An interesting article in the herald this morning about Gerry Brownlee who to took a trip to the California to have a look at “alternative transport” options but only appears to have looked at cars
Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee says his scepticism about electric cars has all but disappeared after he took a spin along the Los Angeles coastal freeway in an electric sports car.
Mr Brownlee investigated alternative transport options while on a trip to the United States and also took Google’s driverless car for a 16km trip around San Francisco’s freeways.
In LA he test-drove the Tesla SP85, which is considered one of the world’s most advanced electric cars with a range of nearly 500km and a top speed of more than 210km/h.
The minister, who owns a diesel-powered Hyundai Sante Fe, raved about his zero-emission joyride. “I’ve been somewhat of a sceptic around electric vehicles. I don’t want to say I’m a total convert but I’ve been incredibly impressed by the technology that I’ve seen.
Personally I’m fairly optimistic about the impact electric cars will have, especially in New Zealand where a lot of power is already generated through renewable sources. While we at the blog obviously want to see a lot better public transport options provided to help give people choice – and we expect a lot of people would use PT when that happens – plenty of people will still choose to drive. Removing, or at least significantly reducing emissions will have a positive impact on air quality and the liveability of urban areas. But while electric cars might not produce emissions, they won’t do anything to reduce or ease congestion.
With the vast majority people in urban areas probably travelling less than 50km a day, the battery range is simply not an issue (assuming you remember to charge it). In fact with the range these things have, trips from Auckland trips to typical summer holiday destinations like the Bay of Islands or Coromandel Peninsula would not be a problem so it is only really long distance road trips that would be impacted and those are things most people don’t tend to do all that regularly.
Here is a promo video for the electric car Gerry had a go on.
As for the impact that driver-less cars would have, they could certainly be a way to save a little bit of money on having to hire ministerial limo drivers but I’m not sure about just how much congestion relief they will offer, as we have explained before here and here.
“When you’ve got a car that can perform to the sort of specifications that I saw at the Tesla factory you could just see that we’re not too many years off there being quite a significant percentage of electric vehicles in our fleet.”
He said battery technology and infrastructure was progressing much faster that he would have expected.
He pointed to Tesla’s plan to have battery change stations across the US by 2016.
Mr Brownlee said he did not expect the number of electric cars to rapidly increase on New Zealand roads, but said it was important to make sure regulations encouraged low-emissions vehicles. There are believed to be fewer than 100 here now.
The main policy designed to encourage growth in electric car use was the exemption from road user charges, which was introduced in 2009 and last year extended until 2020. Mr Brownlee said driverless cars were also likely to one day play a role in reducing congestion on motorways.
I think the discussion of electric cars and road taxes really highlights why we need to be starting to discuss if funding transport via fuel taxes are necessarily the best option. This is especially the case as we move towards much more fuel efficient petrol powered cars as well as hybrids while at the same time the government is spending like a drunken sailor on massive motorways. The article finishes with:
The minister road-tested Google’s prototype, which uses a combination of sensors and GPS to get commuters to their destination as efficiently as possible. He described it as “a very advanced form of cruise control”.
Even a small increase in the proportion of driverless cars was expected to cut congestion because all aspects of human error were eliminated. The cars were allowed on some US roads, but had not been developed for commercial production.
Mr Brownlee said he had asked the ministry to have a closer look at how it could best encourage the use of alternative transport as the technology developed.
While I think the move towards more fuel efficient and potentially even driverless cars are a good move, I would hardly call them alternative transport. Instead more of a evolution of what we have today. If he was really interested in alternatives he could have looked at what even “car mad” LA is doing with its transport spending, particularly with Measure R where people voted to increase taxes to pay for primarily a large range of public transport improvements.
On a slightly separate note, one my scariest driving experiences ever occurred in San Francisco a few years ago. I was on a road trip with my wife and some family members and we were driving down the 101 freeway at night somewhere around the airport area (I was driving). The freeway was something like 5 or 6 lanes wide in each direction was relatively empty with only a few cars in the far distance. We were in the middle lane and had cars flanking either side of us and when we came around a corner were faced with an oven sitting in the middle of our lane just a few hundred metres ahead of us. The cars beside us prevented a lane change so was a case of having to apply some rapid deceleration to be able to change lanes behind some other cars. An oven is certainly the last thing you expected to see on a road and would have been an interesting conversation trying to explain an accident with one to a rental/insurance company.