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Docker and Consul and DNS, oh my

I’m still trying to wrap my head around networking when it comes to Docker and related technologies – I think because a lot of the documentation and examples around are either not quite correct, or are subtly out of date. I’ve noticed too that a lot of the writing out there around setting up Docker and/or Consul hand waves away the trickiness of the networking. Particularly egregious is the blithe insistence on just specifying host networking for all containers, something that the Docker project itself frowns upon.

(Continued)

Lovely Rita Meter Maid…

The saga of the non-functioning SourceLondon / PodPoint units in Woolwich Arsenal continues, with the lightning pace usually associated with continental drift, and the rise and fall of mountain ranges.

We had a period of about six weeks where one of the dead units would periodically and arbitrarily come back to life for enough time for us to get a charge. This was great for us, as we finally got a chance to really explore the benefits of the PHEv, but abruptly came to a halt after the charging unit was vandalised. The timing of this did roughly coincide with when my contact at SourceLondon/BluePoint/Bollaré (Maryline Marilly) had indicated that they would totally be replacing the units, so I once again began to pester her.

This revealed there would be at least some progress: a meeting between Bollaré and the Head of Estate at Berkeley was scheduled for 4th August. This did not deter me from beginning to shotgun annoying messages out on Twitter about the Arsenal units, and other broken units I pass on my commute, which resulted in shaking loose a direct conversation with the bloke from Berkeley, one Simon Challen, who took time out to have a chat with me on the 5th about the meeting with Christophe Arnaud (someone who I had begun to think was a myth).

I don’t know why it has taken months for the two organisations to reach the same understanding of the situation that I was able to determine from the outside: TFL pushed Greenwich Council to install the units, who did some undocumented deal with Berkeley to get the units onto the Arsenal, and then walked away leaving the responsibility with PodPoint. As it stands, Challen did confirm the understanding that I had arrived at: none of the organisations have a record of who paid for the units, who owns them, and who will fix them.

Hilariously – from my point of view, Challen did know about the work done by some navvies to cement the broken unit back upright, but admitted he had no idea that none of the units were working. Less hilariously, and frustratingly for me, he did not seem to get my point that it’s not a good look for Berkeley and the Royal Arsenal to have the local management company (Rendall & Rittner) unaware of the ownership and responsibility for infrastructure in the Arsenal.

There was some hopeful news though: Berkeley and Bollaré have agreed that they will draft an agreement for Bollaré to take on responsibility for the units. Of course, this is still at the stage where lawyers are discussing the agreement to make an agreement, so I can anticipate that sometime in 2018 they may discuss the agreement having agreed to make an agreement. Simon did say though that Christophe would “do something about fixing the units at BluePoint’s risk” before the agreement to make an agreement was concluded.

So, we will see. Today it is 208 days since I began trying to report the broken units. The units have been broken for much longer. Let’s see if it can take less than a year.

SSL Made Easy

Time for a shout-out to DreamHost, who have partnered with LetsEncrypt to make using SSL with this website very, very easy. DreamHost have always aimed to make many actions against the site push-button, with sensible defaults, and clear documentation, and generating and attaching the certificate was a walk in the park.

I was a little surprised to see the certificate expiring so soon, but LetsEncrypt’s rationale is very sound: re-rolling certificates can and should be automated, and limiting the life time of a certificate automatically limits the exposure if the certificate is subverted. It is very much in line with a core idea that they have: the default for HTTP traffic should be across SSL, or in some other way encrypted.

For me, the process was as simple as pushing the buttons on the DreamHost control panel, then do a bulk find-and-replace on my site to update any http links to be https. I will probably have to chase around the interwebs to find where I’ve published the old URL, but I’m pretty sure I’ve found and updated the important ones already.

