If you’re an eco-friendly gal, the best way to go shopping is with an electric vehicle like a 2014 Ford Focus EV. So when Black Friday loomed on my horizon, I was very grateful that I had the Focus EV to tackle my rounds.
Inside and out, the Focus EV is as sweet a ride as all its Focus cousins, but with the advantages of an electric vehicle. The cabin is roomy and plush, with push-button ignition, a generous touchscreen and comfy seats. But wait! When you turn on the ignition, there’s nary a sound – complete silence. That is, until you pass a gas station, at which point you’ll hear yourself laughing. And on the dash, multiple readouts show how much battery power you’ve got, how efficiently you’re driving, and so on. The gear shifter is the same as any other Focus. It’s all simple, serene, and stylish.
Enjoying the smooth and quiet ride, my first stop was the Eaton Centre, where I knew the bargains would be fast and furious. As the Sheraton Centre was close by and had a couple of electric vehicle charging stations, I pulled in to the postage-stamp sized lot in front of the lobby. There were about 30 cars on this tiny speck of land, most of them in motion. That included taxis. No wonder the parking valets looked stressed.
But the real shocker came when the fur-hatted valet told me I’d have to pay a $48 flat fee to park and charge my car! That’s a lot of clams for about 20 cents’ worth of electricity. What was I paying for? The prime real estate at the corner of Queen and York Streets? I could have paid $2.50 per half hour at City Hall. But – I needed a charge. So I coughed up.
It should be noted here that only the Hydro utility can demand payment for the actual electricity, which is peanuts. Most organizations that ask to be paid for charging are usually trying to recoup the cost of the installation, which, according to Plug’n’Drive, may be from $5,000 to $10,000.
The guerilla valet squad quickly cleared away a non-electric SUV which was parked in front of the charging station, and I plugged in. It took me three minutes to walk over to the Eaton Centre, which was teeming with bargain-hunters. While in Sephora, trying on a new shade of lipstick, I was approached by a young TV reporter, who mistook me for an actual shopper. Her pitch was that having already spoken to some younger women, she’d like to get my take on Black Friday. When I seemed hesitant, she sweetened the pot – “you’ll be spending lots of money, right?” How she mistook me for a wealthy woman of a certain age, I’ll never know. I leveled with her, confessing that I was a journalist like herself, on assignment. And walked away from the lipstick, but quickly.
Back at the Sheraton, I was let off with a $15 fee, since I’d only been a couple of hours. As I was unplugging, a number of people approached me and peppered me with questions about the EV. How long did it take to charge? How far could it go? Was I nervous driving it?
As I finally drove away, I checked the dash – and there had been absolutely no charge! When I got home, I called the Sheraton, and they were most apologetic. Fortunately, I’d had just enough hydro to get home and plug in.
On Sunday, I headed up to Yorkdale Mall. This mall is notorious for its chaotic and lawless parking lots, where it’s every driver for herself. As I pulled into the underground parking lot, it was easy to spot the Yorkdale Green Zone electric vehicle parking. Signs clearly stated “Electric Vehicle Parking, only while charging.”
Yet – there were four non-electric vehicles squatting in the spaces – a Toyota Camry, a BMW, a Ford SUV, and a Mercedes SUV.
I found a non-charging parking spot for the Focus EV, and darted up the stairs. The mall was lousy with security guards among the shoppers, and I asked one of these Yorkdale staffers what was going on. After all, I had a Ford Focus EV, and should be able to charge my vehicle in an appropriate spot. The guard told me that they would ticket the offenders, but that was all.
Yorkdale is also home to Canada’s only Tesla store, so I dropped in and asked them where their customers charge their vehicles. One of the Tesla product specialists explained that they had five charging stations dedicated to Tesla in the same parking area as the Yorkdale Green Zone. And apparently, they didn’t have problems with non-Tesla vehicles mooching the spots.
I went downstairs and saw the Tesla charging spots, clearly designated “Tesla” in bold letters. Black stanchions marked the area, which may be why there were three Tesla Model S cars and two empty spots – yes, empty. How did they do it?
The next day, I called Yorkdale Mall and left a message with their marketing and public relations people. Unfortunately, I didn’t hear back. This is the same mall that had declared in February 2013 that environmental leadership is a priority, and that all electric vehicle drivers should be able to plug and charge their vehicles at their convenience. Incidentally, Yorkdale charges $2.00/hour for parking at the charging stations.
According to Plug’n’Drive, there are approximately 1,500 connectors at 1,000 stations in Canada. There’s no law regulating the use of chargers, so vehicles can’t be towed. Is the Green Zone at Yorkdale just a greenwashing opportunity?
I hope not.