Blink Charging Stations Generate More Controversy

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 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.

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  • CLD

    I can’t comment on Blink, but I will put in a good word for Coulomb. Every time I’ve used a ChargePoint station, it’s been completely trouble-free. The only criticism I have is that they still refuse to put a Level I charger in my part of Houston, despite my repeated requests. eVgo has a J1772 Level II station at the Whole Foods down the road, but my car won’t charge on J1772. I could upgrade with a J1772 adapter, but that would involve swapping out the on-board charger. Too much work. Oh well. Not sure why eVgo won’t do Level I installs.

  • Scott Watkins@ECOtality

    As the Communications Manager for ECOtality, I wanted to take this opportunity to directly respond to the issues raised in this article. We look forward to continuing this conversation, and furthermore, highlighting the progress we are all making in the EV industry.

    Accepting Credit Cards via Telephone
    The EV project is a test and data collection program. As such there are certain limitations to what we can do. For instance, because of customer security and privacy concerns, The EV project determined that we cannot take credit cards over the phone. By mid-Summer, and with the implementation of payment systems, you will be able to charge immediately by activating a BLINK guest code.

    Reliability Challenges
    As with all emerging technologies, challenges are going to present themselves along the way. The advanced technology in our chargers allows us to push software updates to increase reliability and functionality. We are addressing reliability issues internally and are currently in the process of rolling out new software. Where the software has been deployed, we are seeing reliability rates in excess of 97%.

    Call Center/Customer Service.
    We take input from our customers very seriously, and will continue to improve our processes ensuring every BLINK user has a positive experience with our customer service personnel.

    Regarding Synapse
    ECOtality clearly delivered a product that met the specifications of the agreement with Synapse Sustainability Trust Inc. In addition, ECOtality fulfilled its requirements under the terms of the contract and stands behind its product and performance. The company denies that it made any false representations, believes these allegations to be unfounded and will defend its position vigorously.

    Regarding Federal Funding
    The structure of The EV Project is a smart investment on behalf of the administration and the taxpayer. Per the stipulations of the DOE grant, ECOtality is reimbursed half of the allowable costs associated with charger deployment. In short, for every dollar we spend, we are reimbursed 0.50 cents. We are deploying chargers to meet market demand, we continue to be good stewards of federal funding.

    ECOtality is not under investigation by the SEC. There is an ongoing fact-finding inquiry thatdates back to the 2008/2009 timeframe. The SEC has advised it should not be construed as determination; it is an inquiry into activities that occurred at that time. We are cooperating fully with the SEC and are complying with SEC rules; we have no further disclosures or updates that we are able to provide beyond our public filings.

  • Tom Saxton

    Hi Scott,

    “Where the software has been deployed, we are seeing reliability rates in excess of 97%.” Can you explain what 97% reliability means?

    Can you characterize which stations have the update and which don’t? How many still need to be updated?

  • Doug Liser

    I’ve got the Ecotality home charger as part of the EV Project. It was quite flaky for a few months with what seemed like software problems. Now, it’s been problem free for a number of months. The public stations around the Bay Area have seemed reliable from my limited experience with them. I have a card and never have called customer service.

  • Greg

    My Blink charger stopped working after 2 weeks, I heard a loud pop and out it went. I called right away, waited a week for a response from Blink. I find out Blink can’t get in touch with their contractor who is 150 miles from me. They said call back in a day or two. So I have been on 110 for a week.

  • Jimmy I

    Got a big surprise from Blink this week. They are now charging for time you are plugged in to the stations even if you are not charging your car. This makes using the charging stations a real pain and almost unusable in some situations. Even more concerning is if they are going to pull this stunt now when it really counts to get new users to buy electric cars, what stunt will they pull in the future when they have more market share…

  • Jules M

    I was surprised as well. Blink communicated to me that this was to encourage drivers to unplug and move their vehicles when charging was complete. I’ve never experienced the problem they are trying to solve. They also charge per 1 hour increments so a 20 minute charge will cost you from $1-2 depending on your membership. Blink is building a commercial charging network but appears not to want drivers to spend more than 1 hour charging at them. Regulation in some states may prevent them from charging for fractional charge intervals but the penalties are their choice. It’s ok to start requiring payment for service but they should keep the complicated fee and penalty structure out of their service until adoption is high.