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Transportation Nation

As Virginia Debates Transportation Funding Plan, EVs Put Gas Tax Under Microscope

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Chevy Volt at the 2012 NY International Auto Show (photo by Kate Hinds)

As both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly prepare to work to find common ground after passing different versions of Governor Bob McDonnell’s major transportation funding plan, critics say the governor’s proposal to eliminate the state gas tax and replace it with a higher sales tax would not provide enough revenue to satisfy the state’s transportation needs.

On Monday the House gave preliminary approval to a measure that keeps most of McDonnell’s proposals intact, including eliminating the state’s 17.5 cents-per-gallon gasoline tax.  In the Senate, a key Republican lawmaker is proposing a different solution: a 5.5 percent sales tax on the wholesale price of gasoline tied to inflation.

The bill approved by the House killed the governor’s plan to impose a $100 registration fee on alternative fuel vehicles.  The proposals are scheduled for a final vote today.

The McDonnell administration argues higher fuel efficiencies continue to eat into gas tax revenues so the tax should be replaced, especially as the adoption of hybrid and electric cars is expected to reduce gas consumption.

The latest hybrid and electric models are currently on display at the Washington Auto Show, where proponents say they have become much more practical for everyday use since the first generation models.

Mahi Reddy, the founder of SemaConnect, a manufacturer of electric vehicle charging stations based in Bowie, Maryland, says EVs are indeed becoming more popular, although they only represent less than one percent of all vehicles on the road today.

“Previous generations of electric cars struggled because they used lead-acid batteries. They used nickel-metal hydride batteries,” Reddy said. “The new generation all use lithium batteries, the same lithium technology that is in your cell phone. So that means these batteries are much lighter, they have much more range, and these cars are much better engineered so they are practical cars you can use to commute to the office.”

In his view, the biggest obstacle facing EVs is the lack of charging stations.

A report by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments found our region has strong potential for EV growth, but an "underdeveloped charging network" is one of several problems.

But while the governor views improving fuel efficiency as a reason to dump the gas tax altogether, the Council of Governments executive director Chuck Bean takes the opposite position.

“In terms of transportation funding all of the options need to be on the table; gas tax, sales tax. We are really in a crisis of transportation funding and need to be very creative,” Bean said. “I would hesitate to reverse or eliminate any taxes because there is simply a great need for more funding.”

The potential of these vehicles does raise another potential challenge to funding transportation: as the U.S. vehicle fleet is comprised of more EVs and regular vehicle fuel standards improve, the gas tax will lose even more of its purchasing power. That would leave states looking for other revenue streams like higher tolls, more borrowing, higher vehicle fees, or higher sales or property taxes to pay for roads and rails.

The smart growth community says there is no way for Virginia to build its way out of its infamous traffic congestion and taht the solution lies in changing land use policies and urban planning strategies to maximize the potential for transit, walking, and bicycling.

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Transportation Nation

Electric Car Advocates Hope for a Quiet Revolution on Central Florida Streets

Monday, October 01, 2012

Electric cars lined up near Lake Eola, downtown Orlando (Photo by Matthew Peddie)

Electric vehicle charging stations are springing up all over Florida -- and a lot of them are concentrated around Orlando, which has more than 150 stations within a 70-mile radius. But uptake in central Florida has been ... slow.

The Orlando Utilities Commission, which has installed 78 charging stations around the city, estimates there are about 700 electric vehicles currently on the road in Orlando. That's a tiny percentage of the 915,960 cars and pickup trucks registered in Orange County, which encompasses most of the Orlando metropolitan area.

But alternative fuel advocates are hopeful the vehicles will eventually catch on in the Sunshine State. Florida's electric vehicle infrastructure is growing quickly, and the U.S. Department of Energy lists 319 public charging stations across the state, provided with funding from federal stimulus money.

Map of EV charging stations (Image: US Department of Energy)

Orlando resident Mark Thomasen has been an advocate for electric vehicles in the city since 2008.  He worked for a company that installed many of the charging stations and now writes an EV blog. He says it's been a challenge to build up acceptance of electric vehicles in the area. "There's not as much of a green movement in central Florida, and in Florida versus say Washington, or Oregon or Colorado."

Motorists might also balk at the upfront price.  Chevrolet's plug-in electric-gasoline hybrid Volt sedan has a list price of $39,145, while Nissan's all-electric Leaf, has a base price of $35,000.  Even with the $7,500 federal tax rebate, the cars are comparatively expensive.

