December 2, 2020


Illustration by Kathleen Fu

As Canada battles climate change, nothing is more important than reducing transportation emissions, which are second only to oil-and-gas extraction as a share of the country’s carbon footprint. And with millions of commuters burning gas while sitting in traffic, cities are at the centre of that challenge.

COVID-19′s unknown effect on long-term mobility patterns complicates matters. For instance, it’s difficult to confidently plan new public-transit lines when it’s anyone’s guess how many (and which) people currently working from home will return to commuting, and the number who will feel comfortable returning to crowded subways or buses rather than the safety of their own cars.

But one basic certainty is that, however much success cities have in seizing the current window to improve pedestrian and bicycle options, there will still be lots of motorized vehicles on the roads. So one surefire way to curb the greenhouse gases being spewed is to transition as many cars, buses and trucks as possible to electric models, rather than those that run on fossil fuels.

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As federal and provincial governments start to spread around stimulus funds, and municipalities change regulations to adapt to new realities, there are a few key ways that they could help cities electrify transportation, with some economic and lifestyle benefits atop the environmental ones.


One of the bigger obstacles to uptake of electric vehicles is that many urban dwellers who might otherwise be early adopters are “garage orphans.” That means they can’t easily charge EV batteries at home, either because they live in houses without driveways, or because they’re in condominium or apartment buildings that don’t have enough (or any) charging stations in their parking lots.

The good news is that the hurdle is very much surmountable. Jeff Turner, a researcher with Dunsky Energy Consulting who advises various municipalities on this challenge, highlighted a combination of policy tools to help overcome it.

For apartments and condos, an easy start is to follow the lead of cities in British Columbia (including Vancouver and Richmond) by changing building codes to require that new buildings have plug-in capacity in many or all parking spots. Older buildings are more of a challenge, but could be helped along with some of the energy retrofitting funding that governments are expected to roll out to help spur a green economic recovery.

When it comes to houses, discussion sometimes gets bogged down in a debate about whether to change zoning laws to make it easier for homeowners without driveways to build parking pads. But there are other, less contentious ways to address it.

Among those are curbside charging stations, perhaps attached to utility poles, in neighbourhoods where many residents rely on street parking.

Another, possibly more scalable approach is to provide garage orphans with opportunities away from home. Mr. Turner suggests that one of the most promising ones is for governments to build or provide incentives for fast-charging hubs that replicate gas stations. With the technology reaching