Monday, March 26, 2018

35 cents on your BGE bill for more electric car chargers?

When it comes to transportation policies, Governor Hogan would like to be a s green as California, as long as it involves cars. So he is in the forefront of promoting electric cars in Maryland by expanding the network of electric charging stations.  Rate payers would foot the $104 million the three major MD utility companies BGE, Delmarva Power and Pepco plan to spend to build and subsidize an additional 24,000 charging stations all across the state. Ee News, a lobbyist publication of the electric industry reported in January:
Charging stations will likely not be like gas stations
An electric-vehicle working group has handed Maryland's top utility regulator a wide-ranging series of proposals it says would guide the state toward the vast infrastructure expansion needed to meet its emissions goals. The letter to the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) contains input from the state's four main utilities on how they could invest in a five-year effort to build more than 24,000 new charging stations covering an estimated 80 percent of the state (website)
But not everybody is jubilant. At the root of the matter lies the question whether electric cars are just a fad for yuppies or millenials or if they are the vehicles of the future and whether they are still just cars that clog up the roads. Samuel Jordan, president of Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition, said
EV sales are taking off: Is a tipping point reached?
“The expanded electric-vehicle network is not the future for a car-less or car-reduced society. Equity is a chief concern. While the proposal makes allotments for underserved areas, most electric vehicle owners are affluent, and electric cars won’t serve poor commuters the way the canceled $2.9 billion Red Line subway would have."
Tony Seba, MIT graduate and self professed researcher of disruption sees this entirely different. In an hour-long talk  he lays out how the shared electric autonomous vehicle (fleet based E-AV) is inevitable and by far the cheapest option. to which Sam Jordan responds in a statement for this article:
"As for the blandishments regarding improved affordability for the EV's, whether autonomous or not, the economy is moving in new ways that defy traditional analysis.  That is, while the EV's may become increasingly affordable for the dwindling middle-class, and current car owning families, they will become less so for the increasing numbers of working poor and "gig" economy workers who will be "at will employees," have low wages, irregular working hours, and no benefits, while paying more comparatively for food, healthcare, housing, transportation, and education.  They won't be buying or sharing cars of any type.  Instead, they will depend even more desperately on public transportation.  Inequity in this society will follow the income gap.  The best long-term approach to equity will be a society-wide re-definition of work, income, taxation, and the role of government."
The chief reasons for Seba's optimism are economic: The autonmous electric vehicle sits at the intersection of battery technology, solar energy becoming common and artificial intelligence, all technologies he sees near or at the tipping point from where they grow exponentially and become rapidly cheaper and universal, simply based on economics. The shared autonmous EV then becomes as inevitable as the digital camera, the smart phone and all the other disruptions caused by technology. In his talk he points to two pictures of Manhattan from 1900 and 1913 where in 13 years horses had been entirely replaced by cars. He also points out how Uber and Lyft which in 2017 transported more passengers than all US taxi companies combined. That happened in only eight years since 2009. He argues that cheaper and better batteries combined with cheaper and better chips and LIDAR technology needed to run an AV, will make a fleet-based ride in an electric driverless car so much cheaper than conventional privately owned cars that privately owned gas powered cars will become entirely obsolete by 2030.
Cost comparison of a gas powered car (ICE) and electric vehicle (EV)
2017 to 2030 prognosis (Tony Seba)
By 2030, within 10 years of regulatory approval of autonomous vehicles (AVs), 95% of U.S. passenger miles traveled will be served by on-demand autonomous electric vehicles owned by fleets, not individuals, in a new business model we call “transportas-a-service” (TaaS). (May 2017 Report)
The real world usually is more complicated than technocrats like to see it. Since Seba's talk, Uber had a deadly crash with an AV in Tempe, letting many doubt how far the AV technology really is.

But technocrats are usually good with data. As proof for the reliability of his prediction that AVs will be generally permitted in the US by 2021 and the prevailing vehicle by 2030 Sabia uses his prediction of 2009, in which he had predicted that in 2017 electric vehicles can have a range of 200 miles for the cost of the average purchase price of a US vehicle. (About 32,000). The GM Bolt (237 miles, $37,500 before tax credits), the VW eGolf (125 miles, $30,500) and the Tesla 3 (310 miles, $44,000 before tax credits) almost meet that prediction, even if the Tesla ran into serious production problems.

Car sharing itself has lost already some of its initial luster, not only because of the macho style of the previous Uber CEO, but because it doesn't have just positive effects on transportation. In cities such as New York or San Francisco the current gas powered driver operated share car is so ubiquitous that, according to estimates, it creates around 12% of all traffic and contributes significantly to congestion. Many also state that the ride sharing companies undercut existing transit. One of those skeptical about EVs is Liz Cornish CEO of Baltimore's bicycling advocacy group Bikemore.
“Are more electric vehicles better than regular cars? Yes. But it’s still more cars. Know what’s better than more cars? Transportation that uses clean energy that is accessible to everyone.” (Liz Cornish)
Regardless whether Seba's full throated predictions will come true, there is no doubt that electric cars are cleaner and already cheaper to operate. Given that automobiles are a major contributor to air pollution and greenhouse gases, that benefit is worth something. There is also no doubt that electric cars and autonomous operation will require a complete rethink of much what represents the current car centric urban landscape of gas stations, parking garages, multi-lane roadways and surface parking lots surrounding so many suburban buildings.
Tony Seba's prediction that transport as a service (car sharing) will be
too cheap to pass up 

If Maryland can be a leader in exploring how electric propulsion and self autonomous operation revolutionizes the metropolitan landscape, then it should be welcome. However, to date the State's AV working groups have been mostly fixated on technology and liability issues and have concerned themselves little or not at all with questions of urban planning, land use and equity.

Finally, whatever the future of electric and autonomous vehicles, large cities will still need transit, clearly Governor Hogan's blind-spot.  Regardless of technology, transit must be part of a truly progressive and future oriented transportation policy, even though transit itself will also be revolutionized by electric propulsion and autonomous operations.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

SUN story about the e-car proposal
E&E announcement of the plan

Related articles on my blogs:
How should developers and cities prepare for the future of transportation?
Electric cars can fly into space but not charge in the city
Will Pods Replace Transit?

A symposium about technology and cities will be held at the UB law school on 3/27/ at 6pm. There I will be a panelist and expand further about these issues

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