On January 9th, the City of Toronto’s Infrastructure and Environment Committee will decide whether or not to adopt an Electric Vehicle (EV) Strategy. This strategy identifies 10 practical actions to eliminate the 30% of Toronto’s GHG emissions created by personal vehicles, transitioning from internal combustion engines toward zero-emission vehicles. Currently, less than 1% of vehicles on Toronto’s roads are EVs and Toronto’s TransformTO goal is that by 2050, 100% of vehicles will be.
The strategy is introduced with an important reminder that personal vehicles, EVs or otherwise, remain a lower priority than other sustainable mobility options. While EVs eliminate GHG emissions associated with longer passenger vehicle trips not feasible using transit or shared mobility, walking and cycling remain the best zero-emission option available for short trips. To truly achieve transformative climate action, we still need to shift a LOT more trips to walking, cycling, transit, and shared mobility.
To further the zero-emission impact of electric vehicles, here are a few suggestions for municipalities to consider when developing EV strategies.
- Enhance the walking and cycling environment with EV charging infrastructure. When identifying high-priority areas for public charging infrastructure, consider the potential impact on people walking and cycling. Do not obstruct or negatively impact the walking and cycling environment (as is happening in the UK), and use the opportunity to enhance it when possible. Consult active transportation stakeholders.
- Regulations, not incentives, for vehicle-for-hire companies. A recent Ryerson study found that Uber and Lyft have added 176,000 motor-vehicle trips a day in Toronto, trips that otherwise could have been made by walking, cycling, or transit. Adding regulations to require the gradual electrification of the vehicle-for-hire fleet makes good sense. Providing incentives to an industry that is adding thousands more vehicle daily trips to an already congested roadway system and increasing the unsafe conditions on our streets for people walking and cycling, is not.
- Communicate social, environmental and economic impacts of active transportation. We need to ensure we don’t just swap out existing cars with EVs, but continue to plan complete communities which decrease reliance on cars, consistent with provincial growth plans. Any communication of EVs should assist people to first assess whether a car is actually necessary and to provide information about the range of more sustainable options to consider.
- Support sustainable transportation research and economic impact and incentives for companies to replace last-mile trips with smaller and more sustainable vehicles. The EV industry would greatly benefit from research and economic impact promotion supported by Ontario municipalities. This benefit should be extended to more sustainable modes as well. Ontario is home to a burgeoning, yet struggling, bike industry that could also benefit from municipally supported industry events and forums, and Pembina recently released a last-mile solutions feasibility analysis on how municipalities can support the implementation of microhubs and cargo cycles. There would also be great benefit to commissioning cross-sector research that does not consider the EV sector in isolation and that, for example, could help us to understand how EVs and active transportation can better complement each other, or how EVs could better help Ontario reduce traffic deaths and injuries, especially of the most vulnerable road users who are walking and cycling.
EVs provide a fantastic opportunity to eliminate GHG emissions associated with longer passenger vehicle trips that could not otherwise be made by transit or shared mobility, but walking and cycling remain the best zero-emission option available for short trips. To ensure we achieve the ambitious targets for both EVs and active transportation, we need to work together to compound their collective zero-emission impact.
By Nancy Smith Lea, Director, The Centre for Active Transporation (TCAT)