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Vancouver powers up with more electric cars for its fleet

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, right, and Shin Fujioka, CEO of Mitsubishi Motor Sales of Canada, look over one of the city’s new Mitsubishi i-MiEVs electric vehicles at City Hall on Wednesday.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

In its push to stay at the forefront of green technology, Vancouver has added 13 new electric cars to its existing fleet of three, and is now boasting it has the greenest municipal fleet in Canada.

Mayor Gregor Robertson said he hopes residents will follow the city's initiative to drive green. But, without the civic infrastructure to support mass adoption of electric vehicles, any immediate effect on Vancouver's carbon footprint may be wishful thinking.

Last year, more than 336,000 vehicles are registered in Vancouver, according to the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia's data, and only 40 are electric as of the end of May, 2012. That 40 included private, commercial and city-owned vehicles, according to Adam Grossman, ICBC's senior media relations adviser.

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"We recognize that the city plays a really important role in leading the way, in setting the example in its operations," said Mr. Robertson, announcing Vancouver's investment into the 13 Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric vehicles. An additional 17 models may be bought next year, he said.

The city paid about $30,000 for each vehicle, said Peter Judd, the city's general manager of engineering services. The Mitsubishi website lists the base retail price at almost $33,000. The provincial government provided a $5,000 grant towards each purchase, said Mr. Judd.

The green cars are expected to reduce the city's greenhouse gas emissions by 29,000 kilograms and save the city more than $20,000 in fuel and maintenance costs each year, said Mr. Robertson, replacing more dated, gas-guzzling models.

Electric cars are part of the solution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, said Ian Bruce, a climate change and clean energy specialist with the David Suzuki Foundation. But, cities need to improve public transportation and plan around people, he said – not cars.

He said he believes Vancouver's initiative will encourage more people to try electric vehicles. "People start to see those vehicles being used," he said, "[and] if you see your neighbour driving one it certainly spurs your curiosity."

The mayor said the city is planning 67 charging stations throughout Vancouver. Electric cars can be recharged at these stations. Depending on the method, recharging the i-MiEV can take between 30 minutes and 22 hours, according to the Mitsubishi website. Currently, Vancouver has six charging stations, Mr. Robertson said.

"These are really important investments to ensure that we have the infrastructure in Vancouver as electric vehicles [become popular]," he said.

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City bylaws that came into effect in late April, 2011, require new buildings with a minimum of three homes to have 20 per cent of parking spots equipped with charging stations and a large enough electrical room to accommodate equipment to provide vehicle charging stations for all its residents in the future.

One potential roadblock may be that electric vehicles cannot travel long distances on a single charge. An i-MiEV can last up to 155 kilometres before requiring a boost, according to the company's website, and battery power decreases over time.

Mr. Robertson said he thinks that is enough for city drivers because distances within Vancouver tend to be short. For drivers making longer highway journeys, he said, hybrids can be a useful alternative.

The new i-MiEV cars joined Canada's largest electric vehicle fleet of more than 60 green gadgets, including scooters, ice resurfacers and bikes. Vancouver also owns 23 light-duty hybrid vehicles and two designated for heavier duties.

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