The recent announcement that electric vehicles (EVs) will be allowed in HOV lanes seemed to provoke a number of negative comments from traditional car drivers. The obvious question is: why should EV drivers get a break?
Things aren’t always as they seem. For example, it’s true that an EV can sit in rush hour traffic without emitting any pollutants, whereas any idling ICE vehicle is getting zero miles to the gallon. For every gallon of gasoline burned, approximately 20lbs of CO2 is released into our atmosphere – gasoline cars would surely benefit from a shorter commute and less idling!
But let’s look at the big picture. It’s known that burning fossil fuels for transportation is an enormous contributor to climate change. The earlier we can transition from gasoline to non-polluting transport the better. It follows that encouraging EV use contributes to the greater good. It’s a very direct relationship – fewer cars burning fossil fuels, the better off we’ll all be. Studies of HOV lane usage have shown that people will go to considerable lengths to be able to use HOV lanes. This can be used to encourage desired behaviour, such as carrying more passengers or driving an EV that doesn’t pollute. In fact, people will actually buy an EV1 to gain access to HOV lanes, which is the primary point when trying to encourage wide adoption of EVs in BC.
The situation in cold or rainy weather adds an additional bit of rationale for EV HOV lane access. I bought my 2014 Smart ED at the end of 2013, when we were seeing a lot of snow in Vancouver. As we know, car windows are kept closed to keep the heat in, and the defroster/heater is used to clear the windows. Cold weather is a challenge for EVs - a cold battery pack has about 15% less range than a warm pack, but this is reduced even further when the defroster is turned on. My new EV has a winter range of 97km without the defroster and 75km with the defroster on. It is 35 km from home to the downtown parking garage, for a round trip of 70km. Adding highway travel or hills, and the range drops even further. The point is, without recharging during the day, the car will not make the round trip with the defroster/heater running, and it’s inappropriate to drive with a foggy windscreen. Moreover, a late arrival to the parkade increases the probability that both EV parking spots will be occupied, meaning the car won’t get charged during the day. This all means the car won’t make it home at the end of the day.
Accessing HOV lanes offers a better chance of arriving downtown early enough to get a charging spot, and less time is spent in traffic with the windows fogging up. Thinking practically, if the EV can’t be relied upon to make it home at the end of the day, it doesn’t make sense to use it.
I didn’t want to leave you with the impression that I’ve stopped using the car in the rain - far from it. We’ve put over 52,000 km in the two years we’ve owned it and we use it more than our ICE car. However, there are times when we employ tactics such as reducing defroster use to extend the range. With the HOV lanes now being available, I’m confident the car will make it home even if it doesn’t get charged during the day. It took over two years of writing monthly letters to my MLA and the Transportation Minister to open the HOV lanes to EVs, so I’m more than happy that it’s finally happened.
Allowing EV access HOV lanes will serve to both encourage EV purchases, as well as make commuting in our raining weather a bit more bearable. I’m glad BC has taken the progressive step of bring in this positive change.
Stuart Evans is a member of both BCSEA and VEVA, joining both to help others transition to Electric Vehicles. His knowledge of EVs stems from a decade working with Delta-Q Technologies, the Vancouver-based global leader in onboard EV battery chargers.