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Toronto's electric car drivers are set to get a free boost from the city, courtesy of a unique pilot project that could be rolled out later this year.
On Thursday the public works committee will consider a staff report that recommends installing five on-street charging stations for electric vehicles in the downtown core. Should the plan be approved, transportation services is hoping it will not only encourage electric car use, but help the city develop guidelines for providing infrastructure for the increasingly popular vehicles, which are expected to make up five per cent of all cars on Toronto roads by 2020.
The charging stations, which would be free to use, would take up existing parking spaces and either be mounted on hydro poles or installed in street-level bollards. Staff is recommending one each on Elizabeth Street, Ed Mirvish Way, and Victoria Street, as well as two more on Wellington Street West.
If the city were to give away free gasoline, drivers would likely line up around the block. But Nazzareno Capano, who's overseeing the pilot project for the city's transportation services department, doesn't expect the five electric stations would necessarily be well-used. By current estimates, there are fewer than 400 electric vehicles, or EVs, in all of Ontario capable of plugging into an external power source. Most hybrid cars generate electric power through their brake system.
"We know that right now the usage will probably be very low, because EVs haven't become widespread just yet," Capano says. "Having said that, it doesn't mean that this pilot would be a failure if we didn't get significant uptake."
Lessons Capano is hoping to learn from the project include discerning optimal locations for the recharging spots, how to enforce EV-only parking spaces, and whether curb-side electric car recharging represents a revenue opportunity for the city.
Data from the project would also provide guidance for either the city or a private company to build a network of charging stations somewhere down the line.
The project wouldn't cost the city any money directly, and would instead be funded through a $65,000 grant from the Toronto Atmospheric Fund. Because one of the recommended charging station locations would take up a pay-and-display parking space, staff does anticipate a loss of $3,100 in parking revenue over the course of the year.
Although the project would be the first of its kind in Toronto, the city is lagging behind other Canadian municipalities when it comes to encouraging electric car use. Vancouver is currently working with BC Hydro to install 60 charging stations, and by the end of this summer Montreal and Quebec City expect to have 120 of the plug-in ports between them.
By contrast, Toronto currently has charging stations at only four locations: the Evergreen Brickworks, the Mercedes Benz Midtown dealership, the Sheraton Hotel, and Toronto Hydro Headquarters.
"In comparison to Quebec and in comparison to Vancouver, it feels like we're slow to get going here," says Chris Hill, president of Electric Mobility Canada, a non-profit group that promotes electric cars. "Toronto's just dipping its toes in the water. Nonetheless, they're trying it out, so it's a good move."
Hill says that while the major attraction of electric vehicles is that they can be refueled at home, as the cars become more popular on-street charging stations will be key to mitigating "range anxiety" - car owners' fear that unplanned trips will leave them out of juice and stranded. The current distance most electric models can travel without recharging is only 120 to 150 km, which is enough to accommodate most commutes, but not unscheduled diversions.
If the public works committee approves the pilot project Thursday, it would then go before city council next month. Should it get the green light there, Capano says the charging ports would be up and running as early as this fall.