The West Australian
September 30, 2023
James Curtis FAIM GAICD
Electric vehicle revolution could reinvigorate the neighbourhood servo

With electric vehicles comprising 8.4 per cent of new car sales in Australia this year alone, compared with 3.8 per cent in 2022, and with an ever-expanding range of EV options including SUVs, we’re on the cusp of a new electric era.

The electric vehicle revolution is changing the way we design communities and buildings with charging stations being rapidly retrofitted in existing buildings and carparks, and new buildings incorporating them in their plans.

For those nervous about evolution, or with a nostalgic streak, the good news is that there is an opportunity to bring back what we once loved about the now mundane corporatised experience of filling our cars with petrol, and that’s the reimagining of the humble servo.

For many generations the fuel bowser with the local owner-operator filling up your tank was the watercooler equivalent of the community office with more than 25,000 service stations in Australia in the 1970s.

We took the time to have a conversation, take the pulse of the community and muse on the pleasantries of life. The humble servo offerings have evolved over generations, from the neighbourhood mechanic to the general store, to now in many cities or towns a high energy formula-one pit-stop style convenience experience.
While governments across Australia are driving the electric vehicle network with mass installations, there remains a critical role for the remaining 7000 servos in Australia, many proudly on a prime corner site. They have the opportunity once more to evolve on the back of the EV movement, and servos can be the cornerstone of the sustainable community evolution, bringing back the energy to your local community.

Data shows that servos are predominately located on easy access large sites, connected to the transport grid and sufficiently distanced to enable you to roll into your nearest one on empty. But they’re currently not somewhere you’d want to hang out for a coffee or live next to.

The good news is that with the rise of electric vehicles, through adaptive reuse we can transform these sites to unlock the opportunity for integrated community design, both powering our vehicles and our lives.

There are plenty of options if we rethink the space and integrate community needs. For some, these central locations provide unique opportunities for urban infill through medium density developments and complementary commercial and recreational infrastructure, perhaps a microgrid community. Think plug in my car, grab a coffee and a scroll while checking out the latest pop-up shop.

Maybe it’s a former service station site could become home to a neighbourhood green space or street-style recreation space to take advantage of while you’re charging? My favourite would be the exercise opportunity, where your gym time matches your top-up charging time.

With effective community integrated design, the economic, social and environmental value to be unlocked by the electrification of our infrastructure network is immense. Perhaps the electrification of our network will unlock the density opportunity facing communities across Australia. Sure, there are plenty of other assets that will unlock value, but with the cultural icon that is the servo and its relationship to our cultural behaviours, this is an opportunity too good to be missed.