Across Canada drivers are interested in purchasing an EV, but the greatest barrier remains equitable access, including: affordability, knowledge gaps and physical barriers
EV charging infrastructure across Canada has grown substantially over the past year, an impressive feat in a time of COVID-19. However, in order to unlock the next level of EV adoption, eliminating gaps in accessibility for purchasing and charging infrastructure is essential.
EV equity and accessibility is a Canada-wide issue, not only to remove barriers for people who would otherwise want to use EVs and save money in the long term, but also because Canadians can’t advance towards a greener country while leaving communities behind.
Though the federal government offers a $5,000 rebate for all new EV purchases for vehicles $55K and under, it’s largely coming down to provincial governments to tackle the specific issues of inequity. The resulting patchwork approach means not only a fractured buying experience coast-to-coast-to-coast, but also that a Canadian’s ability to access and benefit from an EV depends on their postal code.
The federal government’s Fall 2020 Economic Statement allotted $150 million over three years to National Resources Canada (NRCan) to build new charging infrastructure, starting in 2021. This is in addition to the $73.5 million already invested in charging infrastructure by NRCan since 2016 through the Electric Vehicle and Alternative Fuel Infrastructure Deployment Program.
In a e-mailed statement to Electric Autonomy Canada, NRCan said it is aware of barriers to ZEV adoption and is working with provincial, territorial and municipal groups as well as accepting infrastructure proposals to “address identified gaps, for example for rural, remote, and Indigenous communities and businesses.” With, four provinces and two territories now offering further cost relief to buyers it is becoming clear that provinces not offering an additional incentive are noticing a negative impact on adoption.
Louise Comeau, director of climate change and energy solutions at the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, told Electric Autonomy Canada the main barrier to EV adoption in New Brunswick is affordability, with no provincial incentives for purchasing. Last year, New Brunswick announced it would fall short of the government’s electric vehicle adoption goal, which was to have 2,500 EVs on the road by 2020. In 2020, just 437 EVs were registered and by February 2021 that number had crept up to 646.
In the same month, Comeau and the Conservation Council of New Brunswick wrote to New Brunswick’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Gary Crossman, asking the province to implement an incentive at $2,500 per vehicle in addition to federal funding, as well as targeting provincial fleets for EV conversion. In an e-mail to Electric Autonomy Canada Comeau confirmed there has been no response from the minister to date.
Equity policies a provincial responsibility
Whether it’s making sure charging infrastructure with sufficient speeds is being installed accessibly or coming up with their own rebates to augment the federal offering, Canada’s provinces and territories are largely tailoring their own policies depending on the needs of their population.
And in the last two months, two more provinces have joined the ranks of those offering rebates for EVs — and both included rebates for used EV purchases. Earlier this year, Nova Scotia announced it would offer an EV rebate including $2,000 for used EV purchases — an important addition to make purchasing more affordable and equitable. Nova Scotia’s Premier, Iain Rankin, emphasized in his announcement about the rebate that his government wants a zero-emission strategy that “benefits all Nova Scotians.” And in March, Prince Edward Island announced a $5,000 rebate for both new and used EV purchases — currently the biggest used rebate in the country — and buyers get one free Level 2 home charger.
Quebec still leads in Canada with the most generous new-purchase EV rebate at $8,000 (and $4,000 for a used-EV purchase), while Yukon and Northwest Territories also offer rebates for new buys; though only consumers that live in communities with hydroelectricity are eligible in the latter territory.
British Columbia has provincial EV purchasing incentives ranging from $1,500 to $3,000, but communities in the northern part of the province say EV supply is still lacking while charging infrastructure installation is progressing slower than in urban centres.
Though nearly half of Canada’s provinces and territories are taking ambitious steps to promote equity in EV adoption, the absence of a cohesive national plan is leading to a have versus have-not adoption situation.
Non-urban centres still feel equity gaps
“There are equity-seeking groups in particular that have additional barriers that require our attention,” says Ian Neville, senior sustainability specialist for the City of Vancouver. “For us, trying to get a handle on where those barriers are and understanding who those equity seeking groups are is one of the major things for us.”
