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B.C. charging station fears put speed bump on road to electric vehicle adoption

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As gas prices continue to climb in British Columbia, some drivers in the province are taking advantage of existing programs to acquire a “zero emission” vehicle. By combining provincial and federal rebates, British Columbians can be eligible for up to $16,000 to assist in the purchase an electric car.

This month, Research Co. asked British Columbians about the provincial government’s decision to pass legislation to ensure that, by the year 2040, all light-duty cars and trucks sold in the province will be “zero emission,” as well as their views on becoming owners of an electric vehicle and what – if anything – is stopping them from taking this step.

Across the province, seven in 10 residents (70 per cent) agree with the course of action designed by the provincial government. Support for the new regulations is highest among women (74 per cent), residents aged 18 to 34 (also 74 per cent) and Metro Vancouverites (also 74 per cent).

British Columbians who voted for the B.C. Green Party in the 2017 provincial election are overwhelmingly in favour of the government’s plan (87 per cent), along with 76 per cent of those who supported the B.C. NDP and 60 per cent of those who cast a ballot for the B.C. Liberals (60 per cent).

The results are a bit more contentious when residents are asked to look into the future. Practically half of British Columbians (49 per cent) say the goal that has been established by the provincial government is “definitely” or “probably” achievable. This leaves 42 per cent of residents who do not foresee all light-duty cars and trucks sold in the province being “zero emission” by 2040.

Skepticism towards the feasibility of the government’s pledge is highest among men (46 per cent), residents aged 55 and over (49 per cent) and those who live in the Southern Interior (61 per cent).

A theme develops quickly when looking at these numbers. The core constituencies of the governing B.C. NDP (women, young voters, Metro Vancouverites) are more likely to endorse the proposal and to think it will come to fruition. Conversely, groups that have traditionally supported the B.C. Liberals in this century (men, older voters, residents of the Southern Interior) are not particularly fond of the idea or its viability.

Setting aside the political divide, the views of drivers suggest that change may be in the air. More than half of British Columbians who rely on their own vehicle for transportation (51 per cent) say the next car they acquire for themselves or their household is “very likely” or “moderately likely” to be electric.

In this future purchase consideration question, men who drive are more likely to be ready for a switch than their female counterparts (53 per cent to 48 per cent). In addition, Those in the 18-to-34 age group are significantly more likely to think of their next vehicle as a plug-in (59 per cent) than those 35 to 54 (52 per cent) or 55 and over (43 per cent).

Metro Vancouver, which has tackled endless discussions about fuel taxes, leads all regions with 55 per cent of drivers saying they would eventually trade in their current car for an electric one.

In other areas of the province, the situation is more complex. Only 40 per cent of drivers in the Southern Interior are “likely” to purchase an electric car next. The proportion in Northern B.C. is 37 per cent, with no respondents choosing the “very likely” option.

When drivers were asked the main preoccupation that would make them less likely to switch to electric, 24 per cent mention price, 24 per cent are fearful of becoming stranded if they cannot find a charging station and 23 per cent say they do not have enough places to charge the vehicle in the areas where they usually drive.

The perception that electric vehicles are too expensive compared to non-electric ones does not go through any substantial fluctuations across the province. But outside of Lower Mainland, the issue that seems to stop drivers from going electric is infrastructure.

While only 23 per cent of drivers in British Columbia say their main hindrance in acquiring an electric vehicle is not having enough charging spots, the proportion jumps to 35 per cent in the Southern Interior and 45 per cent in the North.

Most British Columbians back making all light-duty cars and trucks sold in British Columbia “zero emission” by 2040. However, to ensure this initiative is fully embraced, it will be imperative to inform the public about existing and future infrastructure related to electric vehicles.

Some drivers say there are not enough charging stations in their neighourhoods. Ensuring that every driver gets a chance to charge near home, work or leisure spots could go a long way in turning some of the skeptical drivers into electric vehicle owners.

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.

Results are based on an online study conducted from May 20 to May 22, 2019, among 800 adults in British Columbia. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region in British Columbia. The margin of error – which measures sample variability – is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.