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800 Number On Blink Electric-Car Charging Stations? Useless, Don't Bother

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ECOtality Blink charging station for electric & plug-in cars

ECOtality Blink charging station for electric & plug-in cars

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You'd think a company awarded $115 million by the Department of Energy to build electric-car charging stations would make them accessible to every single driver, wouldn't you?

Apparently, you'd be wrong.

At least, that is, in the case of Ecotality's Blink network.

Any plug-in driver arriving at a Blink station who hasn't previously signed up as a Blink member is out of luck.

Useless 800 number

As we've confirmed with several drivers, calling the 800 number on a sticker now added to the side of Blink stations is useless.

Ecotality's operators cannot take a credit-card number and activate the charging station remotely--unlike those of Blink's competitor, Coulomb Technologies' ChargePoint network.

Nor can operators enroll new customers in the Blink network, since the company must first mail out the RFID card required to charge at a Blink station.

Blink EV charging point at IKEA store

Blink EV charging point at IKEA store

Enlarge Photo

On February 28, Chevy Volt driver Jeff U'Ren and his son pulled up to a Blink station at the Ikea store in Carson, California.

"We were going to an event in Long Beach from Santa Monica, and we had planned go a little early, stop at the Ikea, charge, have a snack and browse the store," U'Ren said.

"I didn't know the chargers there were from Blink; it didn't occur to me that I'd have a problem."

"When we got there, it was apparent I'd need a RFID card to start a charging session," he continued. "So I called the 800 number on the Blink charger, as I'd done before with Coulomb, to get them to turn it on."

No remote control

"To my surprise," U'Ren said, "the operator had no way to turn the station on remotely, and couldn't even sign me up and send me a card, as Coulomb did."

ECOtality Blink charging station, showing sticker on the side with 800 number

ECOtality Blink charging station, showing sticker on the side with 800 number

Enlarge Photo

"The guy on the phone was no help, and sounded as if he couldn't care less about my problem," U'Ren concluded. "He did offer some explanation as to how I could get an RFID card, but it didn't sound easy."

At that point, U'Ren gave up, found a nearby hospital with a Level 2 charging station--offering free electricity, as it turned out--and relaxed at a nearby coffee shop while recharging his Volt.

It appears that Blink operators aren't entirely powerless, though.

"I called the 800 number because it wouldn't accept my wife's unregistered RFID card," related Tom Saxton. "The rep was able to assign her card to my account."

GreenCarReports reached out to Ecotality yesterday to confirm these accounts; the company has not replied.

Reliability challenges

Saxton is the author of a recent study by Plug-In America that compared the reliability of Blink stations to that of Coulomb's CharePoint locations.

It found that an average of 25 percent of Blink stations were offline at any given time, versus 10 percent for ChargePoint stations, and that more than half stayed offline for a day to a week--versus downtimes of an hour or less for two-thirds of ChargePoint locations.

Ecotality has received more than $40 million of a $115 million Department of Energy grant to install 14,000 electric-car charging stations in five states, of which it has so far installed roughly half.

The company has had challenges on a number of fronts lately.

 

ECOtality Blink charging stations for electric & plug-in cars

ECOtality Blink charging stations for electric & plug-in cars

Enlarge Photo

Slammed in Romney ad

In Syracuse, New York, a nonprofit organization tore out the 68 Blink stations it had installed and sued Ecotality for $6 million, claiming that after a year, the charging stations still don't track and bill users correctly as required under the installation contract.

It's also under investigation by the Securities & Exchange Commission for possible insider trading, and received subpoenas in October 2010 and December 2011.

Last month, Mitt Romney named Ecotality (along with bankrupt solar-panel maker Solyndra) in a campaign ad, "Not Even Half," that slammed what it said was the Obama Administration's pattern of picking winners and losers in renewable energy and investing in companies that failed.

Ecotality and another company named, First Solar, fought back by issuing statements that pointed out inaccuracies.

