From a provincially funded two-year pilot with 30 driving schools in Quebec, to instructors in Nova Scotia, B.C. and Ontario — across the country students are learning to drive in electric cars
The e-roule electric vehicle driving school program in Quebec hit a major milestone last month: over 500,000 electric kilometres have been driven by students across 30 driving schools in the province.
E-roule is a two-year pilot project funded by the Quebec government and organized by the Quebec Road Safety Education Foundation to test the viability of 100-per-cent electric-vehicle driving schools. It’s the latest in a string of examples of driving schools and instructors in Canada embracing a zero-emission fleets.
Under the province’s Climate Change Action Plan, Quebec’s Ministry of Transport has allocated $4.5 million to fund e-roule. Launched in fall 2020, the pilot has already seen 30 driving schools approved for funding to teach student drivers in electric vehicles in phase one. Now, in phase two, an additional 70 schools have been approved to receive benefits. So far, 10 schools in the pilot are fully electric, but all will have at least one EV in their teaching fleet. It’s expected by the end of 2021, a minimum of 150 EVs will be in service across 100 driving schools in the province.
“It’s a project that’s unique in the world. There is no place where a government has put together such a large project to transition driving schools,” says Stéphane Pascalon, senior consultant at the Foundation of Quebec Road Safety Education in an interview with Electric Autonomy Canada.
Since last fall’s launch, e-roule estimates it has saved 102 tonnes of CO2 emissions over 23,000 driving hours. However, the real payoff isn’t the immediate GHG savings, but the fact that the school is giving new drivers the experience of learning in the kind of vehicles that are on their way to becoming the most common new cars on the road.
“All the students that take their driving lessons now will drive an electric car in their lifetime,” says Pascalon.
Individual instructors also stepping up
While e-roule may be the biggest Canadian effort in teaching young drivers to be EV-savvy, others across the country have been working individually to achieve the same goal.
Young Drivers of Canada is Canada’s largest driving network. While there isn’t an organization-wide program at the same scale as e-roule, some instructors are taking the initiative by purchasing their own EVs to teach in.
One of these instructors is Nova Scotia-based Colin Robar who, in 2019, swapped out his combustion vehicle for a lime green Chevy Bolt.
“We, driving instructors, should be starting this adoption. We’re the ones doing inefficient driving, and we’re on the road all the time,” Robar said in an interview with SaltWire Network. “As a society, we’re not at the point yet where people are going to be giving up their cars, so I would much rather do my part by teaching young people to drive efficiently, safely, and electric cars, really, are our next step.”
Glen Foy, founder of IXL Driver Training Ltd., in Nelson, B.C. agrees. He has been offering his students lessons in an electric vehicle since 2018 after he purchased a BMW i3 for his school.
Foy believes he was one of the first driving instructors in Canada to teach in an EV. It was a choice, he said, that was initially fuelled by a desire to do his part for the environment given his emission-heavy job. When you’re spending the workday in an internal combustion engine vehicle teaching student drivers, the emissions add up.
“A lot of my time is spent idling, teaching parking skills and that’s a lot of unrequired pollution,” said Foy in an interview with CBC in 2018.
Meanwhile, in Maple, Ont., an hour north of Toronto, Jeff Pope, founder of A Formula 1 Driving School, can be found these days behind the wheel of his used electric Chevy Bolt. “I’ve been waiting for this opportunity for decades,” wrote Pope in a 2020 blog post on the driving school’s website about the vehicle. “[W]e have committed to teaching you and our children in a fully sustainable battery electric vehicle.”
In addition to believing the way forward is electric and that, sooner or later, all members of the driving public will have to familiarize themselves with an EV, the math behind Pope’s switch to electric was a no-brainer for his business.
“My driving school now saves $150 [per] week not needing gas, hydro costs only $7 [per] week,” writes Pope in the post. “I only charge it every 2 days.”
Driving schools of the future
The transition towards driving schools teaching in exclusively electric vehicles — or, at least, incorporating them into their fleets — is significant for multiple reasons. Not only does it signal that the stakeholders teaching the next generation of drivers agree the future of transportation is electric, but also that the switch from driving vehicles with combustion engines to electric is not an “apples to apples” comparison.
Pascalon says there are some key differences that all drivers, but especially young drivers, need to be familiarized with. These include a heightened awareness that non-drivers may not be aware the car is nearby and to take appropriate safety precautions, mastering the art of regenerative braking and familiarizing with charging best practices to ease range anxiety.
So far the response to Quebec’s driving schools of the future has been a nearly unanimous thumbs-up from the students.
“The feedback we have is very positive. Some schools say it’s a fight to see who gets the electric car,” says Pascalon. “And a few driving schools told us they got new clients because of their electric cars.”
Pascalon indicates the e-roule pilot will provide valuable data for other provinces, organizations and driving schools looking to learn how to transition. The results after two years — from showing funding strategies to rolling out implementation and seeing the real world effect of how many student drivers graduate and go on themselves to become adult EV drivers — offers a helpful and hopeful glimpse into an inevitable zero-emission future.
“We have to transition,” says Pascalon. “According to us and the schools that are participating in the e-roule program: the sooner the better.”