Scotland Transport and infrastructure

Learning from Dundee City Council’s innovative approach to the Electric Vehicle (EV) transition

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Modal EV Charging Hub. Source: Dundee City Council.

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By 2030, the UK Government expects, at a minimum, around 300,000 public charge points in the UK. To understand the fundamental role of local authorities in EV infrastructure, this article draws from an interview with Dundee City Council to look at key themes and developments which underpin their reputation for innovative delivery and adoption of EV infrastructure.

Embarking on a city-wide EV journey over 12 years ago, Dundee City Council has much to share from its EV transition. This article recaps key themes from an interview with Emma West, Low Carbon Project Manager, and Fraser Crichton, Corporate Fleet Manager for Dundee City Council.

At a glance: EV in Dundee City Council

  • Dundee, Scotland’s fourth largest city, is situated on the north coast of the mouth of the Tay Estuary and has a population of 147,720 (2022).
  • Dundee City Council first launched 100% electric vehicles into its fleet in 2011, and by 2025 the city council aims to have a 100% electric fleet of small vans and cars.
  • With 30% of the Dundee taxi fleet (circa 200 taxis) being EV, Dundee has the highest proportion of fully electric taxis in Scotland.
  • In 2023, Dundee City Council was named Public Transport Authority of the Year at the recent Electric Vehicle Innovation and Excellence Awards.

What can you tell us about your experience towards an EV transition at Dundee City Council?

Unlike other local authorities where sustainability teams often shape EV projects, Dundee’s EV focus evolved from air quality. Twelve years ago, Dundee had three of the most polluted streets. The unique topography, coupled with a high-density population, meant we needed to adopt a city-wide approach to air management.

Identifying transport as a key driver in air pollution, our initial EV approach aimed to reduce the pollution from petrol and diesel transport. However, as technological advancements in EVs increased, the realisation and feasibility of new projects kept increasing.

What were the key drivers for the transition, and how did it evolve over the years?

Involving everyone. Because air quality was a central focus across the city, our EV approach required collaborating with partners such as the NHS, police, local businesses, and universities to declare the entire city an “Air Quality Management Area”.

A second focus was our energy supply. From a sustainability and feasibility viewpoint, if we transition to EVs without considering renewable energy, we simply will not have enough power.

This was a burning question for us, as our high uptake of EVs in the private taxi industry and council fleet means anticipating and preparing demand is as important as developing charging points. You cannot have one without the other.

How did the involvement with the taxi industry impact the transition, and what role did infrastructure play?

Innovation has to include the community. You have to communicate that EV is about future-proofing and preparing for changes.

The input from the taxi industry is a key example. Using incentives, Dundee City Council introduced various changes to induce the private taxi trade to switch to EV vehicles. These included;

  • All new private hire cars must be electric.
  • Operators with a licence in their own name can apply for a corporate licence if they operate an approved EV.
  • Low tariffs at council-owned charge points.
  • The taxi test for EVs is £10 cheaper than a non-electric vehicle.

Not only did this allow Dundee to claim they have one of the highest concentrations of EVs in the UK, but it also created a new voice to champion EV uptake.

A council can only do so much communication, so having the taxi industry advocating for EV is another voice spreading the developments and is part of a hard-to-quantity word-of-mouth process.

Interested in the role of local government in EV? Make sure you check out our Global Local EV transition, packed with international learnings on implementing and incentivising the switch to EVs.

Can you elaborate on the charging infrastructure and its evolution over the years?

We are passionate about the results, but if you think you have got it right, you are wrong. EV technology is constantly changing, and since we are building infrastructure and programmes from the ground up, innovation and integration must go hand in hand.

Given the high population density in Dundee, the hub model was an obvious choice. Identifying hotspots for traffic movement, pinpointing renewable opportunities, and working with the traffic industry, we have installed four fast charge hubs across the city.

Since the V&A attraction brings over 1.7 million visitors into the city, we looked for a hub location to enhance EV uptake where tourist demand was high. Looking at multi-storey car parks, we then ensured EV charging hubs for tourists also had provision for local users to charge overnight. On top of this, we also had to consider the impact of bringing more traffic into the city.

