Vancouver EV Driver Leads Charge for Better Disability Access at Stations

B.C. Hydro on Friday announced it will be retrofitting all of its charging stations over three years so that drivers who use wheelchairs can have better access. Author of the article:Tiffany Crawford
Publishing date:Sep 02, 2022

Fifteen years ago, Yaletown resident Jacques Courteau passed out during a heat wave while riding his motorcycle in New York.

The resulting crash left him paralyzed from the waist down, and while he no longer races motorcycles as a hobby, he has developed a passion for high-performance electric vehicles.

The trouble is that very little thought has gone into EV charging stations when it comes to disability access.

Courteau, 69, charges his Tesla Model 3 Performance at home, but he loves to travel and has done solo trips across North America. He said there is no end to the challenges drivers who use wheelchairs face – everything from the cables being placed too high on EV stations to chargers being set up on slopes.

He keeps fit with tennis and other sports, so he has good upper-body strength, which helps him retrieve the heavy charging cables. But he recognizes this is not the case for every driver who uses a wheelchair.

That is why for the past few years, Courteau has been leading the charge to have changes made now before all cars on the road go electric.

Thanks to his efforts, B.C. Hydro on Friday announced it will be retrofitting all of its charging stations over three years so that drivers who use wheelchairs can have better access.

However, there are issues beyond just the high cables. They are also very heavy, and charging stations usually don’t have a disability parking spot. Sometimes the cars are parked too close together, so he can’t get his wheelchair out of the car.

“Itâs not meant to be accessible. When you use the Tesla superchargers, for instance, even in the U.S., it is very rare that you find one that has an accessible spot wide enough for me to open my door to let myself out. So I have to wait until there are two spots,â he said.

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“Up until now, the only criteria for installing stations was there had to be a source of power.â

He also advocates for a covered spot because often EV drivers who use a wheelchair will wait for their vehicle to finish charging, and it would help to be protected from the sun or rain.

“Iâm very lucky because Iâm much more mobile than a lot of people, so I donât have the same problems. But I wanted to raise awareness,â he said. “My goal here is to bring this awareness out before they build hundreds and thousands of charging stations.â

As for his Tesla, he had no help from the company to convert the vehicle, and instead had to find a way to install hand controls.

When he returned from one of his trips in the U.S. a few years ago before the pandemic hit, Courteau gave a presentation to the Vancouver Electric Vehicle Association, where they were showing off the new fast chargers.

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“I went up to them and said, âListen, I canât use any of these.â Well, their eyes were the size of tunas as they told me they had never considered (disability access).â

That day, Courteau was “pleasantly surprisedâ to be approached by B.C. Hydro to discuss better access at charging stations. Since then, he has also heard from Tesla Canada, which also wants to roll out a better system for drivers with disabilities.

“A lot of people donât realize that a level, flat surface is super important for stability and balance,â he said, adding that many are built on curbs or slopes, making them impossible to use.

On Friday, B.C. Hydro announced it will be retrofitting all its charging stations to be “fully accessible” over the next three years, and will ensure all new sites within its electric vehicle fast-charging network are designed for all drivers to access.

The move will improve access and safety at every location within the provincial network, which includes 116 public chargers at 78 sites throughout B.C., the agency said.

Under the plan, all new fast-charging sites will be designed to be barrier-free. This will include wider parking stalls, paved access, lowered chargers, wider protective bollards, improved lighting, and better signage, according to B.C. Hydro.

B.C. Hydro said it is also encouraging all its hardware vendors to continue improving features on their equipment to make it more accessible by lowering screens and cable management systems.

The agency will also build pull-through sites designed to accommodate larger electric trucks and trailers. Such sites are currently located in Powell River, Lillooet and Fraser Lake.

By the end of 2025, B.C. Hydro plans to expand its public charging network to 325 units at 145 sites.

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