Politico termed the Romney ad a “mixed bag on facts”; it was also criticized by The Street and FactCheck.

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Comments (24)
  1. Most blink stations are always down anyway, so there's no need to activate them remotely either. It's a big scam, that's what it is.
     
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  2. Start with a new technology, add various govts, Fed and state and local, vying with one another to be "greenists" and not qualified to make decisions (any decisions) about technological whatumaycallits, various automakers building electrics that vary in their charging requirements NOW and which will vary even more completely as almost-upon-us new battery technologies allow faster recharging, making the current crop of chargers totally obsolete, and you've got our present situation. We can only thank God that so few electrics are out there on the road and the waste can be held to a minimum. See, there's always a bright side. Seems like Musk is the only one who has looked somewhat ahead, with his soon-to-be unveiled supercharger network.
     
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  3. Ecotality should be shut down their stations are an inferior waste and they are only damaging the electric cars reputation. I wouldn't be surprised if it is just a scam, it's members only so the number of users is being kept low, and the fact that a good amount of the stations don't work makes me wonder if they are using inferior parts or if the chargers are just empty boxes to keep cost down and appearances up so they can get the loan money and run.
     
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  4. I also believe Ecotality is a scam. They have very little incentive to actually install chargers - they get paid either way. In fact, they make more by NOT installing them. The chargers near me are always either out of service, or ICE'd. Ecotality doesn't seem interested in making money by having customers use their chargers - otherwise they would fix both those issues. I don't know if what these charlatans have done is illegal - but it should be.
     
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  5. Yes it's members only but its free unlike EvGo with monthly subscription. with EV's its all about planning and if you can't sign up to get your card advance (Free By The Way) then that sounds like a personal problem. Here in Houston there are 65 Blink chargers vs. 21 Chargepoint/Coulomb. And yes I also have the Coulomb card but have not had the chance to even use it once, but I do carry both cards (blink and Coulomb) with me at all times. Really! could not plug in his Volt after long trip. I thought the point of the Volt was no worries because it uses gas as well.
     
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  6. Who wants to use gas? Plus the free charger was literally down the street.
     
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  7. I found this to be the case when I showed up and tried to use the BLINK charger at LA Live in downtown LA. I called the 800 number and the rep apologized about not being able to turn on the charger, but he took the time to sign me up over the phone.
    He was very polite.
    The card showed up in the mail about a week later, I activated it and used it the same day at a IKEA in Fountain Valley. Here 4 out of the 5 chargers were online.
     
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  8. ECOtality/Blink are incompetent people trying to fake it in an industry they do not understand or care about purely for the money. Chargepoint/Coulomb prove it does not need to be that way. Administration will own this failure if GAO audit occurs after ECOtality bankrupts the program.
     
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  9. I have a 100% electric Nissan LEAF. The Ecotality (Blink)car charger in my home garage works just fine. As do the five, carport solar-powered Blink EVSE's at Greenlife Grocery (owned by Whole Foods) here in Chattanooga. Yes, you have to swipe the RFID card. Works every time. The only problem I have with the Blink QC units at our Cracker Barrel, involves the neanderthals who park their '78 Buick or Hummer in the charging space.
    Just remember, no American soldier has ever died fighting for electricity.
     
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  10. Yet another example of what happens when you let the 1% (the government) choose which companies will succeed rather than letting the 99% (the market) decide: more of our money wasted and the progress of the EV cause impeded.
     
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  11. A reliable charging infrastructure is very important at this point. We need them installed and working.
    The problem is that the Government should have proper oversight of how our money is being spent. If companies like Blink knew from the beginning that they would be audited and inspected regularly they might have a better operation going. They would even think of scamming the taxpayers.
     
