Toronto is playing catch-up to prepare for electric vehicles
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Toronto is playing catch-up to prepare for electric vehicles

Council approves six new electric vehicle charging stations in pilot project, but still lags behind other cities.

Photo courtesy of Noya Fields via Flickr.

Toronto’s infrastructure for charging electric vehicles is lagging behind other major cities, as more residents acquire the environmentally friendly cars only to find there are few public charging stations.

Last week, City Council signed off on a pilot project that will see a handful of new electric vehicle charging stations in residential areas. The pilot was unanimously approved, and Councillor Jaye Robinson (Ward 25, Don Valley West), chair of the City’s public works and infrastructure committee, says it is “long overdue.”

“We need to keep up with the growth of EVs in our city. I don’t think it’s where it needs to be,” said Robinson. More than 1,600 EVs were registered in Toronto in 2016, a more than 50 per cent increase from the previous year. But there are only 20 City-owned EV charging stations at eight locations, including City Hall.

Other Canadian cities have rolled out charging stations in higher volumes. Vancouver, for example, manages 75 public charging points. Last year, Montreal installed 50 new charging stations with the goal of introducing 1,000 new stations across the city by 2020.

In Toronto, about 80 per cent of charging currently happens at home since most EV owners live in single-family houses, but Toronto residents without driveways or garages are left searching for other options.

“We have to get our heads out of the sand and be more proactive to be able to provide this infrastructure going forward. It’s the way of the new world,” said Robinson. The support for EVs is part of TransformTO, the City’s climate action plan to reduce Toronto’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050.

Under the new pilot project, up to 12 on-street charging stations will be installed in two residential locations in each of three wards, including Trinity-Spadina (Ward 19), Toronto-Danforth (Ward 30) and Beaches-East York (Ward 32). Two charging stations will also be installed across from Toronto Hydro at 500 Commissioners Street.

“We need to prepare Toronto for the onslaught of electric vehicles,” said Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon (Ward 32, Beaches-East York). “We have to encourage people to use electric vehicles and unless we have the infrastructure set up, it makes it a little complicated. It’s very tricky if you don’t have the ability to park on your own property with a driveway.”

While the Toronto Green Standard mandates EV charging infrastructure in all new residential buildings, many condo and apartment residents would also need to go elsewhere to plug in.

City staff said that while the pilot is small in scale, it is necessary to identify any issues with installing EV charging stations, such as the location of the poles on residential streets to avoid interfering with sidewalks and on-street parking.

“We’re starting small to make sure we get the kinks out,” said Jacquelyn Hayward Gulati, acting director of transportation infrastructure management at the City of Toronto.

“It’s a matter of making sure that the local context is appropriate in terms of the location of the pole and other parking regulations.”

Provinces such as Ontario, British Columbia, and Quebec have introduced purchase incentives to tempt drivers to consider new and relatively more expensive battery-powered cars. Earlier this year, Ontario revised its incentive program to enhance subsidies on new EV purchases and other perks, including a green-coloured license plate that allows the driver to use the carpool lane regardless of the number of passengers in the vehicle.

“Consumers are choosing, and they’re incentivized to choose, electric vehicles more every day. And so we’re going to have to do better than that,” said Mayor John Tory.

More than half of new cars sold globally by 2040 will be EVs and will replace over 8 million barrels of transport fuels per day, according to a research by Bloomberg.