Environmental groups and local and provincial governments are promoting electric cars as the zero-emission alternative for commuters, but interest has been slow to grow, and only about 1,000 electric cars have been sold in B.C.

"It's still a problem because the initial cost is high. And that prevents the average person from benefiting in this," says Vancouver accountant John Stonier.

Stonier, who is the spokesperson for the Vancouver Electric Vehicle Association, bought a Nissan Leaf in March, 2013 and is happy with the results.

"As far as moving around the city, I never hesitate to go out in my car anymore because it costs me virtually nothing to do that.

"Once people are in these cars, they're not going to go back to an old technology that doesn't work for the planet and doesn't work for their pocketbook", said Stonier.

B.C. rebate program ends

Until it ended on March 31, 2014, the B.C. government's Clean Energy Vehicle program offered up to $5,000 in rebates for purchasing electric cars.

The Vancouver Electric Vehicle Association has written letters to 25 MLAs, calling for its return.

"It's terrible because people are demanding electric cars," says Stonier.

"The people who really could benefit the most are the average citizen who's looking for a $25,000 to $30,000 car and it's hard for them to do. Those are the people that should be driving them".

Charging station

EV charging stations such as this one are multiplying across Metro Vancouver (Michelle Eliot, CBC News )

However, UBC Associate Professor Sumeet Gulati says the Clean Energy Vehicle Program mainly benefited high-income consumers who would have purchased an electric car regardless of the rebate. Instead, those buyers opted for more expensive electric cars.

"When you gave money  $2,000 to someone in B.C.,  we found that about $800 out of that went into buying a more expensive car" , says professor Gulati.

The B.C. Ministry of Transportation calls the program "highly successful in starting the transition to a transportation system that is powered by clean energy."

The ministry says while the financial incentive portion of the Clean Energy Vehicle program program has ended, other aspects continue, such as outreach, education and the deployment of fast-charging stations that are able to power up electric vehicles in 30 minutes.

More charging stations coming

The Pacific Coast Collaborative Action Plan, signed October 2013 by the B.C. government,  is aiming for electric vehicles to make up 10 percent of new vehicles in public and private fleets by 2016. Other agencies, including Canada Post, have already converted their fleets to electric.

John Stonier

Vancouver electric car owner John Stonier says a B.C. government rebate convinced him to buy a Nissan Leaf in March, 2013 (Michelle Eliot, CBC News )

Meanwhile, the infrastructure for charging electric vehicles is expanding. Businesses, residential developments, and municipal governments are installing electric vehicle charging stations. While there still aren't many electric cars in B.C.,  Stonier says the broad infrastructure presents a tourism and marketing opportunity for visitors from outside the province.

"When you put in a charging station in your hotel or bed and breakfast, you put that charging station on a map", says Stonier.

"That map is seen by every electric vehicle owner. It's essentially marketing to a well-heeled demographic that likes to explore".

And in spite of financial incentives ending, Stonier says interest in electric cars continues to grow, and is hampered only by a lack of supply in B.C..

"Supply is the problem. There's waiting lists for every electric car you want to buy today".

Catch Michelle Eliot with On the Move, a column about commuter issues, Tuesday mornings at 6:50 on The Early Edition, CBC Radio One 88.1 FM / 690 AM

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