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Are Electric Vehicles Leaving Mass Transit in the Shadows?

What the EV boom could mean for mass transit and sustainable cities in the U.S.

By Amy Westervelt

Jun 29, 2010

Meanwhile, the infrastructure the US government is investing in revolves around continued reliance on automobiles, but that, too, is still proceeding at a cautious pace.  DOE’s investments in electric vehicles and its charging infrastructure are largely focused on figuring out how charging will work. Will people want to charge vehicles at home, or at public charging stations or some combination of both?

That's why last week, the DOE announced a program that would give thousands of buyers of electric vehicles to qualify for free in-home charging stations, funded by grants $2,000 per household. Consumers get the charging station for free in exchange for sharing their usage data with DOE and its associated labs.

For the time being, the DOE is focusing its research efforts on urban centers. Early adopters of electric vehicles will likely be city dwellers, but at the same time, urban centers are also best suited to public transportation.

Beyond emissions

Truly zero-emissions vehicles would be an improvement within today’s transportation mix, but some transportation experts say it’s still not enough.

“Changing the source of a car’s fuel does not change the fact that the car still contributes to a number of other major environmental and socio-economic problems,” says Diana Lind, of Next American City.

“To name just a few car-related consequences beyond carbon emissions, cars enable sprawl, hour-long commutes, obesity, and social isolation. Car-oriented communities are much less sustainable than walkable communities. These areas take advantage of their sprawling zoning with larger houses and bigger commercial spaces, all of which consume much more energy than compact, dense cities.”

Lind also points out that while EV advocates talk about a future filled with solar-, wind- and geothermal-powered cars, the reality is that right now, and for many years to come, only a very small percentage of the country’s energy comes from renewable sources.

“It is naive to assume that the country’s 400 million cars will be fueled by much other than coal in the short-term, when high carbon emissions are guaranteed to push us past the ecological tipping point,” she says.

Rather than creating new electric car plug-in infrastructure, Lind says federal, state and local governments should concentrate on re-thinking personal mobility altogether.

“What if cities outlawed private cars for leisure purposes? What if money otherwise spent on plug-in infrastructure went toward feasibility studies for car-free downtown centers? Anyone who thinks that level of change is beyond us should remember that we once ripped up public transportation infrastructure and built highways through our downtowns. It is no more outlandish to think that we could reverse those changes today.”


blog comment

Verwenden Sie Wasser in das Auto als Brennstoff. Bist du überrascht? Lassen Sie sich nicht. Es ist keine Science Fiction mehr. Ich reagierte wie auch Sie, als ich davon hörte zum ersten Mal. Aber wenn ich diesen Artikel zu lesen, ich glaubte es. Erfahren Sie es. Es wird Sie auf jeden Fall helfen. <a href="">hybridantrieb</a>

Roads and benefit-cost

We simply would not have modern economies at all without roads and autos. We could have had more efficient land use policy, i.e. LESS zoning; but there is NO urban transport model which would come anywhere near that of roads and autos, for enabling economic growth and income.

People like Michael Lind who blithely talk about "rethinking personal mobility altogether", need to be honest about the consequences of what they are advocating, like Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger are. An economy without the mobility to which we are accustomed, is an economy with the GDP per capita of a third world country. That means half of us will need to grow our own food on our own lots. Taking transit to your job in the bureaucracy will be a fantasy of the past - third world countries don't have a majority of workers in offices at all, all those jobs have to be paid for indirectly by people doing REAL work producing things.

All this is a whole lot of high blood pressure over nothing; like people in the late 1800's thinking their world was going to be buried in horse dung if they didn't forcibly constrain economic growth. People 100 years hence will look back and think the alarmists of the 2000's were that stupid too.

Compare EV To Local Transit, Not HSR

Ms. Westervelt:

You make a false comparison when you compare battery-electric cars to high speed rail. Almost no one is going to take a battery-electric car from San Francisco to Los Angeles. No one is going to take high speed rail to the grocery store.

The question is what is the impact of massive investment on battery-electric cars on local transit -- buses for most Americans. We continue to disinvest in buses (and light rail and trolleys) and, as Ms. Lind points out, thus continue to encourage our sprawling land uses.

Most buses are diesel, with either conventional or hybrid transmissions. Some older cities have trolley buses on grid power and there are some promising experiments on using hydrogen and fuel cells for energy transmission. (See: (Current batteries don't work for heavy duty vehicles.)

High speed rail provides a better way to travel than airplane most of the time. For a family of 4 with the dog, canoe and bicycles, the car may still be the best.

-- Chris Peeples –

EV's or Mass Transit Rail Solutions

A couple quick comments:

EV cars generate local taxes, while mass transit consumes taxes. Local politicians will always want taxes for other programs. That's why the the car companies are re-opening many of their shuttered auto dealerships - they generate taxes from car sales.

GM, Ford and Chrysler took a heck of a beating in December 2008 - BUT NOT ONE of those CEO's or even the UAW asked for billions of dollars to retool their closed factories to make the components needed for Mass Transit. It's interesting that the skills needed to build a car are pretty similar to making a Mass Transit System. Rick Waggoner would still be CEO of GM had he asked for money to retool the factories for Mass Transit, but that would also mean that the UAW would have grown stronger.

The Federal Government is not interested in getting the US off foreign oil even though we spend $400 billion dollars annually securiong the stuff. We'll be sending US troops to Peru and Bolivia to secure the Lithium sources pretty soon. The only way we'll change is to have the US Department of Transportation "order" an National Rail System (like we do for Aircraft Carriers and the Navy) to generate the work needed. It would employ millions of US workers in all 50 states - which we need desparately..

(BTW - if you figure in the cost of military security forces to the cost of a gallon of gas, we're spending about $17/gallon)

We're trading Oil Dependency for Lithium Dependency - we can reduce our risk by going with non-lithium solutions, using lithium for mass transit or switching to Flow Cells (liquid batteries) to power the rails and even stabilize the nations power grid.

I've been to Europe and like the light rails solutions - they work for everyone, and are reasonable priced. They run on electrcity from any source. Best of all - you don't need to buy Mass Transit Insurance to ride them. The US should send in a team to study them in more detail.

Unions need competition - make all states Right to Work, and Union and make Americans compete against one another for those jobs. Once we can prove to ourselves we can compete at home, then we can redirect our efforts to compete abroad and make us number #1 again.

200 million cars running on

200 million cars running on ANYTHING are terrible they cause sprawl and even more roads and parking lots will need to be built..making it cheap to drive is the wrong way to help improve life.

Electric cars sucks HSR makes sence

The Electric cars, you save money on electric cars why? because most people doesn't have an electric cars, we got a gas powered Toyota yarris which get 45 MPG and only cost $12,000 and we have hybrids cars which get 50 MPG which cost $22,000. you can't own a electric cars, you can only lease it for $500 per month, for that same cost, you can lease a Mercedes E-class CDI for that same amount per month. and electric cars doesn't servive in high temperature in Arizona, so High speed train makes sense because they use overhead powerline instead of pluging in with a battery for electric cars, and you can travel way faster than driving, or flying, and electric cars average 50 MPH and only go 200 miles untill you loose juice. High speed train doesn't break down, they average 75 MPH to 200 MPG depend on the weather and track condition. and you can travel on them for $50 each way. I wouldn't pay $500 per month lease on a electric car. beside after 5 years, you turn in the electric car, and they scrap them into pieces. Gas cars when you pay it off, you keep them forever untill it breaks down, or your crash it.

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