PropertySource-1.0

Having a little time up my sleeve, and a need to be off my feet for as much as possible… wait, did I mention that? Somewhere in the last six weeks I’ve done something undefined to my feet, which are painfully sore to walk on. I think that I managed to sprain one or more of the muscles that usually wiggle my toes, and as a result walking has felt like I’ve had stones in my shoes. Since I had a few unexpected extra days off, I elected to sit on my butt as much as possible and bang away at a little project that I’ve had hanging around for ages: PropertySource, which is a simple abstraction for finding “properties”. The code and README are there in GitHub, and there’s pointers on use from the README.

I’ve had two motivations for this: first, defining key/value properties can be done in a number of different ways, and there’s little consistency across projects in how or where that will be done. By wrapping this up in an abstraction, then it becomes much easier to not have to think about how or where the properties are defined, while at the same way providing an easy way to have a hierarchy of default and override properties.

Second, I’ve become interested in the use of things like Consul and etcd as distributed dictionaries for configuration, and wanted to put together a framework into which I can easily integrate using these as property sources as well, while hiding any complexity from the user.

If you use this, please let me know how you find it, and never hesitate to suggest extensions or modifications. I do intend to keep fiddling with this, first by adding support for different distributed key/value stores, and secondly by making it simple to specify the order of hierarchy when trying to resolve a property from a variety of sources.

And as an aside… my mind is a sieve at the moment, so I’m awfully glad that I documented the process I came up with for doing Maven releases with Git!

Feeling blue

It has been said somewhere… and therein lies the state of the art when writing something that sounds profound on the Internet in the first half of the 21st century. Somewhere or other I read, unattributed, or with forgotten attribution, something vaguely like what I’m about to repeat without attribution: Greater London as a city does not really exist, instead it is dozens and dozens of small villages that have expanded until they have grown into each other.

Flying over it, or using Google Earth or Google Maps to virtually fly, the eye can be tricked into believing that the sea of buildings within the M25 is some sort of cohesive entity. After all, the buses and tube go all over the place, the road rules are the same everywhere, and there is a Costa on every corner. The reality is far more complicated, and it is frankly a small daily miracle that the conurbation does not collapse into rioting and arson as an entire nation’s worth of people wade through a morass of niggling annoyances resulting from subysystems of the city not… quite… working…

I had the pleasure last week of meeting Maryline Marilly, Stakeholder and Partnership Manager for Bluepoint London, who generously took the the time to answer some of the issues and concerns I’d raised around Gill-Hank.

When Bolloré, or rather their sub-entity Blue Solutions, purchased the car charging network set up under the SourceLondon scheme by TfL, they did so with an unabashedly and transparent commercial intent: they really want to get their electric car club system up and running inside the M25, and on the back of that promote and push for more widespread adoption of electric vehicles. Particularly their electric vehicles, using their battery technology. They certainly were aware at the time of purchase that the charging network was a shambolic, malfunctioning mess, but saw it as a good entry point into the infrastructure.

We don’t perceive the infrastructure that exists to support the use of cars reliant on fossil fuels, any more than a fish perceives water. The infrastructure is pervasive and unremarkable, and any driver in London unthinkingly and correctly assumes they are only a few miles from a fuel source, which will be open, functioning, and trivially easy to use. I have no idea how much it costs to build a petrol station inside the M25, but at a guess would expect it to be a six-figure sum. Buying the land, sorting out the legals, constructing the building, installing the specialist equipment for dealing with fuel… not something you pay for with the change you find down the back of the couch. And yet, companies still build them, even though the income from selling fuel, energy drinks, fluffy dice and crisps will probably take decades to cover the construction cost. Of course, the actual cost is amortised over all the other stations that the company owns, and it’s not a huge financial gamble as long as their pockets are deep enough to deal with unexpected costs.

