Jess Shanahan recently completed Route 57, Ireland and the UK’s response to America’s Route 66. The route stretches 2,500 miles across England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, and took Jess almost 20 days to complete. But what really made this trip noteworthy was that Jess, with help from Jury’s Inn, Zap Map, and Drive Electric, set out to complete the route in a Kia Soul EV, in order to combat stereotypes surrounding electric cars and their capabilities.
I had the opportunity to speak with Jess once the official Route 57 Road Trip Car pulled into the Spanish Arch on a beautiful April afternoon.
So, I’m here with Jess Shanahan, who just completed Route 57; driving 2,500 miles in an electric car. First question: Why was Galway chosen as the finishing stop?
It was a case of just going to as many beautiful places as possible along the set route. It was Jury’s Inn who kind of formed the idea and they used their local knowledge, and they chose Galway as the final stop.
And this is your first time in Ireland, correct? How have you found it so far?
Yes, and I loved it. It’s been amazing – there’s been so much beautiful scenery and gorgeous places that we’ve been to. I think I must’ve spent… I don’t know, at least an hour just photographing each place we’ve been to in Galway. I’m sure it’ll be the same once we’ve parked the car and started our evening. So, yeah – it’s been amazing, and I can’t believe it’s taken me this long.
How have you found the 20 days? Has it been exhausting, exhilarating, or…
It’s been a mixture of emotions and feelings. I am tired, because I’ve done all the driving on my own, but the car is so easy to drive and so smooth, it’s like a very, very easy to drive automatic, so it’s actually been less taxing than maybe it would’ve been had I been driving a manual car. So, although I’m tired, and I’m kind of looking forward to going home to see my cat, yeah, it’s been amazing. It’s been such a great trip, and I’d recommend it to anyone.
You said that the car was really easy to drive, but were there any problems that came up along the way at all?
Not really – I mean, a lot of planning has to go into it when you have an electric car so you can get to the charging points, but that basically means just planning nice places to go for lunch or nice places to go for a walk, so, there is an element of sitting down at the end of every evening and going “OK, where are we gonna charge tomorrow”, and occasionally you’ll find places where a charger’s not working, but because the infrastructure’s so good in Ireland and in the UK, it hasn’t really been a problem. There’s always been backups for us to get to; even if we’re getting close to the end of our mileage on a charge, we might have to drive slow or something like that, but it’s never really been difficult.
How easy is it to find charging stations?
We’ve been using an app called Zap Map, and there’s also a web browser version as well, and on there are all the charging points in the UK. Then, for Ireland, we’ve been using another app called ecar connect, which, again, has all the charging spots. You can just go on there, it shows you were you are, you can tap on the chargers to make sure they’re working or make sure you can get to them, and kind of go from there. So, that’s been easy.
A lot of people would say that, aside from the concern of having to find a charging station, the cost of an electric car outweighs their concern for the environment. How would you respond to that?
Yeah, I mean, I know in the UK there are a lot of grants for electric cars, but they’re still higher-priced than their petrol or diesel equivalents, and I think that puts people off; “This car is £10,000 more than an equivalent, so why should I get it?” But people are now beginning to realise that leasing a car makes a lot more sense, because you don’t have to pay tax, you’re exempt from the congestion charge in London, for example, so, people are beginning to see the benefits with those cost savings, but also, leasing a car tends to work out the same price as leasing a petrol or diesel version. Plus you don’t have to worry about things like replacing batteries or all the other stuff that comes with electric car ownership. So, for now, until more people start buying them and the price goes down, leasing is definitely a viable option.
Why did you decide to get involved in Route 57?
I saw that there was this bucket list road trip to rival Route 66, and I thought “I have to do it”. I love road trips – I’ve been road tripping since I could drive. I’ve done a lot of weird ones, like I drove two cats all the way from England to Sweden, I’ve road tripped America, and we did a big one last year. So, I thought there’s one in the British Isles – this is where I live, I have to do it. So, when the PR team for it got in touch, saying “This is happening”, I said “Can I drive it, as part of your PR campaign?” and it kind of went from there. Now we’ve just finished!
How have people responded to the project so far?
Really well! We’ve had loads of coverage in local press, loads of people are really excited to see the car coming through their town or city. Also, people are really excited – especially mayors and politicians, we’ve met a lot of those along the way – they’re pretty excited to see someone pushing an electric car and eco-tourism. But for the most part, we’ve even had members of the public coming out to us to ask “What’s all this about?” and I’ve then had that chance to tell them about what it’s like to drive an electric car. Basically, I always get the same few questions, which are “How many miles can you do”, “How fast does it go”, “How do you find charges”, and “How long does it take to charge”. So, I’ve been kind of myth-busting; it goes quite far, it’s really easy to charge, and for the most part, it takes about half an hour, and that kind of thing.
How long do you think it will take before owning an electric car is a viable option for the average motorist?
I think that depends on how many people in the meantime feel strongly enough about electric cars to buy one, which will then push the price down for the average motorist. The infrastructure is definitely there now, so I think it’s a case of normal motorists saying “Actually, it is viable, I just didn’t know”, because when you’re driving around in your petrol or diesel car, you don’t look for electric charges. I normally drive a petrol car, and I had no idea there were so many around, just in my area, let alone the UK and Ireland. So, I think it’s a case that people just need to switch their thinking. So, thinking about electric in the same way they think “Do I get petrol or diesel”. Now it should be “Do I get petrol, diesel, or electric”, because there are some people who live in cities who can charge overnight at home who will find it better to get an electric car, because it’s essentially free to run.
Do you think you’ll continue to drive an electric car yourself?
I think so – I mean, I’m quite attached to this one, since I’ve driven so far in it now. I’m considering not giving it back; it’s supposed to be given back to Fleet Drive or Drive Electric, which is their personal leasing company for electric cars. It’s supposed to go back to them tomorrow, but I might take it home for a few days, so I can drive around Norfolk, where I’m from. But yeah, I think when my current car comes to the end of its life-cycle I might think about electric. Especially for my day-to-day city driving, which is the majority of what I do, rather than going off on some road trip, but as this car has shown, it’s good for that too.
Just one last question: Now that Route 57 is finished, do you have any final thoughts on the whole thing?
I don’t know – I’m still at that stage where it doesn’t feel like it’s over yet, because I’ve still got to get home, I guess. The trip itself is over, so I think I feel quite emotional about the whole thing, and I feel like I’ve conquered something really big, personally, as well as doing the trip. I just want people to see that with electric cars, if one can do this, this kind of massive trip and see amazing places, then of course it can do the school-run and the commute, and all those little trips that people do in their day-to-day lives.
That makes a lot of sense. Thank you, Jess – it’s been a pleasure!
You can find more out about Route 57 by going to their website here: www.route57.org.uk