Posts Tagged ‘transport’


Typical: if there is a good idea to be hatched, be it for environmental or social responsibility reasons, you can always bank on Melbourne (and never on Sydney). Lifehacker reports that “Melbourne residents have no excuse not to use public transport over the next couple of days, with fare-free travel on trains, trams and buses on December 24 and 25.”

[Photo by Yarra Trams]


Bobby Johnson, Guardian Technology Blog, 01.12.2008


Like much of the economy, America’s car industry is in turmoil. Ford and General Motors are begging for a $25bn bailout from the US government, and the clouds are hanging heavy over Detroit. Some hope that innovative new companies will rise to fill the space left by these fallen giants – perhaps small companies like Tesla Motors, the electric car outfit run by PayPal alumnus Elon Musk.

Except struggling Tesla is now applying for $400m in low interest loansas part of the bailout – and a few voices are taking exception to that.

Randall Stross led the charge in the New York Times this weekend, by asking whether the public purse should be used to support a company that builds cars that only the rich can afford. Others, including CNET’s Jon Oltsik, followed suit by accusing Tesla’s investors of treating automotive industry in the same way as they treat hi-tech.

I wonder how Tesla’s course has been influenced by at least some of its investors being helplessly smitten by the world’s quietest dragster. Mr. Musk said: “I’m not doing this because I think the world has a shortage of sports cars.” But his customers must be loaded with green in order to go green.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? After all, why should the public fund a company that has only handed out a spattering of $100,000+ sports cars to the super-rich?

It shouldn’t: Stross is right on the fundamentals here. But he’s also missing the larger point. Right now electric vehicles are merely the playthings of billionaires and bleeding hearts, but it’s worth the long-term investment – and here’s why:

First things first – regardless of Tesla’s financial health, they’d be stupidnot to apply for help from the bailout package; there’s money on the table that will otherwise only go to propping up ailing car giants. And Tesla is already the beneficiary of some low-interest help from the government and tax breaks, so this is nothing new.

But beyond the financials, and the underlying issues of class, the real problem isn’t that the US government might give a helping hand to a fancypants companies that makes hi-tech sports cars for rich nobs. It’s that it should be investing in the infrastructure, not the people who want to use it.

New technologies are always adopted by those who can afford them. The more of them who buy stuff, the more the cost of production goes down. Prices fall and more people buy, ad nauseum. That’s basic economics.

Electric cars are massively important if American economy wants to be free of its dependence on oil – a strategic move in energy, economy, security and environmental policy which should be Obama’s moon shot. But right now it isn’t car manufacturers who need supporting – it’s the new systems that might help the best of them to thrive. What’s the point in buying an electric car if there’s nowhere to plug it in?

Barack Obama should be sitting down with the car industry and telling it to them straight: You want a future in America? Then change. The strategy you’ve been following for the past decade hasn’t worked, or else you wouldn’t need a bailout. Instead of funding Ford and GM and anybody else to carry on doing what they do badly, we’ll build a system that lets ordinary people drive electric cars, not just treehuggers and the super-rich.

You make the cars to run on that system, and you’ll be able to sell them because the structure will be in place.

This is the same strategy that led to the explosion of the internet; an independent infrastructure supported by the US government that bred innovation. There were no government loans for Yahoo or Microsoft or Google (or even – even during the darkest days of the dotcom bust – but the world continued anyway, and America forged itself a position at the heart of a new hi-tech industry.

This isn’t just a pipe dream. It’s already happening at a regional level – just look at the recent announcement by the mayors of San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland. Ordinary people don’t need guarantees that Ford will stay in business, but they should know that if they buy electric, there will be places to plug in.

So, forget toys for very rich boys. Forget saving jobs today just so that you can face the same question in another five years. And forget bailing out the car manufacturers.

Give them this one chance to innovate – and if they can’t be bothered, then leave them to die.


Talking about San Francisco’s green transport initiative: California’s progressive policies go far beyond raising taxes, as the following Inhabitat post indicates:

Recently the cities of San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland unveiled a massive concerted effort to become the electric vehicle capitol of the United States! This groundbreaking development heralds a nine-step plan that includes everything from buying fully electric vehicles for all government transportation to expediting the approval of charging outlets throughout the bay area, including those located on the street. The creation of this essential infrastructure marks a huge step towards the acceptance of electric vehicles as a viable alternative to those that run on fossil fuel.


The plan to create the infrastructure required for a fully functioning electric vehicle society was announced just last week by each of the three cities’ mayors. The policies will provide incentives to employers to install EV chargers in their buildings, expedite battery changing facilities, install electrical outlets in all government buildings, promote the purchase of EVs, and improve local regulations and standards. The total cost of the program is expected to amount to around one billion dollars, and California’s government will be teaming up with the electric transportation company Better Place to install the required infrastructure.

Will these features be enough to inspire a massive trend towards electric vehicles? It is hard to tell, but it is difficult not to get excited about the prospect of finally seeing large cities embrace the changes required for a greener future.



The image above is quite amazing for two reasons: the amount of small cars parked in this street in San Francisco and the traffic congestion they seem to symbolise. On the surface it seems contradictory to choose ownership over a small car rather than using pubic transport given that the latter is equated with much higher environmental credentials. The answer to the seeming inconsistency probably is that ecological concerns don’t rank as highly as the desire to have you own car. So it makes sense that, as Inhabitat reports, San Francisco will put its hands into people’s hip pockets as they enter the city – by charging the US’s first road toll. The congestion tax follows examples set by cities like Stockholm, Singapore, Milan and London (although the new Tories Mayor there unsurprisingly is winding back its further rollout); it will be used to further ramp up San Francisco’s increasingly sustainable public transportation options, which include biodiesel buses and electric muni trams and trolleys. It’s the kind of vision that Australian and especially Sydney traffic planners and politicians don’t even dream of.