The infrastructure for electric cars is in many ways technologically much simpler, and largely boils down to “somewhere to plugin and charge”. There are of course some caveats there – the electrical network the vehicle plugs into needs to be fairly robust, and capable of carrying currents a bit above your suburban house light circuit, but this is not a huge ask. The charging stations themselves also have a small footprint, requiring much less space and supporting tech than a petrol pump, but the crunch is that they need to be placed where the driver can park for a non-trivial amount of time. Current vehicles largely need to be able to charge over 4+ hours to attain full charge, and that brings all sorts of complications: publicly accessible charging stations necessarily are in public spaces, such as road sides and car parks, which immediately means that the provider of the infrastructure has to negotiate with a startling array of third parties before they can plop a station down and advertise it’s presence.

It does feel a little that the vehicle manufacturers have a vision that the prime charging location is at home – mum and dad and three kids and a dog with the car in a garage overnight before Dad drives off to his Work with a full charge there and back. Looking around London, the reality is necessarily different. It has proved to be interestingly difficult to find overall what proportion of private cars are parked on-road. I did find this research by TfL on Residential Parking Provision in New Developments showing that 80% of Londoners live in some sort of flat or unit, 45% are renting, and 56% are parking on the street in new developments. The proportion parking on the street for all of London must therefore be somewhere north of this figure. This is not a city where the vehicle owner is probably going to be plugged into their domestic supply. Even if the building owner provides off street parking, it is not likely the renter will be able to access power in the car park (or talk the building owner into providing it).

Like it or not, during the transitional years before electric cars are the norm, Londoners are dependent on the charge points rolled out by the Source London scheme, and similar.

Which brings us back to BluePoint. They know they can’t make a profit on vehicle charging, or indeed I suspect come close to recovering the costs directly from charging, but they are willing to wear the cost. If the chargers are available, Londoners will use them, and if more people start buying or using electric cars, then more of the electric cars will be ones using Blue Solutions’ battery tech. They are happy to give away the safety razor handle, as long as they know they’ll sell a hell of a lot of razor blades and shaving cream.

One thing that Maryline admitted to was that BluePoint were not prepared for just how complicated it would be to deal with all the local authorities, and all the paper work. As she put it, when Paris decided it wanted a charging network, there was a single local authority, a single Mayor, who could just make it so across the entire conurbation. London has got 32 boroughs, each of which has to be bought to the table individually, each with variations in parking regulations, variations in how the pavement can be used or modified, variations in how power cables can be run to the charging units. Describing the time frames required for the negotiations they were going through, her frustration was palpable, and understandable.

None of this should be this hard. Oil prices will rise steeply some time soon. The pressures on consumers to move away from internal combustion engines will ramp up. BluePoint’s proposition is a sensible one: build the infrastructure now rather than doing it later when it is urgent and expensive. Oh, and if they wind up in a very nice commercial position as a result, well, good for them…

Coming back to Gill-Hank, Maryline was able to fill in the last pieces of the puzzle. It seems that PodPoint went somewhat off-piste when they replaced the older SourceLondon unit that was there (although it’s not clear why that happened, as nobody involved appears to have any records of who asked for it to happen). As a result the unit literally dropped off the radar of Source London, and it seems that Greenwich Council never had a particularly clear idea of which Source London units they had committed to. My previous rant managed to rattle the right cages, sufficient for Greenwich to lean on Berkeley to talk to BluePoint, and for an agreement finally made to replace the two dead units in Cadogan Road. The units are indeed technically on private roads on private land owned by Berkeley, even if at some point in the past they were Greenwich Council’s financial responsibility under the SourceLondon scheme. With the new arrangement stitched up by BluePoint and Greenwich, the unit reverts to BluePoint along with the rest of the SourceLondon network in the Borough, and Berkeley blesses BluePoint turning up with pick axes and cement mixers to replace the dead units.

It’s still going to be 6-8 weeks before the units are actually replaced, which is bloody frustrating, but I can understand why it is going to take that long. So, all is well that ends well. Except I am going to ring fence the new unit with traffic cones once it is put in place, and will go on the warpath for the next lorry driver that backs into it.

While they waited and listened in awe…

Erect and sublime, for one moment of time,
In the next, that wild figure they saw
(As if stung by a spasm) plunge into a chasm,
While they waited and listened in awe.

