An e-mazing experience

James Jackson, Dec 5, 2014 – Waterloo Chronicle

Imagine driving nearly 1,500 kilometres, visiting 37 different cities and towns and spending more than 35 hours in your car — all while spending less than $100 on gas.

It’s reality for a Waterloo couple, who recently finished fourth in a national electric car race dubbed The E-Mazing Race and organized by Sun Country Highway, a Canadian-owned company looking to raise awareness and promote the adoption of zero emission transportation.

Waterloo’s Currie Russell and his wife, Becky, finished fourth while behind the wheel of their Chevy Volt, driving 1,497 kms and only spending about $75 on gas.

Racers had from Sept. 29 to Nov. 1 to drive their electric or electric/gas hybrid vehicle to Sun Country Highway charging stations across the country to take a photo beside the station and mark their progress using a mobile application.

The racers also gained bonus points for visiting Petro-Canada gas stations, one of the race sponsors.

“It really felt like the Amazing Race,” said Currie, comparing it to the popular television show where contestants race around the world. He can recall rushing into a public library in King City with just minutes to spare before the 4 p.m. deadline on Nov. 1 and using the wireless connection to log into the competition website and download their photos for the day.

The couple’s last-minute efforts garnered enough points to move them from sixth to fourth in the competition with 1,140 points — but well behind the winners, who drove from Prince Edward Island to British Columbia and had 4,710 points. About 350 racers took part.

Currie and his wife stayed mostly within Southern Ontario for the race and visited a range of communities that included Goderich, Woodstock, Niagara Falls, Guelph, Toronto and Aurora, among others.

“It was quite fun,” said Becky. “We got to visit a lot of towns we probably wouldn’t have seen otherwise.”

For their efforts, the couple won a charging station from Sun Country Highway valued at almost $1,800 and won an identical charging station for their electric vehicle group, the Golden Horseshoe Electric Vehicle Association. Since they already have a charger at home for their Volt, Currie said they might look to donate it locally.

Founded by Kent Rathwell, Sun Country Highway has more than 80 free public access charging stations located at restaurants, hotels, tourist destinations, municipalities and other businesses along the Trans-Canada Highway, making it the longest EV-ready highway in the world.

“The E-mazing Race has a positive message, showing how we can make sustainable choices and encourage people to join the EV movement,” said Rathwell in a release.

The goal of the race, which garnered media attention across the country, was to build “critical mass” for electric vehicles in Canada, said Currie. He said when it comes to electric cars, also known as EVs, it usually boils down to the chicken or the egg scenario.

Businesses and municipalities are reluctant to spend money on electric charging stations or other infrastructure until more people are willing to drive EVs, but people are wary of buying EVs until there are more charging stations and other infrastructure in place in their community.

The couple have owned their Volt, which is a full electric vehicle with a gasoline backup, for about two years. The vehicle is capable of driving about 75 kms on a full charge in the summer, but that drops to about 50 km in the winter.

The struggle is getting consumers to ditch their fossil-fuel burning vehicle and make the switch to EV technology, and statistics show Waterloo Region is slowly making that switch.

Information from the Ministry of Transportation suggests there are about 110 electric vehicle or hybrid plug-in vehicles, like the Chevy Volt, in the region. There are also 15 charging stations — four in Kitchener, six in Waterloo, four in Cambridge and one in Woolwich Township (including private dealerships).

Those numbers are up from about 70 vehicles and 10 charging stations in 2013, which suggests Waterloo Region could be a natural fit for EV adoption.

“In Waterloo Region our demographics align closely with those of typical EV early adopters and geographically, much of our local commuting is within a typical EV’s range,” said Allan Taylor, program development manager with Sustainable Waterloo Region.

In 2013, the non-profit group Pollution Probe released its Electric Mobility Adaptation and Prediction study and found that early adopters are, among other things, enthusiastic about technology.

“Waterloo Region’s heavy tech focus is one reason that we can hope for high EV adoption rates,” said Taylor.
With their Volt, Becky estimates they save about $300 per month on gas compared to their old gas-powered vehicle.
They only spend about $25 every month on gas, and their hydro bill has increased by about a dollar per day to charge their vehicle.

E-Mazing Race Results:
Kilometres travelled: 1,497
Charging stations visited: 46
Towns/ cities visited: 37
Total hours spent driving: 35.5
Total spent on fuel: $75

Electric Vehicles in Waterloo Region:
Electric vehicles (approximately): 110
Charging stations: 15
Waterloo: 6 chargers
Kitchener: 4 chargers
Cambridge: 4 chargers
Woolwich Township: 1 charger

Source: Sustainable Waterloo Region

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