EDIT: CYC provided a response to this post. It can be found here.

A little over three months ago, my wife and I took delivery of our new cars - Renault ZOEs. These are pure electric cars with 22kWh batteries that will do in the region of 90 miles on a full charge. We love our EVs and wouldn’t change them for anything, but we’ve had terrible experiences with the CYC network. Since we tell friends and family of all the positive things about EVs, it’s only fair we also share details of the bad things to ensure we’re not misleading anyone about what it’s like to own them.

This is a long post; but that’s because there have been so many issues! :(

Sign up on the website, can’t login to app…

I signed up with CYC back in April. I signed up on the website, which allowed me to use an email address with a + in it (this is a perfectly valid character to use in an email address). When I came to install the app on my phone, I discovered that the app does not allow you to login with email addresses that contain plusses! This is ridiculous for two reasons; 1) plusses are valid and 2) there is no value in validating an email address prior to attempting to login. I reported this to CYC, asking them to either fix their app or update my email address, but was left unable to use their app until this was done. A week or so later, they replied to say they’d updated my email address (no word on them fixing the issue), and I was finally able to login.

App security issues

While waiting for CYC to update my email address (above), I made some attempts to login to their app by trying to guess what the issue might be. I guessed maybe they were failing to encode the email address properly when sending it to their server (such that the + may be interpreted as a space, as is possible with url decoding). I entered the url-encoded version of a plus, and the app gave me back an error message with a stack trace from their server. This means there are certain characters in email addresses that pass the (bad) validation yet cause server errors. This makes me suspicious that there is a security exploit hiding in here. I have reported this to CYC and had no response about it. This really makes me question how safe my card details are on their system.

Fraudulent £1 charges from CYC

While waiting for CYC to update my email address (above), we wanted to try using one of their chargers. Since my wife has an EV, she signed for a CYC account too. When we tried to use their charger in Birkenhead at the ferry terminal we found that she needed to add card details (despite the charger being free). She did so, and a few days later we discovered that the £1 pre-auth the app claimed to make was actually a real £1 charge. Whilst this is not a significant amount of money, it is unacceptable (and fraudulent) to take money from someones account like this. We reported this to CYC who acknowledged the issue, blamed PayPoint(!) and refunded it. I posted on the SpeakEV forums in case others had had the same charges and despite several people quickly saying they had, it was a month before CYC finally acknowledged the issue and said they had refunded everyone affected.

RFID cards attached to the wrong accounts

One of the responses in the thread I made about the £1 charges (above) had a link to this thread which talks of several people having had RFID cards linked to their accounts that they did not own. This suggests there is some flaw in the process of CYC sending RFID cards that might mean someone gets a card on your account, and you pay for their charging!

Unreliable network (Birkenhead Ferry Terminal)

This is something that will be come up several times in this post! When trying to start a charge the CYC servers failed to connect to the charge point. This left us looking at a “Trying to start charge…” screen in the app until it timed out. We tried this over and over. It took 20 minutes of faffing before we eventually got the charger to start. Some people said this could be the mobile connection but we had a full “H” data connection and were able to access other services fine (including full use of the CYC app, until we tried to start the charge).

Confusion over whether fees are annual or one-off

The GMEV Website says the fee for their card is £10 one-off (this is subsidised). The CYC website says the fee for their card is £20 annually. It seems strange that one would be one off and one annual, so I emailed both GMEV and CYC asking about this. GMEV (eventually, after 6 weeks) told me theirs is a one-off fee, while CYC didn’t actually answer the question. This makes me suspect CYC might be charging GMEV cardholders annually, despite not being what GMEV are advertising :(

GMEV cards not available to people who live near Manchester

Although CYC never answered my question about annual/one-off fee, they did tell me that I can’t have a GMEV card because I don’t live inside Manchester. This is despite living near Manchester (Cheshire) and visiting often. This seems a little backwards given that people in Manchester with EVs probably have home chargers and probably need the GMEV network less. Those that live around Manchester are probably those who would benefit most from GMEV chargers.

Incorrect charger location (Hulme Street)

Once I finally had access to my CYC account via the app, we visited Manchester. We found a Hulme Street charger on their app and drove to the marked location on the map. It wasn’t there. Turned out that the location on their map was completely wrong, it was marked several streets away from where it had actually be installed! We headed to Hulme Street (by name) and eventually found the charger.

No charger number (Hulme Street)

In addition to using the RFID card or App, there is an option to pay by phone. To use this, you need the number of the charger which is (supposed to be) printed on the side of the charger. It is often not. The Hulme Street charger had big blank spaces where the numbers should be, making it impossible to start a charge by phone unless you can find the charger number (eg. via the app).

Unreliable parking fee info (Hulme Street)

The Hulme Street charger was marked as “free parking while charging” on the CYC website. When we got there we discovered that this wasn’t the case, and it was pay-and-display. The pay-and-display sign clearly mentioned the EV charger so it wasn’t just for non-charging vehicles.

Unreliable network - no charge (Hulme Street)

After getting the kids out of the car and the pushchair unfolded, we tried for 30 minutes to get the Hulme Street charger to start a charge. It failed every time. Clearly the CYC network had no ability to connect to this charger. After 30 minutes, we gave up and left Hulme Street to find another charger. Because we had such little charge left we were concerned about getting home. Rather than driving around Manchester using up our remaining juice and having the same experience, we headed to the Trafford Centre (where we knew there were quite a few chargers) getting there with just 7 miles remaining charge!