Benighted PodPoint Gill-Hank is now standing proudly and boldly erect!

Yes indeed, workers from Berkeley were out over the last few days hauling the corpse upright and repairing the pavement to keep it that way. Not, of course, that the unit actually functions.

When quizzed by Delia, the workers told her they had been instructed by Berkeley to make it look better…

Why Electric?

Ten reasons why having virtually all vehicles on London roads would be an outstanding idea:

1. You could walk down Oxford Street or Regent Street without needing an oxygen mask;

2. Birds would stop falling out of the sky, asphyxiated, when they crossed the M25;

3. It would be quiet enough to hear the sweet song of birds, or at least the raucous yelling of seagulls;

4. Everyone would be able to hear the music they are playing in their cars, instead of it being drowned by the engine noise;

5. Cyclists will be able to hear you when you shout at them;

6. You will be able to hear what they cyclists are shouting at you;

7. All the other drivers will be able to hear the conversation you are having with the cyclist;

8. Watching tourists trying to scurry across the road through the traffic becomes even funnier;

9. London would insouciantly brush off rising oil prices, except in the square mile of the City;

10. Forget custom ring tones – think custom ersatz engine noises…

Gill-Hank Progress

After pestering as many as people as I could, publicly, via Twitter by posting links to my previous, I finally have somebody admitting ownership of the unit:

Dear Mr. Robert Hook,

Following your message on Twitter regarding the charge point located at Cadogan Road West, please be advised that we have been reporting this charge point as faulty to Pod Point.

Unfortunately, the charge point has still not been repaired as you have rightfully highlighted.

As a result, we have decided to remove this faulty charge point and install a brand new Source London unit. We are currently working with Berkeley (which you also mentioned in your message) to have the new charge point installed as soon as possible.

Should you have any further queries, please feel free to respond to this message.

Kind Regards,

—-
Thanks for using SourceLondon.
Your SourceLondon customer service

I have of course asked if the other two units will also be repaired or replaced, and asked for some indication of what “as soon as possible” means. I am getting a little tired of “As soon as possible”, as I’ve been hearing it for almost two months.

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.

IMG_2705

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:

IMG_2708

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

and

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:

IMG_2880

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.

PHEV Charge hassles

I’m still trying to sort out where we can charge the car – Delia has found a charging point nearby that we can use for a short period to bleed in a little bit of charge – while we wait for the PodPoint at our front door to be fixed. Which might be an indeterminate amount of time, as the PodPoint engineer came out during the week and confirmed that yes, it had been backed into, yes it was defunct, and yes they would need to embark on a complicated arrangement with Berkely, Rendall & Rittner, and Greenwich Council to get it fixed.

We just received the SourceLondon RFID card in the mail, which caused me to google off to find who on earth “Bluepointlondon” are. Which in turn led me to this article at the Financial Times.

The timeline turns out to be like this:

  • May 2011 Boris Johnson ordered TFL to build a network of charging stations across London. TFL coerced the boroughs and councils to install (at their expense) the charging stations, and Boris patted himself on the back for a job well done
  • September 2011 TFL flogged the network off to Bolloré for a total of £1 million, on the understanding that the new owners would pay for the upkeep.
  • The network falls apart because nobody is maintaining it
  • Bolloré believes it’s only supposed to reimburse anyone who makes repairs £500, but the repair costs is higher.

And so it’s a mad merry-go-round. Bolloré aren’t fixing the network they own, because as far as they are concerned it’s someone else’s problem. The manufacturers – PodPoint, Chargemaster and similar – are not maintaining the network because as far as they are concerned it’s someone else’s problem. TFL aren’t maintaining the network because they made it someone else’s problem, but are not sure whose. The councils aren’t maintaining the network because they cannot afford to. Meanwhile Boris Johnson strolls off taking credit for having built a network of charging points to take London into a green future, without actually having achieved anything that works.

Golf Clap.