When Marawan El-Asfahani starts his car, it barely makes a sound.
No roaring combustion engine, no purring as exhaust winds through to a tailpipe. That near-silence is a constant reminder that his electricity-powered ride — a year-and-a-half old Tesla — is helping keep one more gas-guzzler off the streets of Toronto.
“It matters to me because I have kids, and it also matters to me because I feel like everybody should be doing their part for the environment in whatever ways they can, whether it’s taking transit, buying an electric car, walking,” says the Leslieville resident.
Now, the city is hoping all drivers will take a similar approach within the next few decades.
Heading first to council’s infrastructure committee for approval on Thursday, the city’s first-ever electric vehicle strategy aims to make sure Toronto can handle at least 220,000 plug-in electric cars — around 20 per cent of public vehicles — by 2030, with a goal of ensuring all transportation is powered by zero-carbon energy sources by 2050.
It’s a lofty goal that requires building more electric vehicle charging stations and other infrastructure, exploring financial incentives, and pushing higher levels of government to get involved, notes the third-party report prepared by Montreal-based Dunsky Energy Consulting.
The chair of the infrastructure committee, Coun. James Pasternak, expects the report will get his committee’s backing. But he says it requires a “total cultural paradigm shift” among residents and policy makers.
“We have to have available charging platforms. We have to have the hydro infrastructure to deliver the electricity we need. We need the spots to park and charge whether you’re at work, at home, or at a business,” he says. “And we need to make sure it’s part of the planning process.”
6,300 electric vehicles currently in Toronto
Right now, there are only around 6,300 electric vehicles in Toronto, making up less than one per cent of all vehicles registered in the city.
Charging stations are even harder to find. And while the city has various pilot projects in the works to install on-street public charging infrastructure in various locations, including permit parking areas and other parking facilities, there are currently fewer than 700 public charging ports across the city.
That’s a frustration for El-Asfahani, who says the lack of infrastructure could be a barrier for others hoping to make the switch to electric — even though, in his case, he says swapping out his old car saves him more than $500 a month in gas.
“There’s really not a lot of charging stations in the Greater Toronto Area,” he says.
“Also travelling to outside of Toronto. Last summer my girlfriend and I went to Montreal, and we had to add an hour and a half to our commute to find charging stations along the way.”
El-Asfahani also says more buy-in from the provincial government is key, noting he hasn’t been given a cent for making the switch to electric because Premier Doug Ford’s government scrapped the province’s incentive program in 2018 — a move some advocates warn has stalled new electric vehicle sales in Ontario.
‘The political will is there’
That’s a problem, says climate policy advocate Keith Stewart, a senior energy strategist for Greenpeace. Right now, all the province’s cities and highways are designed for gas-powered transportation, he adds.
“If we want to get off fossil fuels to solve the problem of climate change, we need to basically electrify most of our economy, including transportation,” Stewart says.
Making all those changes, of course, costs money.
So far $150,000 has been submitted to council as part of the city environment and energy division’s 2020 operating budget to fund a public charging location study and outreach and engagement initiatives.
City officials will also be monitoring funding and regulations from higher levels of government, such as the new federal point-of-sale incentive of up to $5,000 for consumers who buy or lease eligible electric vehicles, and could potentially explore ideas suggest by residents, such as residential rebates for having charging infrastructure in homes and condos.
If council approves the new strategy, city staff will start developing businesses cases to figure out how to implement it in the years ahead — all in hopes of changing how residents get around within the next 30 years.
“It’s very ambitious,” Pasternak admits.
“But if we fund it properly, the political will is there.”