This last year may have finally signaled the impending death knell of the gas-powered, internal combustion engine. And it seems as though we’re driving steadily toward an electric future.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a Conservative who leads a nation home to luxury automotive brands including Bentley and Rolls Royce, announced last November that sales of cars with internal combustion engines (gas-powered) would be banned by 2030. California announced they would mandate the same goal by 2035.
President Joe Biden reversed course from Donald Trump by rejoining the Paris agreements and committing $174 billion toward electric vehicles (EV), including a pledge to have the U.S. government’s 650,000 car fleet become net-zero carbon.
A cynic might point to General Motors’ recent announcement that it will phase out gas engines by 2035 to suggest that governments are increasing their environmental cred by piggy backing off where the industry is already going. Perhaps that’s true, but auto industry buy-in insulates the move toward green cars from the whims of future politicians. EVs are coming. It is incumbent upon governments at all levels to be ready to facilitate the transition.
National governments will set the legal frameworks and broad policy, but what role do cities play in paving the way for EVs?
As of 2019, EVs only make up 0.6 per cent of registered vehicles in Toronto, with higher concentrations in wealthier areas reflecting the relative high cost of EVs and the space and freedom private homeowners have to install charging stations on their property. The largest barrier to widespread EV use in Toronto stems from the practical limitations of owning an electric vehicle in high rises.
Currently, the Toronto Green Standard only requires 20 per cent of parking spaces to be EV ready. The rest of the spaces require rough ins, which is good, but who is going to pay for it? After a condo is built, a developer walks away, and it’s left to an individual condo owner or tenant to pay for installation. The City should take advantage of the much cheaper price for developers to install EV charging stations because of scale and the lower difficulty of putting them in place during initial construction.
The City should also do a better job of leading by example. The City’s own facilities only require infrastructure to service EVs in 25 per cent of parking spots in new builds.
Perhaps an even greater challenge is retrofitting existing high-rise buildings to accommodate EVs. The majority of Torontonians will be living in places that currently exist well into the 2030s. The City does not have the fiscal capacity of the legal authority to require landlords or condo boards to retroactively install charging stations. Major capital incentives, and perhaps requirements, need to come from senior level of government.
Further barriers to EV ownership come from a lack of public charging stations. Both for those that do not have charging stations at home and for long-distance trips. As of 2019, there were only 16 on-street charging stations in the whole city. More stations are needed in public areas.
The best way for Toronto to reach zero carbon is to design a city that doesn’t require a car at all. New transit projects are being built, albeit painfully slowly, and bike infrastructure has taken a significant step forward in the last couple of years. But there will be those that still require or desire a car for necessary trips or leisure travel out of the city.
As part of TransformTO, Toronto’s climate change action plan, the City has set a target of accommodating 220,000 EVs by 2030 and 100 per cent of all cars to be EVs by 2050. Recent news suggests that target, made just last year, may already be out of date. We must start implementing policies now, to prepare for an inevitable greener future where all cars are electric.
Josh Matlow is a City of Toronto Councillor for Ward 12 (Toronto-St. Paul’s)