Becomes first major Canadian city to allow the zero-emission vehicles on city streets
By Frances Bula
Globe and Mail
Vancouver is about to become the first major Canadian city that allows manufactured electric cars on its streets.
That has local electric-car enthusiasts predicting that the city's aggressive leadership will produce a rush to buy electric cars and spur manufacturers to push harder on developing and producing new models.
"Absolutely this is going to result in people buying and driving these cars here," says Don Chandler, president of the Vancouver Electric Vehicle Association. "Vancouver has been very active on this issue and the grassroots swell of interest here is amazing."
B.C. is already home to three manufacturers or importers of what are technically called "neighbourhood zero-emission vehicles." Between that and the interest from buyers and affiliated industries, the province is a small hub of electric-car activism.
Until now, the only city in Canada that allowed manufactured electric cars on its streets was Oak Bay, B.C., which passed a bylaw during the summer that made them legal to drive on city roads. In general, where they are allowed in other cities, they've only been permitted in gated communities or restricted areas such as airports.
Vancouver is set to approve a bylaw next week that says the cars, which Transport Canada has said must not be driven faster than 40 kilometres an hour, can be used on any street where the speed limit is 50 kilometres an hour or lower. That means, for all practical purposes, they can be driven on every street in Vancouver. Bridge speed limits are 60 km/h an hour, but city staff are discussing lowering that limit so the cars can be driven everywhere within city boundaries, says Vancouver sustainability planner Brian Beck.
The city has recently started requiring all new single-family homes to have electric-car plug-ins built in. City staff are also looking at a similar requirement for new multi-family housing and at providing "opportunity charge points" around the city, in parking lots and on the street, similar to what is available in London.
City council members are eager to approve the staff recommendation when it comes to council next week. Mayor Sam Sullivan said he believes it's a smart move for the city to start investing in infrastructure that supports electric cars.
Councillor Suzanne Anton, who tried to buy an electric car last year but couldn't find one for sale, said she "absolutely" supports the move.
Vancouver police have expressed some hesitation about traffic safety because the electric cars will be restricted to lower speeds than the gas-powered vehicles around them. Electric cars can actually go faster than 40 km/h, but aren't allowed to by Transport Canada regulations. That's because of concerns about the safety of the vehicles, which have not gone through the same crash-testing as standard cars.
Mr. Beck said that he doesn't expect a flood of vehicles right away because it's so hard to find one to buy, but Vancouver's move does send a significant message to the car-manufacturing industry. It also helps add to what he calls "the perfect storm of conditions" encouraging electric-car development, with both gas prices and concern about climate change skyrocketing.
London is considered the leader in promoting electric-car use among industrialized cities, with more than 1,000 electric cars now estimated to be in use there.