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The city tests the waters on providing municipal EV charging stations

Slowly but surely, electric vehicles (EVs) are becoming part of the GTA's transportation mix. With at least 10 EVs and two plug-in hybrids commercially available in the province, consumers are getting more and more choices when it comes to zero-emission vehicles. But the issue of where to charge them remains a sticking point. Aside from a number of pilot projects, EV drivers have few charging options other than installing charging equipment on their own property.
This week, Toronto City Council is expected to consider a one-year pilot project that will see the city itself offer five charging stations downtown. The initiative will help the city decide if it should be offering EV charging—perhaps as a new revenue stream—or whether it should leave it to some other player like Toronto Hydro or a private company. In shopping for the equipment and setting things up, the city will also get a stronger sense of what the market's offering and whether the city might be able to integrate for-pay charging into its pay parking system.
"This will give us a broader picture of the issues. It's a learning exercise for us all," says Nazzareno Capano, manager of operational planning and policy for the city's Transportation Services section. Until the city attracts some interest with an RFT (request for proposals), it won't have a sense of all it can learn through the available charging station technology. One of the things the city won't learn is how pricing will affect usage: if council approves the plan, it will provide the electricity for free during the pilot.
Four of the five spots will be in locations where there is currently no parking: one spot on Ed Mirvish Way, north of King; two on Wellington, east of Clarence Square; and one on Victoria Street, south of Dundas. The fifth, on Elizabeth Street, north of City Hall, will convert an existing parking spot to an EV-only charging station. Although users of that spot will have to pay to park there, its new exclusively EV designation will mean some lost revenue for the city.
If the city decides that it doesn't want to go into the EV charging business, Capano says it will have a better sense how various partners and various technologies would work. "We'd at least have a plan and some criteria that partners could follow," he says.
In picking the five pilot sites, the city wanted spots that would be busy, where EV drivers could leave their vehicle for a proper charge time (at least a couple of hours) and where the charging stations wouldn't obstruct pedestrians. Whether owned by the city or someone else, the stations will eventually become—along with benches, garbage containers, bus shelters, parking meters and signage—part of the city's street furnishings.

Paul Gallant is Yonge Street's managing editor.
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