For instance, in our Broughty Ferry hub, we used a multi-modal design on the city’s fringe to nudge people into leaving their cars at the edge. This is what our EV approach is about in Dundee: a holistic vision integrating EV infrastructure into wider Council objectives, from air management to traffic management.

How did the initiative address accessibility and inclusivity, particularly for disabled users?

Looking at petrol stations and our existing infrastructure, it’s clear that accessibility is often an afterthought. Recognising that we are evolving through our EV programme, we have a real opportunity to embed inclusive design thinking from the beginning.

This involved extensive consultation with community groups and disabled users to highlight changes such as reducing close kerbs, using appropriate lighting, and increasing hatching around spaces for wheelchair users. We haven’t got it 100% right, but the initiative aimed to set a benchmark for inclusivity, recognising the industry’s responsibility to make the transition as accessible as possible.

How did the resilience of renewable energy and storage factor into the initiative?

The resilience aspect of EVs shows the connection between charging points, energy supply and the sheer array of variables at play. When designing the fourth hub, we wanted to remove a diesel tank storage to send a signal that because of our EV fleet, this is no longer needed.

However, when we realised that this formed part of our resilience storage of fuel for emergency services, it highlighted our broader need to boost our own storage and resilience for our EV Council Fleet, and have a backup if the main electricity supply goes down.

Can you highlight a specific project that exemplifies the holistic approach of the EV transition?

One notable project involved building a hub that served dual purposes for our rapid charging hub for the public and a charging point for council services. This project combined renewable energy sources, rainwater harvesting, and resilience planning. It showcased a comprehensive approach to addressing the city’s evolving needs while integrating sustainability and inclusivity.

What lessons have you learned from embedding EV across the council?

The positive stance, exemplified by actions including Council Leader John Alexander adopting an EV in 2018, has kept the pressure on.

We are based in City Development, and our elected members’ backing means we can expand approaches that embed EV across the council. An example is our new education campuses, where across the council we are joining up the campuses’ renewable system to install EV hubs with their own energy source.

This support has not only facilitated the implementation of large-scale projects but has also encouraged a culture of innovation. The council’s role in pushing the boundaries and exploring different aspects of EV adoption, from rapid charging to renewables, has set a precedent for a comprehensive and forward-thinking approach to other complex challenges.

Regarding the public-private balance, how do you envision revenue sharing and collaboration in the future of EV projects, especially in rural areas?

Private industry investment is welcome, but the focus on renewable energy supply is key.

Looking at the taxi industry, private investment in chargers beyond Dundee was key to outlining the case for taxis to take up EV vehicles.

In our Sustainable Transport Plan, we recognise that operating the majority of the charging infrastructure in the city means we play a role as a market rate stabiliser to encourage competitive private sector tariffs while not undermining the commercial viability of private sector investment required to grow the network.

While revenues from tariffs will be shared, the focus will be on investing in renewable energy for sustained projects. It is acknowledged that the private sector plays a role in the expansion of EV infrastructure, particularly along major routes.

One area of difficulty comes into provisions for sparsely populated rural areas where private investment is less likely. Focusing on the Tayside region, the vision is to avoid leaving rural communities dependent on private initiatives and to ensure a fair distribution of EV infrastructure, promoting inclusivity across the entire region.

How do you handle collaboration and coordination among various authorities, government agencies, and departments to ensure effective implementation of EV projects?

Collaboration and coordination among various authorities and government agencies is essential for effectively implementing EV projects. In Dundee, we recognised that EV access has to include areas beyond the city boundary. That means working with neighbouring Angus and Perth and Kinross Councils to share experience and frameworks for charging points.

Spreading EV access while attention grows on new technology is a challenge, for example, the imbalance between 3G and 5G provision. So, as the EV focus increases, collaboration across a range of agencies is a challenge for us.

Also, keeping up to date with new technology and developments and bridging the gap between theory and practice is key. Dundee has an incredibly skilled workforce and dynamic organisational structures, so going forward in 2024, the goal is to streamline collaboration and share practical experiences in delivering EV projects.

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