The Fraser Valley’s disappearing gas-powered cars

Between 2016 and 2020, the Fraser Valley welcomed nearly 50,000 new residents but actually lost 2,000 passenger vehicles from its roads.

In the famously car-dependent Fraser Valley, there are fewer cars on the roads. And those that remain are increasingly using green energy.

A Fraser Valley Current analysis of new ICBC figures reveals two big changes in the way people get around in the Fraser Valley. And both are good for the environment. Between 2016 and 2020, the Fraser Valley welcomed nearly 50,000 new residents but actually lost 2,000 passenger vehicles from its roads, according to ICBC statistics on the number of active policies. Over the same time period, the number of electric vehicles increased 10-fold in Chilliwack and Abbotsford.

If the roads seem busier, it’s only because the number of commercial vehicles continues to rise. Those trends echo highway data showing a dramatic increase in the amount of truck traffic in recent years while traffic of commuter and passenger vehicles has barely budged. The decline in passenger vehicles in the Fraser Valley is also fairly unique to the region: across British Columbia and the Lower Mainland, those figures have increased considerably.

Most people do still drive, but transit usage had been rising pre-pandemic, particularly in Chilliwack. And after decades of permitting sprawling developments, a decrease in the amount of available land coupled with new urban planning philosophies have triggered a spate of more-concentrated building in central areas—neighbourhoods that, by design, are less car-dependent than those on a city’s periphery.

The figures suggest another big change is underway. The number of electric-powered vehicles has risen dramatically in the last 4 years, particularly those that are fully electric. In 2016, a fully electric vehicle was a rare sight. There were only 327 insured between Langley and Hope (including 170 in Langley, 80 in Abbotsford and 41 in Chilliwack). Just 4 years later, that number skyrocketed, with 2,935 electric vehicles insured. Chilliwack and Abbotsford saw the largest increase in electric cars.

End of the road graph

Such vehicles still make up a tiny percentage of all vehicles on the roads. And the Fraser Valley is still playing catch up to the rest of the Lower Mainland. But the rapid increase comes as the region’s biggest municipalities have all enacted, or are considering, rules that would require new homes to be built with at least 1 electric-vehicle charging outlet. Installing such outlets during construction is much cheaper than retrofitting buildings, particularly in apartment building parking complexes. Chilliwack, Mission, and Langley Township all have such rules and Abbotsford is considering following suit.

Fuel costs continue to push people towards electric vehicles. At the same time, the appetite for hybrids is cooling. This week, Abbotsford approved a new contract for the supply of 33 new fully-electric pickup trucks and 5 hybrid trucks for work crews. The decision is linked to a key reason more people are turning to electric vehicles: even factoring in a higher purchase price, each fully electric truck is expected to save the city about $22,000 over its lifetime compared to a similar gasoline truck. Hybrids, meanwhile, will cost slightly more than gasoline trucks due to maintenance costs, though they will reduce the city’s emissions as well as the amount of carbon tax it must pay.

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Still, challenges remain. Abbotsford Coun. Patricia Ross, a proponent of the need for more support for electric vehicles, says it can be difficult to find unused charging stations away from home.

“That’s our biggest challenge,” she said. “Electric vehicles have taken off [quicker] than people expected and the charging network hasn’t caught up with all the people on the road.”

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