As Toronto is considering a proposal to mandate that all rideshare drivers use electric vehicles — the city urgently needs to prioritize upgrading its charging infrastructure specifically in high-rise, multi-unit buildings, where many drivers live, an environmental agency and academics say.
According to Ian Klesmer, the director of strategy and grants with The Atmospheric Fund (TAF), a climate agency and non-profit funded by government endowments, their research has shown that many rideshare drivers are low-income earners or new immigrants who live in apartments that need to be upgraded with electric chargers.
“When it comes to the ride-hailing drivers, this is actually a really important group that we think can lead on the electrification wave,” said Klesmer.
On Sept. 21, the city’s Economic and Community Development Committee considered a proposal to transition what they called the vehicle-for-hire industry to net-zero emissions by 2030. It was adopted with amendments and will be considered by city council on Oct. 11.
In the proposal, Carleton Grant, the executive director of Municipal Licensing and Standards, states that transportation represents one third of the city’s total emissions. Of that, about four to six per cent of those emissions are derived from rideshare trips.
Driver concerned about lack of chargers
But a lack of chargers in Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) currently makes this plan difficult to achieve without significant further investment and action, said Olivier Trescases, the director of University of Toronto Electric Vehicle Research Centre.
If the city wants to pass laws mandating that rideshare drivers must use electric vehicles, there will be “serious equity issues” if they don’t have easy access to charging where they live, he said.
“That’s a major problem the city needs to address if they’re going to mandate that.”
Maaz Inam, who has driven for Uber since 2016, told CBC Toronto his major concerns with the proposal are around infrastructure, the time it currently takes to charge a vehicle, and the cost of an electric car.
“The platform is not there, you have to charge up to an hour to get a full tank,” said Inam, who lives in Mississauga and drives all over the GTA.
Inam has driven a Tesla Model 3 before, and though he was impressed with the car, he says its battery “was draining down pretty fast.”
While Inam says he’s sure those issues are likely to be resolved as the technology improves, he says there aren’t enough chargers in high-rise residential apartment buildings.
Though he doesn’t live in a high-rise himself, he has a family member who does and owns a Tesla. If there are only a few charging stations, “everyone’s going to have to wait a long time to get their charging done,” he said.
Climate group helps buildings install chargers
In December 2021, Toronto amended a zoning bylaw to require that all residential parking spaces provided to people who live in an apartment or condo be equipped with an energized outlet clearly marked for charging.
That outlet also needs to be able to provide Level 2 charging, which provides 240 volts and is considered the standard for charging electric vehicles by the U.S. Society of Automotive Engineers, an organization the city has referred to for guidance, according to the bylaw. Level 1 charging is considered slower, as it provides 120 volts and can take between 11 to 20 hours to charge from empty, as opposed to a Level 2 charger, which can provide a full charge within three to eight hours.
But challenges with implementing the actual chargers mean buildings have relied on funding to complete installation.
The Atmospheric Fund launched a program last year, funded by Natural Resources Canada, that specifically supports implementing electric chargers in multi-family buildings in the GTA and Hamilton.
Klesmer says demand from building owners in Toronto has been “overwhelming.”
So far, the climate group has allocated funding to 29 buildings and 10 of them have completed installation, said Amanda Mosca, the group’s manager of its electric vehicle charging program in an email to CBC Toronto.
According to Klesmer, the group’s research shows that those who drive with rideshare companies drive much more than the average commuter, often as much as four to five times more per year.
That’s why he said it makes sense to focus on the buildings where drivers live because “they stand to save the most money and the most carbon by electrifying their rides as soon as possible.” He noted this is especially true as the price of gas has skyrocketed.
Challenges in doing this include the fact that condo boards need to consult with tenants and that can take time, but Klesmer says the will is there.
“The smart condo boards and the smart property landlords, they see the writing on the wall and they want to get prepared quickly to meet the needs of their tenants.”
EV infrastructure lacking, Uber says
Trescases says that despite Toronto’s bylaw, Ontario as a province is lagging behind other jurisdictions, which impacts the city and will affect whether a rideshare EV mandate is practical to implement. And with technology that is still evolving, he says he understands if there’s some hesitancy.
“It’s complicated to install, especially in old buildings. And we’ve seen how it should not be done,” Trescases said.
Building owners need to be better educated about why investing in electric vehicle infrastructure now will be better, not only for the environment, but for their bottom line as more people are looking for charging facilities, he said.
In a memo to the city regarding the rideshare electric vehicle proposal, Uber Canada said while it’s supportive of the recommendations, it cautions they will be difficult to achieve “without significant action from all orders of government.”
The company provided the city with results from an internal survey of Canadian Uber drivers, completed in December 2022. Jake Brockman, the senior manager of public policy at Uber Canada, said in the memo that out of 2,000 respondents, two-thirds were open to purchasing an electric vehicle as their next car.
But Brockman said all the survey respondents cited concerns about the cost of buying an electric vehicle, long wait-times for accessing a vehicle, lack of government electric vehicle incentives and charging concerns as primary reasons for why they are hesitant to switch.
“Vehicle availability and charging infrastructure will need to see substantial increases to ensure the 2030 deadline is feasible,” Uber said in its memo.
City seeking feedback from residents
Toronto is also currently asking for feedback from residents about charging infrastructure and needs in the city, in order to reach its goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040.
Toronto is also currently asking for feedback from city residents about charging infrastructure needs in order to help reach its goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040. The city held open houses this month and is calling on residents to complete an online survey. Based on these consultations, the city will develop a study of charging networks to guide how the chargers can be installed between 2025 and 2040.
James Nowlan, the city’s executive director of environment and climate, told CBC Toronto that the city’s public consultation efforts are around trying to understand how much charging is needed, where and how soon.
“We’re getting great feedback,” he said of the consultations so far, noting that residents want to feel confident that if they purchase an electric vehicle, charging won’t be an issue.
“Having a public charging network, whether that’s supported by the government or supported by the private sector, it’s really important because it provides that confidence, that foundation for people, whether they’re making short trips or long trips that they know they can charge,” said Nowlan.
The city is specifically looking at making adopting electric vehicles easier for low-income families, he said.
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Ontario lags behind B.C. in charging mandates
Despite Toronto’s gains, Trescases says completing a consultation process may not be the best use of the city’s time when charging infrastructure needs to be implemented more rapidly.
“I look to Europe and I look to the U.S. and they move much more quickly in these directions,” he said, noting B.C. and several municipalities within that province are furthest ahead when it comes to policy. “It’s much more EV friendly.”
B.C. introduced legislation in April that requires all strata complexes — condos, townhouses and duplexes — to have an electrical planning report for electric vehicle chargers.
Ontario implemented changes to its building code requirements in 2017 that required 20 per cent of parking spaces in any new single-unit, townhouse or semi-detached residences to have access to EV charging. Those changes were repealed in 2018 by the newly elected Conservative government.
In 2022, Ontario did announce that it is committing $91 million to electric vehicle charging infrastructure at places like highway rest stops and provincial and municipal parks. It also launched a program to bring chargers to rural communities.
But Trescases said that charging infrastructure at the provincial level is still lacking. “It’s relying on market forces for the transition and unfortunately that’s not quite fast enough.”
He says the government needs to provide building owners with incentives to get charging infrastructure ready, now, and should be working to accelerate the transition to EVs.
“Eventually, I think the market will take over,” Trescases said. “The infrastructure will be handled.”