Thursday, July 24, 2008

Electric car in the wild

Electric car in the wild
Originally uploaded by Pockafwye
First 100% electric car I've seen on the streets (or public parking lots) in the US outside of California. It's a Zenn, and this one was so new it still had it's dealership spec sheet stuck to the window in the back seat. I think if I had one of these I'd leave that up for a while, too, so nosy people like me can see what the car is and does.

At 25 mph (40 km/h) max speed, this car would still be being tailgated and honked at in our neighborhood, where even residential streets are posted at 30 mph (and the locals usually want to go 40 to 45 mph instead). And I'd never be able to use one for my own 30 mile (each way) commute. But it's fun to see new alternatives becoming available for people who have jobs near enough to home to make use of them.

Yeah, bicycles and buses are options for folks who live near their destinations, too. But if you've ever had to stand at a bus stop during a dark Minnesota winter morning, or ride a bike in sub-zero F weather, you'll understand why many folks just can't bring themselves to rely on buses or bikes for their every day needs. In the Twin Cities region of Minnesota it can and often does snow anytime from October through April. Not the coldest place on earth, but not a bike friendly environment for much of the year.

The public transit situation here isn't very good. They're slowly putting in light rail trains (and many are fighting that every step of the way) and the bus routes and schedules I've seen are not designed with rider convenience in mind. Heck, I drove a fellow student home from our community college class all semester long a few years back because the buses stopped running to the college well before the last classes let out. And this wasn't a dinky school in one floor of an office building, but a school with two campuses. Tiny by California Community College standards, but fairly big campuses for Minnesota.

Community college night classes serve a lot of people trying to get an education so they can improve their job prospects. These are often people who need public transit the most. Especially given the relatively high cost of tuition for classes in the community and technical colleges here in Minnesota. If you're already dropping $500 tuition for each class, plus another couple of hundred dollars for books and supplies, a "starving student" may not have much money left in her/his budget for a car and gas/repairs/maintenance. Makes me wonder how many people don't go to classes because they can't afford transportation.

People earning more money pay more taxes and help keep an economy rolling. Call me radical, but I'd think schools of all sorts would be a high transit priority for the region.

Even in San Diego, where owning a car is all but mandatory for the average individual, the transit system is better than it is here. I've heard the Minnesota government claim that not enough people use public transit to make it cost effective. I understand they've even cut down on some of their services to save money. If something is broken, claiming you won't fix it until more people use it just seems pretty demented to me.

When they finally put in a limited electric powered light rail line here - one 12 mile stretch running from downtown Minneapolis through the airport to the Mall of America - the number of riders exceeded their expectations by a huge margin. According to Wikipedia, "In less than two years after opening [in 2006], the line had already reached (and far exceeded) its 2020 ridership goals." And yet the idea of expanding the system to something more broadly useful to the Twin Cities Metro population in general is still controversial (read "expensive").

I just don't understand how improving the efficiency of public transit (and in a greener fashion for that matter) can be so controversial. I guess I can chalk it up to my being a liberal rebel.

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