We need cleaner cars, but also fewer cars

Chernushenko

The growing interest in electric vehicles (EVs) in Ottawa promises several benefits: cleaner air locally; fewer pollutants from producing electricity versus fossil fuels, and less noise from nearly silent vehicles that never idle.

But what won’t necessarily change is the number of vehicles on our roads, and all the space we allocate to moving and parking them.

Reducing the number of vehicles owned by private individuals and in corporate or government fleets is a worthy goal. If car sharing and mode shifting significantly reduce the need for vehicles, regardless of power source, we’ll see a major shift in urban and transportation planning.

Our society — I include my family in this — values transportation convenience, which for nearly a century has meant individual vehicle ownership. Recently, we’ve seen a shift towards “mobility” as the goal, with more people choosing the most time- and cost-effective way to reach their destination. For some trips, it’s a walk or bike ride, for others public transit, and for many it will still be a drive. As long as our needs are best met by having instant access to private vehicles for many trips, we will keep buying, maintaining, storing and driving them.

DavicC-BoltStill, we’re now starting to see an urban generation rejecting the “must” of car ownership, or even a driver’s licence. They rely instead on walking, cycling, transit, taxis and car sharing memberships (Ottawa was an early adopter with its home-grown Vrtucar). I know many young people choosing to be car-free, and it hasn’t reduced their mobility. They live where they want and choose destinations — for eating, shopping, travel, drinking, etc. — according to ease of access.

Now into this mix comes the EV, which, whether privately owned or shared, introduces a new set of choices and behaviours. With the range of several models now exceeding 200 km between charges, any destination in the Ottawa region is within reach. Many people drive for an entire week on a single charge and, as the EV charging network continues to expand, the problem of “range anxiety” continues to shrink.

When our family did the math, we realized just how viable an EV already is. Of our regular trips, only the occasional drive to Toronto would be outside our range. We could charge overnight or en route for overnight trips to Montreal or Kingston. A return trip to Gatineau Park would be a piece of cake, and there are rapid chargers in Old Chelsea and Wakefield should someone forget to plug in.

We’re now on the waiting list for several vehicles — we’ll see which is ready first. Pent-up demand means you can’t even test drive most EVs, but that should ease next year, with more new models and a better supply of existing ones.

EVs are an important piece of the clean, renewable mobility future. But in the end, our choice to walk, cycle, take transit and share our vehicles will be the biggest factor in any energy and mobility (r)evolution.

If we own fewer, cleaner vehicles, we’ll clear the air, tackle climate breakdown and stimulate a new kind of renewable economy, while creating quieter, less congested streets.

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Filed in: FP, Front Page, Political Pages

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