Family friendly. Planet friendly. And probably most importantly, ear-friendly.
Those are just some of the selling points Vancouver city council is presented with in a motion to bring a Formula E World Championship to Vancouver next summer.
Councillors Sarah Kirby-Yung and Michael Wiebe have brought forth the proposal, which in addition to including a race weekend of the all-electric, open wheel racing series, would feature musical and cultural events, and a conference focusing on climate change and sustainability.
According to the motion, the city has been approached by a private Canadian promoter of the Formula E World Championship, the OSS Group, to stage the race weekend in July of next year in the False Creek area.
“The real driving force for me is around looking at COVID-19’s economic recovery, and the importance of having economic stimulus events, particularly for our hard-hit tourism sector,” said Kirby-Yung. “And it is a net-zero (emission) event, certified by the UN. And it’s not just the race element in terms of demonstrating electrified transportation. And the idea of bringing that level of dialogue into the city with leading experts from the electrification space as we work towards sustainable transportation will have a lot of benefits for the city.”
In terms of economic impact, the OSS Group projects the event would generate about $80 million in economic impact and 3,000 jobs through 195 suppliers, 90 per cent of whom would be local.
“I think it’s a win, win, win,” Kirby-Yung said. “You get a great event, you support your tourism sector, you’re advancing the dialogue around sustainable transportation and you’re doing so with zero investment from taxpayers.”
That last point, the councillor noted, was key in bringing the motion to council: “There is no investment required by the city to host the event, and any city services that are used will be fully covered by the organizer.”
The ABB Formula E series launched in 2014 as a showcase to exhibit sustainable mobility, attracting some of the world’s biggest automakers who saw the all-electric format as an ideal opportunity to do real world research and development on battery management systems. Many of the current generation of road-going EVs from Nissan, Jaguar, Audi and Mercedes-Benz have technology born out of Formula E. The series also makes a point of trying to hold races in urban areas, where electric mobility is most efficient and adaptable. Over its seven seasons, pop-up tracks have been placed on streets in a number of major cities, including Paris, Rome, New York, Hong Kong, Mexico City and Santiago, Chile.
According to the motion, the OSS Group has committed to a number of conditions, probably most importantly to address neighbourhood considerations and impacts through dialogue with False Creek-area residents throughout the race planning process.
The very idea of holding a race car event in any of these densely populated cities seems a non-starter, if only for the noise, a common complaint heard by race organizers the world over, and one of the mitigating factors in the demise of the Molson Indy Vancouver, which was held around False Creek and Science World from 1990 until 2004. Ultimately, a combination of encroaching development and resident disapproval saw that popular weekend event get the red flag.
Formula E cars don’t have exhausts, therefore the sound created during a race is akin to, as I wrote after attending the Montreal ePrix, “12 angry SkyTrains.” In fact, the loudest sound during the race is the music playing through the speakers situated around the track.
Another positive aspect of Formula E is that unlike Formula One, where a general grandstand ticket costs more than $200, admission for a family of four is often below $100. The kid friendly aspect carries over into the racetrack adjacent E Zone, where all manner of e-mobility solutions — from e-bikes to EVs and the technologies that drive them — are showcased in an outdoor setting.
The motion also says there is a commitment to limited road closures for 48 hours during the event. According to the motion, some parking entrances on Quebec Street would be affected with access being provided to City Gate Tower 1 at scheduled times, and provision of other parking options as needed.
There is also a sustainability legacy aspect to the proposal, according to Kirby-Yung.
“We know that one of the biggest impediments to people making the choice to shift to an electric vehicle is the availability of EV charging infrastructure, so part of the legacy program we discussed with the organizers is leaving some much-needed EV charging infrastructure in the community.”
A number of groups have lent their support and endorsement, including B.C. Place (PavCo), Rogers Arena, Science World, Westpark, Tourism Vancouver, the B.C. Restaurant Foodservices Association, B.C. Hotel Association, Greater Vancouver Board of Trade and the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association.
“I think there is a huge latent interest here in an event like this, so I do think we would see a lot of Indy fans show up,” said Kirby-Yung, referencing the strong turnout that the Vancouver Indy enjoyed each year.
“But I also think there will be a lot of people who are really intrigued by the idea of an electric race.”
The motion will be introduced at the April 27 council meeting, and will be heard at the council committee meeting the following day. And if council approves it, Kirby-Yung said staff will be directed to move planning of the event forward.