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  12. As the Communications Manager for ECOtality, I wanted to express our disappointment in Mr. Voelcker’s article and his process. As mentioned in the article, Mr. Voelcker did reach out to ECOtality to verify one fact; however he did so only through e-mail and without indicating any type of deadline. Had we been given a true understanding of the articles intent and given a truly fair shot at responding, we would have been happy to provide Mr. Voelcker with the facts. Therefore, please accept the following as a response to the article:
     
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  13. @Scott: That's simply not true. The e-mail I sent you contained the bulk of the story--everything up to the last 2 sections starting with "Reliability Challenges," which I added for context. I'm quite happy to reproduce here if you like.

    Furthermore, when you and I spoke on the phone roughly 4 hours ago, I asked you *specifically* if you felt the story contained any factual errors. You told me it did not.

    All the rest, below, is useful additional information that I would have liked to have known, had you responded to my inquiry. Thanks for adding the further context.
     
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  14. 'continued from previous post'
    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. Mr. Voelcker would have known that had he spoken with us. By mid-Summer, and with the implementation of payment systems, you will be able to charge immediately by activating a BLINK guest code through either the BLINK network Web site or the BLINK app via your smart phone.
     
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  15. 'continued from previous post'
    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%.
     
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  16. @Scott: I understand there's additional data from the Plug-In America study, and I look forward to reviewing it. If there's substantial change from the results I wrote about in mid-May, I'm happy to cover it.
     
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  17. 'continued from previous post'
    Call Center/Customer Service - 
While we stand behind the professionalism of our call center, we sincerely apologize to Mr. U’Ren if he felt that the service he was provided was less than stellar. To date, the vast majority of feedback we have received in regards to our call center has been positive. 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.
     
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  18. 'continued from previous post'
    Mitt Romney Ad
 - As mentioned in the article, the Mitt Romney article was thoroughly discredited by Politico, The Street and FactCheck. Including an ad that has by most accounts been deemed factually inaccurate, is tantamount to throwing the kitchen sink at us…and a non-functional one at best.
     
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  19. @Scott: [sigh] Oh, come on. The Romney ad, which as you note I described as discredited--with multiple sources--is included as an example of one of several challenges Ecotality has recently faced.

    Would you NOT describe that ad as a challenge for the company?
     
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  20. 'continued from previous post'
    Regarding the Irrelevant and off Topic Reference to 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.
     
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  21. 'continued from previous post'
    SEC
 - ECOtality is not under investigation by the SEC. There is an ongoing fact-finding inquiry that dates 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.
     
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  22. 'continued from previous post'
    ECOtality is committed to building sustainable EV infrastructure that will help reduce our countries dependence on foreign oil. We would like to think a publication that calls itself Green Car Reports would be interested in strengthening the industry, instead of seeking to selectively tear down one of its pioneers. We look forward to working with Mr. Voelcker’s publication in the future to show the progress we are all making in the EV industry.
     
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  23. "...Useless, Don't Bother" In headlines then in the body of the article:

    "It appears that Blink operators aren't entirely powerless, though.

    "I called the 800 number because it wouldn't accept my wife's unregistered RFID card," related Tom Saxton. "The rep was able to assign her card to my account."

    Whenever a customer calls a customer service department with a specific need or demand, and if the rep can't deliver on the customer's demand, does that make the customer service department "useless" for all customers?

    I'm surprised the article didn't praise the one liner about ECOtality having installed 50% of the units for with only drawing 35% of the funds.
     
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  24. This seems to be an outdated post, but I just leased a 2012 I Miev, and since my evse isn't hooked up yet at home, I went to the closest blink network here in vancouver. I had signed up for blink but hadn't gotten my card yet, so I called them and it was easy, they gave me a code which i used at the station near my house. I kept them on the phone with me, because it was my first time charging and it went super smooth. because I was a guest, the cost was 2 bucks an hour..pricey, especially since you get charged another 2 bucks if you go over the hour even by a minute. I was pleased to know that it was so easy, though, my car was alittle under half and it was fully charged when I went back 3 hours later. Alwys someone is there when i call.
     
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