Stories & Features

Electric vehicle makes sense for Coquitlam family of five

Image of Nissan Leaf
By changing the way they commute, alternating use of their Nissan Leaf electric vehicle, rapid transit and their existing internal combustion sedan, Iain Black and his family were able to significantly cut commuting costs.

Change in commuting plan helps justify purchase of electric car

A lot of the talk around electric vehicles is centred around "making the switch" – trading your gas-powered vehicle for one propelled by an electric motor. As electric vehicles become more popular, families are starting to look at other ways electric vehicle (EV) technology can fit their needs.

When Iain Black started looking at options for adding a third vehicle to support his family's changing schedules, he discovered that an electric vehicle just made sense.

"I spent the time researching the different options and taking a hard look at the numbers and our family's driving habits," says Black, CEO of the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade. "I realized that by making some slight changes to our lifestyle, we could fully offset the monthly cost of a new EV."

Examine your family's needs and habits

Life is hectic for Black's family. With three teenagers participating in extracurricular activities that have the family driving all around the Lower Mainland, they rack up the kilometres on their two vehicles. Combine this with their weekday commutes to work from Westwood Plateau in Coquitlam (to downtown Vancouver for Black, and to Surrey for his wife), they were driving between 2,100 and 2,300 kilometres and spending around $720 on gas each month.

They had a minivan and 4-door sedan already in the garage It wasn't until their elder son got his driver's license that they decided to look at options for adding a third vehicle.

"The flexibility of having an extra vehicle that our son could use to help shuffle his siblings to different activities, and do pick-ups and drops-off from school, really made sense for our family," explains Black. "Public transit is limited up where we are at the top of the mountain, so it can be hard to make the timing work when the kids need to get to games and classes at certain times."

Research, budgets and number crunching

Like any big purchase, it's important to have a budget in mind and take the time to research different options when looking to purchase an EV.

"I spent time crunching the numbers of how much we were spending each month on gas and comparing it to the price of the different EVs available," says Black. "I started to look at how we could make changes to our weekday commutes to bring our costs down and make adding a third vehicle work within our budget."

Black calculated a way that a change in commuting plans would save about enough to cover the monthly car payment for a Nissan Leaf:

  • He would drive the family's gas-powered sedan to the local transit station, then take the train at least two to three days a week downtown. On the other days, he'd drive the Leaf to work.
  • His wife would drive the Leaf to work in Surrey several days a week, and then drive the sedan the other days.

Under current BC Hydro rates, a Nissan Leaf can go 100 km for around $3 in electricity cost when charged at home. That compares to the $15.50 to $18 it would cost Black to drive his gas-powered sedan or minivan 100 km.

EV drivers also have the option to charge up at a Level 2 public charging station at no cost. According to the Canadian Automobile Association, EV operating costs are also lower – about three to five times – than that of gas or diesel vehicles.

Use BCAA's Electric Vehicle Cost Calculator to estimate your costs for charging an EV at your home. And see our Electric vehicles in B.C. section about the overall costs of owning an electric vehicle.

How far will it go?

When looking to purchase an EV, there are other things to consider beyond just the costs – such as the range the vehicle will travel and where you'll charge it. In ideal weather conditions, the Nissan Leaf will travel 172 km on a single charge, which is like driving from Vancouver to Hope.

With more than 1,000 public charging stations in the province, EV drivers should be able find a place to plug in with a little pre-trip planning. For Black, there are three EV charging stations in the parkade at his workplace where he can plug in upon arrival. He's also installed a 240 V charging station (also known as a Level 2 station) in his garage at home. It takes roughly a third to one-sixth the time to charge with Level 2 than with standard household (Level 1) voltage.

The time it takes an EV to charge is another consideration, particularly as you plan longer trips. Most drivers will charge their vehicles while they sleep or while they're at work. If you're looking to take an EV on a longer road trip or head out of the city, you may need to spend time waiting for it to charge at a public charging station before getting back on the road. But if you're willing to pay a premium (35 cents per kWh) you can use a DC fast charger to "fill" your battery in about 30 minutes.

Electric vehicles are most efficient in the warmer areas of B.C. For the most part, cold temperatures aren't much of an issue for Lower Mainland or Vancouver Island drivers, but for those living further north or in other parts of Canada, you need to fact in that your vehicle's range will be compromised somewhat during the winter months. In the end, you'll still get where you want to go, it will just be less efficient and take more charge to do so.

Learn more about geography and EVs

The perk of HOV-lane access

There are other perks of driving an electric vehicle, besides not having to spend a dime at gas pump. In B.C., EV drivers can  apply for a decal for their vehicle that allows them to drive in all HOV lanes in the province, even if there's only one person in a car. This can be a big perk during those rush hour commutes, and can significantly cut down on driving time.

Learn more about electric vehicles in B.C.