Many cities have been looking carefully at introducing electric cars lately. The cars may be private, but they do exert some unique pressures on public infrastructure. Seattle and others have been investing in a set of charging stations with enough voltage to power the cars. Paris set up an electric car sharing system, and London is thinking of following. Today, New York City released a report on how electric cars may be adopted there and how to meet their needs.
|Charging station outside of Portland. Flickr: Todd Mecklem|
The picture of an electric car that you probably have in your mind is that of a small vehicle, a "city car," but there is no intrinsic connection between size and energy source. Electric cars can be as large as combustion engine vehicles, and as technology improves the market will likely push electric models toward size equilibrium with other cars.
According to architect Christopher Alexander:
"The fact that cars are large is, in the end, the most serious aspect of a transportation system based on the use of cars, since it is inherent to the very nature of cars."Size is important because larger cars hurt more when they hit you, fill more roadway and parking capacity, and generally spread things out. It is incorrect to assume that support for electric cars will necessarily lead to smaller or slower vehicles.
But Noah Kazis of Streetsblog gets straight to the most important consideration:
“As a sustainability initiative, the merit of the proposal depends on whether trips in these new electric cars will replace trips powered by internal combustion or trips by foot, bicycle, and transit.”It seems that the easiest way get around the dilemma is to place any incentives for electric cars on the production side rather than the consumption side. The stronger vehicle emissions standards announced by Obama last May will inevitably encourage more electric and hybrid production. Likewise, the $2.4 billion of federal support for EV battery research from the Department of Energy can help producers improve performance and efficiency of their vehicles. On the other hand, consumer incentives such as this year’s $7,500 per vehicle tax credit is a less effective approach. This goes for the myriad of state and local tax credits as well. Producer incentives make cars that would have been built anyway better; consumer incentives may actually lead to a net increase in the total number of cars on the roadways.
The New York study opted to pass on the more expensive subsidies in favor of education and some recognition of early adopters. This makes sense. A change that might to a little bit of good probably deserves some quiet cheerleading.