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Gas vehicle vs. electric vehicle: Vancouver to Calgary road trip

Image of a Tesla EV attached to a charger
Darryl Gates took his Tesla electric vehicle all the way to Calgary, his first long-distance trip without filling up the gas tank.

Charging stations make cross-country travel possible for skeptics like Darryl Gates

Posted by Blaine Kyllo

Traveling the Trans-Canada Highway, it's some 1,000 kilometres between Vancouver and Calgary. The route crosses the farm land of the Fraser Valley, the jagged Rocky Mountains, and the rolling foothills of western Alberta. Opting for the speedier Coquihalla bypass or the scenery of the Okanagan orchards only adds to the experience.

I've made the drive between the two cities more times than I can count, and every time I've made the trip in a gas-powered vehicle. My most recent expedition was this July with my family in our Honda Pilot. Depending on the size of the tank and the particular efficiency of the car you're driving, you can make the trip only needing to stop once or twice to fill up the tank.

If you're Darryl Gates, you don't need to stop at a gas station at all.

Introducing the electric vehicle

Gates drives a Tesla Model S. It's his first new car.

"I've always really hated cars," Gates told me during an interview earlier this year. "They are dirty and they burn gasoline and they tend to break down and take a lot of maintenance. An internal combustion engine is a horrendously complex hack of a solution to provide propulsion to a vehicle."

For Gates, cars were simply tools for transportation. He'd buy cheap, used cars and drive them until they broke and then he'd buy another cheap, used car.

"And then I saw this car on a trip to Bellevue, Washington," he said, referring to the Model S. He went into the Tesla dealership and spent hours talking about Tesla vehicles. "I couldn't get it out of my head," he said. Six months later, his black Model S was ready for delivery.

How to travel to Calgary

When Gates was asked to be best man at a wedding in Banff, Alberta, his first thought was to simply fly to Calgary, rent a car to go to the wedding, then fly home. He'd done the drive between the west coast and Alberta before, and it wasn't something he'd been interested in repeating.

Then he became the owner of a Model S. "Many people think an electric vehicle limits your ability to go on a road trip," he says, "but in our case it was the reason we took one."

Gates and his family were at the wedding, of course, but they also visited a number of communities in B.C., and took the opportunity to explore dinosaurs in Southern Alberta.

Gas versus electric

On the way to Calgary from Vancouver, Gates stopped to charge his Tesla five times: Hope, Chase, Sicamous, Golden, and Canmore. Total cost: zero dollars.

By comparison, my family stopped to gas up twice, in Merritt and Revelstoke, at a cost of over $125.

It's true that the Gates family had to find ways to occupy themselves when the Tesla was charging, because it can take longer to fill a battery bank with electricity than a tank with gas. At Hope they had a meal and played soccer in the park for a while. A fruit stand in Chase that was equipped with two charging stations provided an opportunity for an ice cream treat. And the Sicamous stop was for the night.

My family stopped, too. For breakfast in Merritt, where we also filled up, and at Revelstoke, where we camped for the night just north of the Revelstoke Dam.

Gates may have stopped a couple of extra times for a couple of extra hours in total, but he saved more than $100 on the trip to Calgary by driving an electric vehicle. It's simply a matter of planning ahead, and making the most of the charging time. On the route back to Vancouver, Gates and his family enjoyed a swim in a community pool while the Model S charged up in Golden. Can you think of a better way to spend a hot summer afternoon?

Planning the road trip route ahead of time; PlugShare helps

Like any road trip, Gates planned his route ahead of time. Using PlugShare made it easy for him to see where there were charging stations. PlugShare shows stations on a map and is even able to let you know which stations are in use.

In some places there are few options. When in Alberta, Gates and his family visited the Tyrell Musem and Dinosaur Provincial Park, and there is only one charging station between the eastern outskirts of Calgary and Medicine Hat, about 300 km away. It's at the Ramada Hotel in Brooks, which is where Gates decided to stay for the night. "We phoned ahead to make sure there really was a charging station," he said on the phone. "They were quite excited to have somebody come use the charger."

More high power stations planned for the Vancouver-Calgary route

Not all charging stations are the same, and in taking an alternate route for the return trip to Vancouver, Gates was surprised to learn that the fastest charger he came across was in Princeton, B.C. It wasn't normally a place he would have stopped, and he was charmed by the small, mountain town. "We got to see stuff we'd never seen before," he said.

High power charging stations would have really cut down on the amount of time Gates and his family had to wait to charge their Tesla. The automobile manufacturer just opened a SuperCharger station in Squamish, at the Garibaldi Village Shopping Centre, and expects to have the entire route to Calgary covered with SuperCharger stations by the end of the year. When that happens, says Gates, it'll be possible to do the drive in one day, because the Tesla charging stations can get the cars to 80 per cent of capacity in about 30 minutes.

Gates said he used to prefer flying when he needed to travel to Calgary. Now that he's done the trip in his Tesla Model S, he's not sure about that anymore.

Blaine Kyllo is a Vancouver-based writer and frequent contributor to bchydro.com.