Neville is working on a number of initiatives aimed at filling the gaps in Vancouver’s EV infrastructure equity. Some are truly grassroots, such as canvasing neighbourhoods for schools and places of worship willing to allow overnight and weekend parking to facilitate charging for drivers without home access. Additionally the city is looking at installing utility pole charging options — EV chargers that are mounted directly onto utility poles in neighbourhoods — similar to what already exists in Toronto and wire covers to avoid tripping hazards for sidewalk charging when cords are plugged into vehicles.
He adds: “What we are making sure of is that we are not leaving anyone behind and everybody has access.” But as more drivers are transitioning, one of the critical factors in determining equity and accessibility is becoming clear: location, location, location.
Mark Vejvoda is an electric vehicle owner and member of the Electric Vehicle Association in Prince George, B.C. He says there is a “knowledge gap” when it comes to EV awareness in northern B.C., and that dealerships in the area don’t have the supply or knowledge to sell them.
“I’ve driven to some communities where it’s probably the first time they’ve ever seen an electric vehicle in their lives,” says Vejvoda in an interview with Electric Autonomy Canada, adding that he’s experienced surprised looks and questions about his car.
Vejvoda says that he and other community members raised the issue of slow progress for EV charger installation at a meeting with B.C. Hydro in December 2020. Vejvoda says that a representative from B.C. Hydro responded after the meeting, and that there were chargers installed in Prince George later that month.
Eliminating physical barriers
B.C. Hydro has also made previous commitments to making charging stations more accessible for mobility-impaired drivers, as Electric Autonomy Canada reported last April.
David Lepofsky, chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, says that instead of relying on individuals to advocate for accessible charging, he’d rather see universal design for EV charging stations mandated with “clear national or provincial standards.”
“It’s absolutely essential that our laws in each province require that charging stations be accessible and set standards for what that means, because most people won’t know.”
Lepofsky says leaving installers or site hosts to figure out accessibility specifics, with everything from the positioning of charging stations to clear labelling for people with dyslexia, could actually end up being more expensive, especially if they’re sued. Different provincial legislation, like the Ontario Human Rights Code, outline the obligations for businesses to make their facilities accessible.
“It costs lots more to retrofit afterwards,” Lepofsky says, adding that individual organizations doing consultations for every new EV charging station means “pestering … people with disabilities who all answer the same questions over and over.”
Instead, he says mandating actual design standards that outline all the details would enable stakeholders get it right the first time, avoid repetitive consultation, and ensure outside manufacturers know what standards they have to meet if they want to sell in each province.
Jurisdiction over accessibility varies
Lepofsky says another potential solution is for the federal government to make accessibility a contingent of providing funding for electric vehicle infrastructure based on the Accessible Canada Act, which is supposed to make Canada fully accessible by 2040. Until then though accessibility is largely a province-by-province and in some cases community-by-community issue.
Diane Robichaud, E-Mobility Product Manager at Énergie NB Power in New Brunswick, says in an interview with Electric Autonomy Canada that all of the sites NB Power has installed across the province have a standard design which is accessible. Robichaud says this is done by making them the width of accessibility parking spaces and by including a slope to the station.
According to data from NRCan, there are 45 privately-owned charging stations and 46 utility-owned ones in New Brunswick.
Robichaud says Énergie NB Power is updating its best practices recommendations this summer for private businesses installing charging stations, but it has no direct jurisdiction over making private sites accessible.
Lepofsky says that for EV charging infrastructure, as with all infrastructure in Canada, there needs to be a shift away from the idea that accessible design is an exception.
“Get in before the infrastructure is created and get it right,” he says. “We don’t have as much EV infrastructure now as we’ll hopefully have in the future. Wouldn’t it make sense to make sure we design accessibility now?”
The fact remains that auto makers have clearly decided that they don’t want to make the smaller, less expensive, and more maneuverable models available here in Canada in spite of the fact that they are already readily available and established elsewhere in the world (e.g., Europe, China). Of course, the more expensive the cars are that they convince us to buy, the more profit margin per unit sold. But if we are to convince the general populace to go electric, we need those smaller EVs to be available. We don’t all want SUVs; neither should we be subsidizing the sale of those larger-than-necessary cars. A four-door hatchback the size of the original VW Rabbit/Golf from the 1970s would do just fine for many of us. Meanwhile, we keep our old smaller ICE cars going, adding to the CO2 load in the atmosphere.
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