BC Hydro charging stations set up on edge of parking lot with green mountains in background
BC Hydro is taking a step forward to ensure that its entire electric vehicle fast charging network is fully accessible by announcing that the utility will be retrofitting all its existing charging locations within the next three years.

BC Hydro — following Hydro-Québec’s lead — announces they are changing the design of both old and new electric vehicle charging stations to improve accessibility for users with mobility limitations

BC Hydro is taking a step forward to ensure that its entire electric vehicle fast charging network is fully accessible for all drivers by announcing that the utility will be retrofitting all its existing charging locations within the next three years.

Currently, the BC Hydro charging network includes 116 public chargers at 78 sites throughout the province and has big plans to grow the network by 2025. The utility says it will ensure that, by the same year, existing stations will be retrofitted to offer accessible charging, while all new charger installations will be designed to be inclusive for all people.

“More British Columbians are switching to an electric vehicle to take advantage of B.C.’s clean, reliable hydroelectricity,” says Bruce Ralston, B.C.’s minister of energy, mines and low-carbon innovation in a press statement.

“As we continue to build our public charging network across the province, it’s important to ensure that we design our stations to be safe and accessible for everyone.”

BC Hydro’s accessibility initiative follow the example already set in Canada by Hydro-Québec, which approves charging stations based, in part, on accessibility criteria.

Retrofits for existing stations

BC Hydro has already started retrofitting some of its DC fast chargers in some locations, including Cloverdale and Sechelt.

“The goal is to have at least one fully accessible charging stall at every site within our fast charging network,” says a spokesperson for BC Hydro, in an email to Electric Autonomy Canada. “That means we’ll ensure they have wider parking stalls, paved access, lowered chargers, wider protective bollards, improved lighting and better signage.”

While for the installation of new EV chargers, the spokesperson says, all accessibility designs will be included along with lowered display screens on the charging stations themselves.

In cases where there might be improper physical barriers at charging sites like snow banks blocking access or dumpsters being placed in EV charging spots, BC Hydro gets into contacts the site host at the location to ensure the matter is dealt with, as “it is outlined in their site agreements with hosts that they are responsible for providing clear access to the charging stations,” says the spokesperson.

BC Hydro is also asking its hardware vendors to continue improving the charging equipment to make sure they are accessible for all customers to use.

In addition to making the stations more user-accessible, BC Hydro has started constructing pull-through locations that are intended to accommodate larger electric trucks and trailer combinations in sites in Powell River, Lillooet and Fraser Lake.

“These equipment and layout enhancements at each of our sites will make them more accessible and improve the experience for all our customers,” says Chris O’Riley, president and CEO of BC Hydro in a press release. “As our EV fast-charging network continues to grow and evolve, accessibility and safety are key priorities in the design of each site.”

In terms of the cost of the retrofit process, the BC Hydro spokesperson says that “there is no specific accessibility cost when accessibility is included in the design of new sites or the design of the additional charger.”

By the end of 2025, BC Hydro ultimately plans to install a total of 325 chargers at 145 sites across the province, as part of its Electrification Plan.

“We have a long way to go, but we’re committed to improving our fast charging network so it’s fully accessible for all drivers in B.C,” says the spokesperson.

Improving accessibility in Quebec

BC Hydro is not alone in prioritizing and improving the accessibility of its EV chargers. In Quebec, one of the objectives of Hydro-Québec, the utility that operates the Electric Circuit charging network, is to make its charging stations more accessible too.

In an email statement to Electric Autonomy Canada, a spokesperson for Hydro-Québec says that the work has “already started and it is ongoing.”

Since 2020, Hydro-Québec has started installing fast-charging stations that have lower cables, making it easier for those in wheelchairs to use.

“We have also started positioning fast chargers closer to the parking spot for the same reason and we are designing our charging sites, when the space permits it, with one of the fast chargers in front of a wider parking spot, making it more accessible, with signage asking users to give priority to people who have limited mobility,” says the spokesperson.

Accessibility is also one of the criteria requirements for all charging stations that are deployed by the Electric Circuit, and all equipment suppliers are required to indicate if the charging station complies with a recognized accessibility standard.

“Taking into consideration all of the different scenarios can be a challenge,” says the spokesperson. “But we are focusing first on making the charging equipment and interface more accessible.”