It had seemed like the Swiss-born psycho-looking three wheeler from Cree had died in 2003 when the company closed its doors but now comes word that the “SAM” project has been adopted by the Polish company Impact Automotive Technologies of Pruszków and may be rolling out of factory doors soon.

Cree’s goal in designing the SAM was “to create an outstanding product in terms of price, driving pleasure, safety, and recyclability, in addition to low investment, production, and operating costs”. This sprightly three-wheeled vehicle packs some great sustainable features into a pint-sized package. The award-winning SAM car seats two in an agile body that is 90% recyclable, has a maximum speed of 85 kilometers per hour, and touts an emission-free 15 kilowatt electric motor that charges lithium-polymer batteries fully in just 6 hours. The car’s highly efficient engine consumes about 5kwh per 100km, and it converts kinetic energy from breaking, rolling to a stop, and driving downhill into electrical energy.

Impact Automotive Technologies claims to have re-engineered the beast, which now sports a brushless AC motor, a data logger and programmable onboard charger. Although no performance numbers have been published, ATI says it has been road tested and has received certification in Italy and the UK. Plans are to begin the first run of 500 vehicles this September with 5000 units being targeted for 2009. A prototype has been freeway approved and is currently undergoing testing in Zurich and Basel in a limited circulation of 80 vehicles, but production will be ramping up later this year with a projected price point of 6,600 Euros.

Interesting how three-wheeled vehicles experience a comeback. I don’t know about other countries, but in post-war Germany they were the rage for a while; some of them were even made from a kind of compressed cardboard – which was not such a smart move when it came to accidents, especially those where the car caught fire.

Sources: Inhabitat, autobloggreen

While Australia is quibbling over carbon trading and seems to be incapable of looking at much more effective options to deal with global warming, other countries and especially those in Europe are being creative. The Spanish government for example aims to have 1 million electric cars on the road by 2014, as part of the plan to cut energy use by 10% over two years. The plan is to save €5 billion (A$ 8.2 billion) annually as oil prices soar and Spain suffers a severe economic slowdown; the project will cost €245 million (A$400 million) and contains 31 measures, including a target to cut driving speeds by 20%. Spain’s government has been trying to reduce the country’s dependence on imported fossil fuels whose cost amounted to €17 billion (A$27.9 billion) over the past 12 months.

Paris too is embracing electric cars after having successfully implemented last year its self-service bicycle scheme. Called variously Vélo’v, Vélib’, V’hello and Vélodi, the scheme has been the talk of France in the last few months – because dozens of other cities are in the process of getting on their bikes. A few pioneering cities very quickly realised the usefulness of the bicycle in an urban context: La Rochelle, as early as 1976, Rennes, Strasbourg and then Lyon in 2005. But last year, the instant success of Vélib’ in Paris has greatly expanded the phenomenon.

When the first self-service Vélib’ bicycles took to the streets of Paris on 15 July last year, no one imagined that this scheme would meet with quite such a success. Eight months after its launch, Vélib’, the Parisian hire system with 10,000 cycles at 750 locations, already has 19 million users delighted to be able to combine their metro, tram or train journeys with the bicycle.

The system is simple: there is a charge for bike hire, but it is small. All you have to do is pick up a bike at one of the bike stands and drop it off at another once you’ve finished your journey. Most users take a bike for a short distance.

Now Parisian mayor Bertrand Delanoë (up for re-election) says if re-elected he is planning to both beef up public transport and next year start a similar self-service electric and/or hybrid-electric car system called autolib. Delanoë, an advocate of carbon-neutral, green transport, was quoted as telling French radio that the scheme “could revolutionise transport” in Paris.

Starting with about 2,000 cars (to be increased to 4000) and 300 free re-charging stations at various points in the city, the system might reduce car congestion and parking issues but be considered competition with Parisian taxi drivers. Car-sharing subscriber programs already exist in the city, and this service, modeled on a eponymous car sharing program in Lyon, is expected to cost around 250 Euros ($388) each month – cheaper than the total cost of car ownership, says the Mayor’s office.

The project’s targeted users include young couples with children who occasionally need a car to shop or travel but who cannot afford to own a vehicle. Bids for the project will be sought in the coming weeks. No choice of car model has been made yet, nor has a price for the car hire been set.

Photo courtesy David Megginson at flickr; content based on Reuters, chinadialogue and treehugger.

The electric Minis are painted silver and have yellow roofs

It’s not really the latest news anymore, but I just stumbled across Automotive News Europe and read an article they published at the beginning of July. I’ve been wondering recently whether any car manufacturers are ready to produce cars other than fossil or (the useless) bio fuel ones. Looks like BMW is: an electric car, the electric Mini, to be on the road in 2009.

Being on the road though is relative – BMW  announced that 490 of the Minis are going to be leased to selected customers in California for a large-scale field test; 10 of the cars will be used as show cars. Still, it’s a start.

“[The trial] will allow the BMW Group to gain an initial knowledge of how mobility can be achieved efficiently using purely electrically powered vehicles. Our task here is to combine the ultimate driving experience with an efficient electrified drive with practically no emissions”, underlined BMW CEO Norbert Reithofer in a statement.

BMW engineers working on the electric Minis are part of a new division called Project i established by the automaker to develop low-emission city cars. The electric Minis will help BMW to meet new California regulations that will require carmakers selling cars in the state to offer zero emission vehicles.

Other carmakers are developing electric cars. Volkswagen, Daimler, PSA/Peugeot-Citroen and Renault have all announced electric-vehicle programs in recent months, joining several U.S. and Japanese automakers that are working on the technology.