Ask Pat: NEVs and LSVs?

It’s been a while since I did one of these, and there are a few in the queue…

Vickie asks—

Hi Pat, I’ve been looking into NEVs lately to see if they could be a viable alternative to public transit for commuting to Vancouver. I’ve always been a huge fan and advocate of EVs but since I can’t afford a Tesla I’ve been forced to look at other options. I know that New West has a bylaw that allows for them but I’m not sure if it includes streets that have a 50km speed limit. Do you know if it does? What are your thoughts on NEVs and LSVs in general?

Frankly, I know nothing about them! For the benefit of others, NEVs are “Neighborhood Electric Vehicles”, which are essentially electric golf-cart like vehicles designed for general use, and are one category of “Low Speed Vehicles” that bridge the gap between mobility-assist scooters and automobiles. In New Westminster (and in the Motor Vehicle Act ) they are referred to as Neighbourhood Zero Emissions Vehicles (NZEVs).

Indeed, section 702 of our Street Traffic Bylaw makes them legal to operate in the City on any road where the speed limit is 50km/h or less. Perhaps strangely, they are limited to operating at no more than 40km/h by the same bylaw. The NZEV must also be labelled in compliance with the federal Motor Vehicle Safety Act.

The Provincial Motor Vehicle Act gives municipalities the power to permit their use, so don’t ask me if you can drive them over to Burnaby, Coquitlam, or Surrey). They also need to be registered and insured by ICBC, just like any other car.

My thoughts on electric cars in general are fairly ambivalent. They address one of the issues related to automobile reliance (that of converting fossil fuels to airborne carcinogens and greenhouse gasses), but do not assist with all of the other negatives. Electric cars will do nothing to solve our regional congestion problem, or the ongoing road socialism that is putting so much strain in municipal coffers. They similarly do nothing to address the fundamental disconnect between building a sustainable, compact, transit-oriented and highly livable region, but are instead just another tool to facilitate sprawling growth into our ALR and surrounding greenfields.

We are fortunate in BC in that almost all of our electricity comes from sustainable sources, so electric cars do help reduce our greenhouse gas footprint, however we cannot separate the idea that moving 1000kg of metal and plastic around with you everywhere you go is simply inefficient. In places where less than 99% of the electricity is sustainably derived, the implications of a wholesale shift to electrics is daunting. Look at this diagram from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory:

Yes, it is US data, but the narrative is applicable to most of Canada. If you take the 24.8 Quads of energy that is derived from petroleum and goes towards transportation, and shift it up to “electricity generation”, and suggest that we have pretty much tapped as much as we can from hydroelectric power, you will see we are going to need to build a lot of solar fields and windmills to power our transportation needs.

The way I see it, electric cars are a useful stopgap technology that can be useful in addressing some parts of our current climate crisis, but they are far from the panacea for sustainable transportation and communities.

However, my Mom-in-law lives on Saturna Island, where gas is expensive, electricity is cheap, and you never have to drive more than 20 km, but almost always need a truck. If someone built a plug-in hybrid small truck (think a Prius plug-in or Chevy Volt drivetrain under a small 4×4 pick-up), I would convince her to buy one tomorrow.

One comment on “Ask Pat: NEVs and LSVs?

  1. Take a look at electric bikes for an alternative summer option to getting from New West to Vancouver. The Central Valley Greenway is a pleasant ride for most of its route and I’m guessing the electrical assistance will propel you along the route in the same time, or quicker than, the rush hour Skytrain.
    Downsides? I’ve heard from my friends who have owned electric bikes that you might only get 2 or 3 years out of a battery pack – so account for that and make sure you can replace it at a reasonable price. Also, some systems can fail in the rain – so do your research on wet weather reliability before you part with the $.
    Lastly, get the best lock you can, or if possible, persuade your employer to let you take it into the office with you.

Leave a Reply