Unreliable network (Trafford Centre)

Once we arrived at the Trafford Centre, we spent another 20 minutes trying to start a charge. At one point, both my wife and I were trying to start charges from our own apps/logins on different sockets in the hope one would work. We did eventually get charging, but only after much frustration.

No charger number (Trafford Centre)

Like Hulme Street, two ot the three charge posts at Trafford Centre have no numbers on them. It looks like they were written on with a marker pen which, unsurprisingly, has washed away in the rain. The only way we were able to start a charge was by guessing the numbers based on the one unit that them still visible (though the numbers go backwards, which confuses things further).

Unreliable network (Trafford Centre… again)

A few weeks later we were were at the Traffod Centre again. There were no other EVs so we had a choice of three posts (6 sockets) to charge. We once again spent around 30 minutes trying to start a charge. We tried all six sockets before we eventually got a charge to start, all because of the CYC servers failing to connect to the chargepoints.

Unreliable network (MediaCityUK)

We were staying at MediaCityUK the weekend we visited the Traffod Centre. Their multistory car park has two GMEV/CYC chargers. Again, we had to try both sockets on each post before we eventually got one to start a charge. This process was repeated the following morning when we topped up.

CYC have no visibility of how unreliable their chargers are

After this latest trip, I contacted CYC on twitter (again) about this unreliability. They told me they couldn’t see any failed charge attempts at either Trafford Centre or MediaCityUK. They believe that their system does show them, however it is quite clear that it does not (we tried over 10 times to start charges at the Trafford Centre). So clearly there is no visibility of failed charges (there should be; since it’s their servers failing to talk to the chargepoint). Wow.

Incorrect charger location (Bury Market)

Today we headed to Bury Market. The CYC website shows a charger at the market (Hilton Road). Where it’s marked, is actually a building. I went into this building and asked and was informed that the charger was actually in the market car park, some drive away. There is no way without help you’d be able to find this charger from the location on the CYC map (there’s a main road in between).

Unreliable network (Bury Market)

Because of issues using the apps, we decided to try and use “pay by phone” today at Bury Market. I called and gave the charger number to the automated phone system and was told the charge had started. It took several minutes for the charger to receive the message to allow charging to start.

Unreliable charger (Bury Market)

Even after the charger said it was ready to start the charge, it took 10 minutes of plugging and unplugging before the charge finally locked the cable and allowed the car to start charging.

Unreliable network (Bury Market)

When we returned to the car, we tried to stop the charge. We called the number again and it told us to wait while it stopped the charge. The charger did not get the signal… The automated phone system kept saying “Please wait…” for some time before it realised it had failed (our cable was still locked in the charge). It told use to press star if the cable had not unlocked. We did. It then said it was trying to restart the charger to unlock the cable. Unsurprisingly, that failed too. It told us if the cable was still not unlocked, we must call the helpline.

We called the helpline… IT WAS CLOSED ON A SATURDAY.

EDIT: Turns out it there is a number in the message if you keep listening to call for stuck cables. I missed this because it says “Thanks for calling CYC, our offices are now closed. Please leave a message after the tone. (pause, noise). If you have a stuck cable, call….”. So this was my fault, but the way the message is recorded really didn’t help.

We are now stood, 50 miles from home, with our several-hundred-pound cable locked into a charger on what seems to be the worlds-most-unreliable charging network. Fuck.

I thought I would call and try to stop the charge session again. Maybe this time it would work? I called the number. However, the system thinks I’ve already finished, so didn’t offer to stop my charge. It did offer to stop a session if I provided the last 4 digits of a card number used to start a session. However since the GEMV charger is free, there was no number I could give it that would match this session. In any case, I don’t think that would’ve worked as the system thought the session had finished.

Fuck. I really cannot afford to leave this expensive cable in Bury!

Then I had an idea - what happens if I start a new charge session, then end that? Maybe by fluke it will work? This time, I decided to try the app. Trying to start a session actually caused the cable to unlock, so I grabbed it.

Phew!

If this hadn’t had worked; I would’ve been pushing CYC to cover the cost of a replacement charge cable. To me, it is unacceptable to have a charger that can have a cable locked in, with no available helpline during a Saturday.

Summary

Our experience of the CYC network (mostly GMEV, but even non-GMEV chargers) has been poor. No other network has given us any issues like this. CYC keep telling me that an RFID card will solve these issues (no surprise - “give us money, that will make it better”), however I’m reluctant to pay £40/year (for the two of us) to find out if that’s true. We would happily pay £20 one-off for two GMEV cards, but alas, we don’t qualify, despite living just far enough from Manchester to need a charge if we visit.

Others keep telling me CYC is fine, and these problems are not CYCs fault. However, these chargers are connected to their network. If CYC can’t monitor the reliability, nobody can. The fact that they don’t even have any visibility of failed charge attempts speaks volumes about how much they care about making their network reliable.

I’d love to hear from others that use CYC (especially GMEV) chargers (in the comments, Google+, SpeakEV or Reddit). A few of these issues you could consider to just be hiccups but when we’ve had the same issues across 10 difference chargers across as many visits, it seems like a far more serious underlying problem.

This doesn’t change our opinions of EVs in any way, but we will definitely avoid CYC chargers wherever we can, and be sure to always have a fallback. Poor charging infrastructure is one of the big hurdles to EV adoption, and CYC are making this worse, not better by giving people a false sense of security about being able to get a charge.

EDIT: CYC provided a response to this post. It can be found here.

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