Range Anxiety: Ontario Not Wired for Low-Carbon Travel

“Can we make it?”

It’s a question I’m asking a lot lately. Over the past week, a campaign volunteer Mady, and I have been travelling across Ontario to knock on the doors of Ontario Liberal Party members. There’s no substitute for face-to-face conversations when it comes to listening to people. It will be through hundreds of thousands of doorstep conversations that we rebuild our party and rebuild trust with Ontarians.

Part of rebuilding trust is walking the talk. Given our ambitious climate plan (which has earned our campaign the support of a few Green Party candidates and a member of the IPCC), we are doing our best during the campaign to reduce carbon emissions. I take transit whenever possible, but sadly there are no transit connections between the vast majority of communities in Ontario. So for this trip, we rented an electric vehicle.

Now, in cities — and for short-distance commuters —  electric vehicles (EVs) are a relatively easy transition. Charging stations are readily available in major urban centres, and many EV owners can start each day with a full charge from home. But in northern, rural and remote communities in Ontario? Well, that's a different story.

Yesterday we door knocked our way through many small and rural communities: places like Meaford, Stayner, Tiny, Elmvale, and Coldwater. We visited farmers and people who live in beautiful but hard to access places.   

If you’ve travelled through these parts of Ontario, in January, you’ll know that it’s hilly, chilly, and, after about 5pm, dark (the kind of dark you never really get in a city). Finding rural addresses became a big challenge, and often had us backtracking. It also introduced us, in a very big way, to the real meaning of the phrase ‘range anxiety.’ 

It’s the feeling of seeing your range drop by 8-10km when going up a less than 2km hill. It’s watching the battery power dwindle faster as the day gets colder. It’s sitting in a cool vehicle (Mady literally had her hat and mitts on), for most of the trip so we could save battery by not cranking the heat.  

“Can we make it?” is a question that over time comes to consume you. This is range anxiety.

We made it to our final destination in Gravenhurst last night (with some charging along the way) with 159km of range left. We plugged in overnight, with a regular outlet, to see if that would help. We woke up to 214km range, and by about our 20th door knock this morning, we were once again to a point of being critically low. We went to a slow charging station in Bracebridge and charged briefly before making our way to knock doors in Huntsville, where we could access a faster charger that could get us back to full power in about an hour. We arrived with only 30 kms of range remaining.

Taking climate change seriously means providing real, practical alternatives for the people living all over the province. In too many places in Ontario, people do not have good alternatives for getting around other than driving carbon-producing vehicles. There are no transit connections, and electric vehicle charging infrastructure is not convenient enough for it to be a viable option for rural, remote or long-distance trips. For most people, transportation is both their single largest source of carbon emissions and one of the top monthly family expenses. 

Ontario: we can do so much better!

We cannot, and will not, become a carbon-neutral province unless we make dramatic changes to the mobility options available in Ontario. It has to be easier for people to make green transportation choices. This is why our plan includes expanding transit connections between communities, adding 4,000 EV charging stations across Ontario and expanding networks of safe cycling infrastructure

In the meantime, we will keep driving in the cold and the dark, trying to calm our “can we make it?” anxieties. Because it matters. I want to see a carbon-neutral Ontario, and it won’t happen on its own. It will happen when the Ontario Liberal Party does the hard work of rebuilding trust, demonstrates that it can be less partisan, puts forward smart policy ideas to reduce emissions and make life more affordable, wins the next election and implements those ideas.

So I’ll keep reminding myself that every moment of anxiety, every door knock, and every hour sitting at a charging station is worth it, because it gets us closer to a carbon-neutral Ontario.