New Brunswick stalled on electric cars

NEW BRUNSWICK - As other provinces study the safety and environmental implications of low-speed, electric-powered vehicles and move ahead with pilot programs that make them street legal under limited conditions, New Brunswick appears stuck in neutral.

With concerns over sky-high gas prices and greenhouse gas emissions pushing alternative transportation options to the forefront for consumers and governments, Quebec and British Columbia have cleared the way for the use of two Canadian-manufactured low-speed vehicles, Zenn and Nemo, on roads and streets where the speed limits are set below 50 and 40 kilometres per hour, respectively.

OntarioÂ’s transportation minister has vowed to study the use of the vehicles further.

However New Brunswick has not developed a plan to incorporate the vehicles into available transportation options, and is deferring its responsibility to Transport Canada, which has maintained that any decisions regarding the use of federally approved low-speed vehicles belongs to provinces.

“Nothing stops provinces from licensing low-speed vehicles for city streets,” says Transport Canada spokesman Jean Riverin.

The low-speed vehicles must meet only three of the 40 safety standards required by Transport Canada for conventional passenger cars. Zenn and Nemo have passed federal tests for low-speed vehicles — a classification intended for lightweight vehicles that the federal government is in the process of updating.

The low-speed vehicles, which produce virtually no emissions, noise, and cost close to a penny per kilometre to power, were originally designed for use in gated communities, country clubs, university campuses, military bases, and parks.

“A low speed vehicle may look like a car but that does not mean it meets the safety standards for a car, or is a car under the law,” Riverin says.

A spokeswoman for New BrunswickÂ’s Department of Public Safety, Chrystiane Mallaley, says provincial legislation requires all motor vehicles on New Brunswick roads be certified by Transport CanadaÂ’s national safety mark.

“If it doesn’t it’s not permitted for operation on New Brunswick highways,” she says.

“We rely on their direction in terms of what they deem to be a safe vehicle.”

Mallalley says New Brunswick is keeping an eye on how other provinces are dealing with the low-speed vehicles.

“It is certainly something that the department would monitor the status of, the use of these vehicles in other Canadian jurisdictions, and that’s through our department’s involvement in Canadian Council for Motor Vehicle Administrators.”

But Riverin says that while Transport Canada recommends low-speed vehicles be used in lowspeed environments and for short distances, any decision on the use of low-speed vehicles remains the responsibility of provinces, and that includes licensing.

“I want to reiterate that permitting or denying the road use of lowspeed vehicles is not a Transport Canada jurisdiction,” he says.

Riverin says provinces should know that despite the fact that the Zenn and Nemo vehicles have passed crash tests for low speed vehicles, they are still considered “a bit dangerous” by comparison with passenger cars.

He says the “low-speed vehicle” class, which is currently being updated, was created to make lightweight vehicles available that are otherwise unable to compete with safety standards of passenger cars.

Riverin notes that electric-powered passenger cars and trucks must meet the same safety standards as conventional vehicles that are gasoline, diesel, propane or natural gas powered, but he says that is not the case for low-speed vehicles, which must meet only three minimal standards.

“Safety certified electric-powered cars must meet the same standard as conventional vehicles,” he says.

“You might have a fully electric car that went through all the testing.

The low-speed ones did not.”

Catherine Scrimgeour, of Zenn cars, says it is unfair to compare low-speed vehicles with passenger cars because they are built for different speeds.

“You wouldn’t compare the safety features of a motorcycle to a highway passenger car. You wouldn’t compare the safety features of a bus to a highway passenger car,” she says.

“They’re just a different class of vehicle.”

Riverin says Transport Canada is pleased by the news that Zenn plans on introducing an electric-powered passenger car into the market by 2009, and says that vehicle will go through standard testing.

Zenn — which stands for zero emissions, no noise — boasts that its $16,000 cars can travel 50 to 80 kilometres on a single charge and plug into a regular outlet to recharge in as little as four hours.

The Nemo, a small pick-up truck that can carry a half-ton load, can travel up to 115 kilometres, also at a top speed of 40 kilometres an hour.


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