As sales of electric vehicles rise across Canada, there are still two big barriers to adoption: range anxiety on road trips and a lack of charging access for apartment and condo dwellers.
I live in a older high-rise building in downtown Toronto and there is no charging available in the underground garage. For the most part, drivers like me haven’t ventured into the EV world. According to a recent survey of more than 16,000 drivers of battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) in Canada, conducted by PlugShare on behalf of the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA), 77 per cent of BEV drivers live in single-family dwellings and 88 per cent of them own their home. Furthermore, 67 per cent of EV owners also own at least one gas-powered car.
“Multi-unit dwellings often have communal, open parking areas where it is difficult to reliably place electrical outlets (especially higher-power 208-240-volt outlets) or to hardwire chargers,” notes the CAA report. “Renters, on the other hand, often need landlord approval to install a charger, and many drivers are unwilling to pay to install a charger in a home they do not own.”
Canada is moving toward its 2035 target requiring that all new passenger vehicles sold are zero-emission vehicles, but it’s clear that most sales now are to people who can charge at home, and there are significant barriers to hit 100 per cent.
I will inevitably have to replace my 20-year-old gas car in the near future, but it’s hard to know whether buying an EV makes sense for me.
So when the City of Toronto installed EV chargers at a Green P elevated parking garage a mere 10-minute walk from my home in January, I was thrilled. Using a borrowed 2023 Hyundai Ioniq 6 all-electric sedan, I set out to see whether this kind of overnight public parking could work for me.
I counted 24 Level 2 chargers at the parkade, which was ideal. Any EV owner will tell you that Level 2 charging, which takes about seven hours for the Ioniq 6, is the best for routine operation. The owner’s manual even states “frequent use of DC [Level 3 fast] charging may impact battery life.” Hyundai’s advertised fast-charging time of 18 minutes is great for road trips, but it’s expensive and hard on the battery.
“If you keep charging at Level 3 every time, you’re going to deteriorate the life of the battery in the long run,” said Ricardo Chan, senior manager of marketing at Hyundai Canada. “With Level 2, it gives the battery some time to settle down and take care of the cells.” So if you’re in it for the long haul, it’s best to use Level 2 and take some time – typically overnight – to replenish your charge and protect your battery.
In my neighbourhood, 92 per cent of households are in buildings of more than five storeys, many with little to no access to home charging. That means there are potentially many EV owners who could charge overnight at this parkade. Installing EV chargers at Green P parkades is part of the City of Toronto’s 2020 plan to accelerate the adoption of EVs.
When I picked up the Ioniq 6, I was impressed by its streamlined, dolphin-inspired lines. As the precocious sedan sibling of the Ioniq 5, it shares the same platform and powertrain. But the Ioniq 6′s aerodynamic design means it can get about 100 kilometres more range.
As I manoeuvred the Ioniq 6 through the unrelenting snarl of Toronto traffic, the blind-spot view monitors came in handy. Every time I flipped on a turn signal, a screen appeared before me, showing the curb level scenario. That’s useful in navigating downtown gridlock where road hazards crop up everywhere.
But when it came time to park and charge, I was shocked to see all the EV chargers at the east entrance of the parkade blocked off by yellow tape. No explanation, no warning. The apps – PlugShare, ChargeHub and Green P itself – showed all eight Level 2 chargers and four Level 3 chargers as “available,” even though they clearly weren’t.
Luckily, I knew there were more chargers available at the parkade’s other entrance. Sure enough, there were 13 Level 2 chargers and four Level 3s available there. I plugged in, paid and walked away.
The next morning, I had to be at the parkade by 7 a.m. to collect the car to ensure I would only have to pay for overnight parking and charging. That’s early for a nocturnal creature like me, but I forced myself out of bed at 6 and was pleased to find the EV charged to 100 per cent.
In total, the cost for parking and charging from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. was $14 ($6 for parking and $8 for charging). Some Green P parking lots have monthly rates for parking, but Phil Safos, the director of business development for the Toronto Parking Authority, said bulk rates are available at parkades only where capacity allows for it.
And why were the chargers at the eastern entrance to the parkade out of commission? According to Safos, the stalls in that area of the parkade are being painted. He added that Green P would “ensure there is clearer signage directing customers to the other operational chargers.” A few days later I returned to find there was clear signage.
When I pointed out that the PlugShare and ChargeHub apps showed the EV chargers at the eastern entrance as available, Safos noted that “PlugShare and ChargeHub are third-party apps, so we currently do not control what chargers they show as available. As our EV charging program develops, however, we intend to explore the possibility of showing the availability status of our chargers on these third-party apps.”
Using the parkade for overnight parking and charging was more convenient and affordable than using far-flung and pricey DC chargers. If I were to park and charge twice a week, it would cost $28. That’s definitely an improvement from the $77 weekly that I coughed up using a Level 3 DC fast charger the last time I had an EV.
Still, when I fuel up my 20-year-old gas-powered Acura, I don’t have to be anywhere by 7 a.m. to do so, and all the pumps are available. While parking and charging at the nearby Green P parkade is indeed an improvement, it’s still not a perfect solution for a wanna-be EV owner like myself.