the delay in my response. Here is the latest on the matter: We have been in touch with Royal Arsenal Facilities Management and Greenwich Council who have informed us that these units were installed under the Source London Scheme which has since been taken over by a company called Blue Point who are now responsible for the maintenance of the charging equipment. We have contacted Blue Point to find out what is going to happen with these units, whether we should repair/replace them or whether the existing units will be replaced by their own charge units. While we have had no response my prediction is the latter. Unfortunately it is out of our hands to further assists in the matter unless we get a work order from Blue Point. I apologise and am aware of the frustration in the matter but there is no more I can do

I forwarded this to Royal Arsenal Facilities Management with a certain amount of polite WTF?, but did not hear
back from them until the next day. My partner also rang around on the 29th and spoke to Greenwich Council, who confirmed that from their point of view the unit was on a private road, and therefore not actually their concern, however that they would let BluePoint know. On the other hand when she spoke with Source London, they insisted that it was PodPoint’s problem, not theirs.

Weirdly on the 30th I did get a response on Twitter from the conversation with PodPoint on the 27th:

In this instance, it would be the local council. They do take a bit of time…,

to which I replied

Greenwich Council have said ‘not on a public road, not our problem’

Finally, on 31st March Royal Arsenal Facilities Management thanked me for the mail I’d forwarded, and said they had passed it on to Berkeley.

And there the matter rests at this time. The two units on the Arsenal site with Source London livery are non-responsive, and the PodPoint unit is visibly wrecked. We have no way of charging the car, and absolutely no indication of when or if the units will be repaired or replaced.

To recap the final statements via the various players:

  • PodPoint say they have spoken with Greenwich Council and Royal Arsenal Facilities Management, that both parties have said it’s BluePoint’s problem, and that PodPoint have tried to contact BluePoint with no response;
  • Source London (who are theoretically BluePoint) have said it’s PodPoint’s problem;
  • Royal Arsenal Facilities Management say they have had no contact with PodPoint, and have not been able to get a response from them, and have passed the issue up to Berkeley;
  • Greenwich Council believe they have no involvement at all, and have notified BluePoint;

None of which actually adds up. It feels like the whole thing could be resolved if we could get all the parties into one room together and instructed them to actually talk to each other. Resolving this should not be difficult – somebody has the paper work indicating that they are leasing, or own, the unit, thus making them responsible for getting the damned thing fixed. I don’t care who that is, or what deals have been done between the various players, or what the history of the scheme is, or anything else.

Just get the damned thing repaired so it can be used! If it truly is the case that nobody owns Gill-Hank and nobody is responsible for it… then nobody will mind if I take an axe to it and the other units to put them out of their misery.

TfL, Greenwich Council, PodPoint, Source London and BluePoint have all loudly and frequently asserted an interest in a greener London, where a key part of reducing air pollution is encouraging the use of electric vehicles, bolstered by a public charging network. As it stands, a network was built and largely abandoned, and consumers like us who are trying to do the right thing by going electric have been left stranded with no sign of anything being done other than intermittent press releases assuring us that the future is so bright we will need to wear shades.

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