Canada is on the verge of the most significant transformation in mobility since cars powered by internal combustion engines replaced horse-drawn carriages. The federal government has proposed a mandatory zero-emission vehicle sales target of 100% for light-duty passenger vehicles by 2035. Decarbonizing the transportation sector will require reimagining personal, commercial, and public transit vehicles and an entirely new infrastructure system to support charging and fuelling.
Electric vehicles (EVs) will likely account for most of the new cars on the road in the coming decades – the market is booming as gas prices soar and EVs approach price parity with other vehicles, with new registrations jumping 55.2% in Q1 2022 from the year prior.
To both support and incentivize this shift towards EVs, Canada needs to deploy extensive charging infrastructure – and do it quickly. Canada was recently ranked second last among global counterparts for EV-readiness. Studies have shown that over 900,000 publicly accessible charge points could be required by 2050, with significant front-loading in the next decade. Numerous programs are being rolled out to support this ambition at federal, provincial, and municipal levels. But, it is important that these long-term investments are made thoughtfully to ensure no one is left behind in the low-carbon transition.
Key issues in deploying EV charging infrastructure
Electric mobility stands to benefit all Canadians. Cost savings are expected to be significant – particularly for low- and moderate-income families who spend a disproportionate amount of their income on vehicle maintenance and fuel costs. Decarbonization also holds the potential to improve the health and quality of life for communities that are disproportionately impacted by local air pollution and a changing climate. Governments have a critical role to play in ensuring that these benefits are shared equitably.
Areas such as equity, accessibility, and reliability in the deployment of EV charging infrastructure cannot be overlooked. For example, most EV charging currently occurs at home. A recent survey found that 85% of current EV owners reside in a single-family house or townhouse with dedicated parking. However, around one-third of Canada’s population lives in multi-residential buildings (MURBs) such as condominiums and apartments. Significant technical, financial, and regulatory barriers are associated with installing charging equipment in MURBs, which has resulted in limited deployment, despite financial incentives provided by governments. This has important implications for equitable access – MURB residents, particularly renters, may face an unequal power dynamic with their landlord, and are more likely to be low-income, racialized, and recent immigrants.
When it comes to public charging, accessibility advocates have raised concerns that existing infrastructure is not universally accessible. Drivers who use wheelchairs often face multiple barriers, such as charge points not installed at grade, parking spaces without sufficient space between other vehicles, and charging cables that are heavy and placed too high. While there have been retrofit commitments from Hydro Quebec and BC Hydro to address this, there are currently no clear requirements, regulations, or consistent standards that must be met for accessibility in EV deploying charging infrastructure in Canada.
There are also currently no regulations, industry standards, or a common definition of reliability in Canada. If building EV charging infrastructure is the current priority, ensuring reliability of that infrastructure must be the next step. While data has not been comprehensively collected nation-wide on the reliability of Canada’s existing charging network (i.e., the extent to which chargers are functional and available for use), preliminary analysis and public opinion research show a need for both improvement and consistency.
Drivers may also experience payment barriers at public charge points. Charging network subscriptions and smartphone applications are often required to process payments rather than credit or debit cards. Consequently, drivers may need to register with multiple networks to have sufficient access to public charging. Voluntary roaming agreements, whereby operators share data to enable access without additional subscriptions, are promising and should be encouraged. However, regulatory efforts may be needed to enable a seamless, open-access payment experience for drivers.
Policy pathways supporting a national EV charging network
Without thoughtful and targeted policies, there is a risk that electric mobility may not benefit all Canadians. Fortunately, governments have the necessary tools to lay the foundation for equitable electric mobility. A recent report Charging Ahead: Ensuring Equity and Reliability in Canada’s Electric Vehicle Network from the CSA Public Policy Centre offers policy pathways for the federal government to consider that support deployment of a national EV charging network that works for everyone. In particular, strategies that focus on deploying charging infrastructure through an equity lens, incorporating accessible design at the outset, ensuring reliability, and enabling inclusive payment options for all drivers represent a critical and immediate priority.
For example, governments must focus their efforts on closing the gap between MURB residents and those living in single-family homes, as access to home charging is one of the most influential factors in the decision to purchase an EV. Experts have suggested that providing more comprehensive support to MURB property owners through the federal government’s current funding program could have a significant impact on uptake. The CleanBC EV Ready Retrofit Program, which provides funding for all stages of the process – including assessment, retrofit, and installation of charging technology – has been incredibly successful. Additionally, the installation of publicly accessible fast charging infrastructure should be prioritized where at-home charging options cannot realistically be installed in MURBs, with earmarked funds for underserved areas.
If the future of mobility is electric, federal government support for a Canada-wide EV charging network that is equitable, accessible, and reliable is crucial. An inclusive transition is possible by learning from other jurisdictions, making purposeful investments, and collaborating with public, private, and community partners. To learn more, read the full report from the CSA Public Policy Centre.
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