10 actions to ramp up adoption of zero-emission freight vehiclesFreight emissions are expected to surpass passenger vehicles by 2030. Here are 10 ways to build a zero-emission freight sector

Blog - Feb. 18, 2021 - By Carolyn Kim, Cedric Smith

Attention is needed to attract more early adopters of zero-emission medium- and heavy-duty vehicles. Photo: Chloë Ellingson / Pembina Institute 

The move away from the internal combustion engine has kicked into even higher gear with the Biden Administration’s move to electrify the U.S. government’s fleet and General Motors’ announced phase-out of gas and diesel engines by 2035. Governments across North America are well aware of the job creation, climate and health benefits that come from electrifying our transportation sector.

In Canada, for example, a strong zero-emission vehicle economy could provide a projected 1.1 million jobs by 2040. Decarbonizing transportation is also part of the effort to reduce the number of premature deaths caused by fossil fuel pollution. And, considering transportation makes up 25 per cent of Canada’s total emissions, dramatically reducing these emissions is key to meeting Canada’s climate goal of net zero emissions by 2050.

No one level of government or manufacturer can do this alone. But across Canada, different levels of government have different approaches to zero-emission vehicles. As governments consider their economic recovery plans, Pembina Institute has identified the most important actions needed to spur job growth and accelerate widespread deployment of zero-emission vehicles in Canada — specifically for the freight sector, which makes up nearly half of all transportation emissions. With deliveries on the rise, freight emissions are expected to surpass those of passenger vehicles by 2030. 


These 10 actions include sales mandates, restrictions on high-polluting vehicles, and significant investment in vehicle procurement, charging and refuelling infrastructure, and skills training for workers. They are essential to building a clean transportation sector, and speak to every level of government: 

  • Adopt ZEV sales mandates. Co-ordinated ZEV strategies for commercial vehicles — along with associated long-term investment plans — promote uptake of zero-emission vehicles within goods-movement fleets. Sales mandates for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, which require that a certain percentage of vehicles sold must be zero-emission, help to speed the transition to clean freight delivery and should be implemented. 
  • Invest in freight vehicle procurement. Attention is needed now on attracting early adopters, including for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles. If a target was set, for example, to see 25,000 new zero-emission medium- and heavy-duty vehicles on the road in Canada by 2025, a total investment of about $5 billion (from industry and government) would be required for vehicle procurement alone. Up until now, much of the emphasis has been on passenger vehicles. Going forward, federal government incentives for zero-emission vehicles should include the medium- and heavy-duty commercial sector.
  • Increase long-term financial incentives for freight. Increased transparency and certainty on the long-term renewal of government financial incentives means the freight delivery industry will be better able to plan its transition to zero-emission vehicles over time.
  • Give ZEVs preferential treatment. Encourage the transition to low-emission fleets by expanding non-financial mechanisms, such as green licence plate programs, that give preferential treatment to zero-emission vehicles, to commercial vehicles.
  • Put travel restrictions on high-polluting vehicles. Commercial fleet operators would be more likely to move to ZEV fleets if municipalities restricted the travel of high-polluting vehicles, over time, and set targets for emission reductions that align with Canada’s decarbonization goals.
  • Manage the curbside. Municipalities have the authority to implement curbside management tactics. Offering preferential access for commercial ZEVs could incent uptake.
  • Invest in charging infrastructure. The operators of zero-emission fleets need to know their vehicles will be able to recharge at convenient times and locations. Continued investment supports the buildout of depot and private charging infrastructure, with public infrastructure programs designed to maximize applicability to goods-delivery fleets. If Canada set a target of 25,000 new zero-emission medium- and heavy-duty vehicles by 2025, in addition to cross-sector investments in vehicle procurement, an investment of about $350 million in charging and refuelling infrastructure would be required.
  • Expand provincial incentives. At the provincial level, charging infrastructure incentive programs would be more useful if funding were expanded to directly target freight vehicles, with flexibility for private, single-use access, and to ensure coverage of higher-powered stations.
  • Co-ordinate with industry on infrastructure. Buildout of publicly accessible charging and refuelling infrastructure along national highways or provincial or municipal roads should be done in co-ordination with relevant stakeholders in the goods-movement sector to keep their charging needs in mind.
  • Invest in education and training. A lack of readily available information continues to be a major barrier to ZEV deployment. Fleet operators need to be equipped with accessible, easily digestible resources to support effective decision-making, including information on total cost of ownership, vehicle procurement, infrastructure requirements, and GHG emission reductions. In addition, training needs to be provided for drivers and maintenance workers. Investments in labour market programs to support good paying jobs and this new energy system are essential for the successful deployment and maintenance of zero-emission vehicles in commercial fleets, especially as the sector moves to scale up from pilot to mass adoption.

Cover of Building a zero-emission goods-movement systemLearn more about the opportunities to reduce the growing greenhouse gas emissions from freight in Building a zero-emission goods movement system: Opportunities to strengthen Canada’s ZEV freight sector.

Carolyn Kim

Carolyn Kim is Ontario regional director with the Pembina Institute. She is based out of the Toronto office.

Cedric Smith

Cedric Smith is an analyist with the Pembina Institute's transportation and urban solutions (TUS) team, based in Toronto.


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