As the federal election nears, let’s make the effort to lobby MPs and candidates from every party to put EV adoption front and centre
“Canada is behind in New Mobility” are words that have kept coming to me recently, and the more I look, the more this statement becomes apparent.
Let me explain: In early July I had the opportunity to spend 10 days in the UK, doing a variety of events and meeting many different companies and government organizations. At every turn, from government to industry to consultants to the general public, I saw a real sense that New Mobility — most particularly electrification of the transportation network — is an urgent task that needs to happen now.
UK governments have had a clear hand in setting the agenda, and the city of London in particular, has been a key driver here. Way back in 2003, London introduced the congestion charge to help control traffic in London, with hybrid vehicles largely exempt. The charges have steadily increased and now only battery electric vehicles (BEVs) are exempt.
Toll on emissions
Further to this, London has now introduced the Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), based on the same boundaries used for the congestion charge. Vehicles with gas engines made prior to 2006 and diesels made prior to Euro 6 emissions (the latest series of European Union emission standards for new vehicles, dating from around 2015) that enter the zone now have to pay a toll. The combination of these two tolls is over $40 per day. For trucks and buses its closer to $180 a day (Euro 4 or later are exempt). The ULEZ will be expanded almost 10-fold in 2021 to effectively include most London suburbs. Notably, other large UK cities are looking to introduce similar congestion-charge and ULEZ areas over the next two to three years, with the money being used to offset the costs of supporting EV infrastructure.
London is also revamping its own fleet. We met with the London Fire Brigade which, having converted its entire fleet of light vehicles to battery electric (mostly BMW i3), is now tasked with immediately bringing all its large vehicles up to Euro 6 emissions, with a medium-term goal to convert all fire engines and larger support vehicles to electric. To achieve it, the brigade has been going to suppliers to find the truck that best suits their needs, even if there isn’t anything that stands out right now. Electric garbage trucks, ambulances, buses, police cars and support vehicles are all in the EV scope as well.
Strict rules that set the agenda to do the right thing, in the face of opposition, is what government leadership is about. Sure, some people are unhappy with the changes, but in the UK, there’s a real sense that change is needed now. Even the Conservative UK government is on board. It has taken significant steps to encourage BEV and discourage ICE vehicles, with road tax and company car tax exemptions, support for EV infrastructure and funding through Innovate UK to trial and sponsor new EV technologies. It is mindful of its obligations to meet the international emissions reductions for CO2 and is prepared to make the hard decisions needed to make it happen.
We also met with the CEO for one of the largest electric bus companies in the UK by volume. His opening words to us were: “Diesel buses are killing our kids — let’s not beat around the bush and call it what it really is.” Sure, this is rather undiplomatic, but at the end of the day, he’s right. We know that millions of people a year die from the effects of air pollution, particularly in cities, which in most Western countries support 80 per cent of the population.
What’s Canada doing? Overall, there’s certainly some thought on how to move forward, such as the federal and provincial EV incentives, support of EV infrastructure roll out and EV bus trials supported by organizations like the Canadian Urban Transit Research & Innovation Consortium (CUTRIC) and the innovative Electric Vehicle Discovery Centre in Toronto. Ottawa also recently signed the Drive to Zero pledge and, along with B.C. and Quebec, has set a target to sell 100% zero-emission vehicles by 2040.
Fundamental urgency lacking
However, the fundamental level of urgency, the desire by government to move the agenda forward and public knowledge of EVs as an appropriate alternative, is not in the same league. Canada, and its federal government is still caught up in the money generated from the environmentally disastrous oil sands. Unless the current federal government gets off the fence to call out the problem for what it is — that we are the world’s highest CO2 emitter by capita — then ambivalence towards electric cars will remain despite our extremely low CO2 electricity grid.
As the federal election gets closer, let’s make the effort to lobby MPs and candidates from every party to reduce pollution — and, in particular, highlight the need to put EV adoption front and centre on the government agenda and in the public mindset. The CEO of the electric bus company is right. Diesel buses — and ICE transportation — are killing our kids. Let’s make sure everyone knows.
James Carter is Principal Consultant of Vision Mobility, a Toronto-based consultancy that provides services to OEMs, Tier 1s, dealers, startups, industry organizations and companies on strategies to succeed in a New Mobility environment. Prior to that, James worked for Toyota for 19 years in Australia, Asia and North America.