Urban delivery primed to go electric in Canadian cities, if supported New research underscores environmental and increasingly economic reasons to electrify last-mile delivery vehicles

April 28, 2021

A delivery truck in Toronto

Photo © Chloë Ellingson

TORONTO — New research from the Pembina Institute measuring the impacts of switching to electric cargo vans from gas-powered delivery vehicles reveals such a switch could result in substantial emissions reductions in Canadian cities, where transportation emissions are often higher than the national average.

A new report, Making the Case for Electric Urban Delivery Fleets in the GTHA, evaluates both the costs and benefits of switching to electric cargo vans, looking at a wide range of driving conditions and scenarios, specifically in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. Across all 13 scenarios explored in the study, EVs were found to be relatively easy to charge, cost-effective, and reduced emissions significantly in comparison to internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles.

Findings include: 

  • All electric cargo van models currently available on the market today, as well as new models under production, are expected to satisfy the daily energy demands of urban delivery companies in the GTHA — even under the most energy-demanding scenarios.
  • EVs are expected to result in considerable fuel cost savings in comparison to internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles over the course of a year, ranging on average from $3,800 to $4,400 per vehicle, even without the added incentive of an increased price on carbon.
  • The switch to electric would result in an annual reduction of 12 tonnes CO2e per vehicle — equivalent to taking 2.6 passenger cars off the road for one year.

A complimentary report, Making the Switch to Electric Urban Delivery Fleets in the GTHA, published in tandem, provides companies with a step-by-step guide to electrify their fleets.

Despite the strong environmental, health and economic case — and growing industry interest — for making the switch, more needs to be done to reduce barriers to electrification. Only one national courier in Canada has announced electric trucks for its fleet, set to launch in Vancouver. Governments at all levels need to enact policies now to incentivize delivery companies, such as a federal zero-emission vehicle sales standard and purchase incentives, and, at the city level, start planning now for curbside management tactics and low-emission zones.


“This past year, we have seen just how essential the delivery of goods is, with the online shopping trend increasing since the start of the pandemic. Without a shift to electric vehicles, these deliveries will contribute harmful pollutants into our cities, with associated health impacts. Happily, we are hearing from courier companies across the country that they are interested in replacing part of their fleets with electric vehicles, and our newest research clearly illustrates the benefits of doing so. ”
Maddy Ewing, transportation analyst, Pembina Institute

“There are actions municipal, provincial and federal governments need to take to incentivize speedier adoption of zero-emission vehicles, especially for the urban delivery sector, which is responding to an increasing demand for the delivery of goods. Companies can’t make the switch to EVs on their own, so as governments invest in the shift to electric vehicles, we must ensure that the freight sector is included in these plans.”
Carolyn Kim, transportation director, Pembina Institute

Quick facts

  • Freight emissions are expected to surpass passenger-transport emissions in Canada by 2030.
  • Urban delivery is on the rise. According to Statistics Canada, between 2016 and 2020, e-commerce sales made by Canadians grew by more than 350 per cent.
  • Canada’s ZEV sector employs about 10,000 workers but with a stronger national policy framework to support the ZEV economy, could grow to 1.1 million by 2040.
  • Recent figures show transportation as a high source of GHG emissions in major Canadian cities: Metro Vancouver (45 per cent); Ottawa (44 per cent); Montreal (40 per cent); Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (34 per cent); Calgary (33 per cent); and Edmonton (31 per cent).

TAF logoVisit the Pembina Institute’s website to download copies of Making the Case for Electric Urban Delivery Fleets in the GTHA and Making the Switch to Electric Urban Delivery Fleets in the GTHA. Research for these publications was supported by The Atmospheric Fund.


Eva Salinas
Senior communications lead, Pembina Institute


Report: Building a zero-emission goods-movement system
Report: Power Play: Canada's role in the electric vehicle transition
Submission: Reducing barriers for the adoption of light-duty zero-emission vehicles

About the Pembina Institute

The Pembina Institute is a non-profit think-tank that advocates for strong, effective policies to support Canada’s clean energy transition. We have offices in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa and Toronto. Learn more: www.pembina.org


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