But Thomasen is confident EVs will catch on in Florida. He says they don't face some of  the challenges of hydrogen, such as how to generate and store the gas, as well as the need to dvelop a high capacity, durable and inexpensive fuel cell. And he says even if drivers aren't worried about the environmental cost of gasoline, EVs should appeal to people who don't want to rely on foreign oil.

Mark Thomasen (photo by Matthew Peddie)

"Over here, what matters to people is energy independence," he says. "People don't realize how much fuel we use and how little we have within our border. So by moving to an electric car and getting off of that, we go to a different fuel source."

And Thomasen says electric vehicles at least have the infrastructure to support them, unlike hydrogen fuel cars.

Seven years ago there was a big push to build a hydrogen fuel infrastructure in California and in Florida. In 2005,  Florida Governor Jeb Bush broke ground on the state's first hydrogen fueling station in Orlando.  “Florida is spurring investment in the development and use of pollution-free hydrogen technology,” said Gov. Bush.  The new station was to be part of a "hydrogen hub" in central Florida, and the first of a series of stations fueling a fleet of clean energy vehicles.

Gov. Bush breaks ground on Florida's 'Hydrogen Highway' (photo courtesty of State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory)

After Jeb Bush left office, Florida's new governor Charlie Crist grabbed the renewable fuel baton. He cut the ribbon on the station in May 2007, and touted it as a way to wean the nation off foreign oil. A fleet of minibuses operated by the Orange County convention center was adapted to run on hydrogen supplied by the station. Progress Energy, one of the partners in the project, opened a second refueling station near Oviedo as part of a nationwide demonstration project on fuel cell vehicles, led by the US Department of Energy. Eventually though, Florida's hydrogen highway evaporated. After two years and 3,200 fill-ups, the two hydrogen refueling stations shut down and the pilot program finished.

California's hydrogen efforts met similar results: the state now has a handful of  hydrogen fueling stations, but nowhere near the number former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger envisioned back in 2004.

James Fenton, who directs the Florida Solar Energy Center, a research facility at the University of Central Florida, says hydrogen still has a place in the future of alternative fuels in Florida. But he says it's more likely to be used in fuel cells in electric vehicles rather than powering internal combustion engines. "Eventually we'll get to the point when all the battery-powered electric cars will have fuel cell range extenders," says Fenton. "You'll have electric cars with batteries for short trips because the electron out of the wall is dirt cheap, then you'll electrolyze water somewhere else, fill your car with hydrogen and extend the range."

And while electric vehicles aren't yet a common sight on central Florida roads, Fenton says he's upbeat about their future because mile for mile, electricity out of the wall is cheaper than gasoline. But he says there are still some obstacles to hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

"We don't have a hydrogen infrastructure," says Fenton. "That's the kicker."

Electric Charging Station, Orlando City Hall (photo by Matthew Peddie)

 

 

 

 

 

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Transportation Nation

New York State to Add Hundreds of EV Charging Stations

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Chevy Volt (Photo: GM)

New York will more than double its electric vehicle charging capacity, installing 325  new stations across the state in high-traffic locations like supermarket parking lots, hotels, train and bus stations, apartment buildings, hospitals, and parking garages. The state has awarded $4.4 million to ten companies and municipalities to install the stations.

Currently the state has approximately 200 EV sites in that offer 400 electrified parking spaces.

In a press release, NY Governor Andrew Cuomo said the effort would encourage New Yorkers to make the switch from gas-powered cars -- and provide an economic boost to the state.

Preliminary locations in New York City include an MTA facility in Battery Park, the Port Authority Bus Terminal, and dozens of parking garages citywide. Each station will have approximately two to six chargers.

The press release also noted that "transportation makes up about three-fourths of the state’s oil consumption, and nearly 40 percent of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions."

According to the administration, the charging stations must be installed by April 2013 -- although many will be in place by the end of this year.

The list of projects can be found below.

Access Technology Integration Inc. – Plans to install charging stations with innovative reservation and payment systems at seven locations around the Albany area, including St. Peter’s Hospital, Albany-Rensselaer Train Station, Times Union Center, universities, supermarkets, and other locations. NYSERDA funding: $244,000.

Beam Charging LLC – Company will install a total of 28 charging stations, each one in a separate public parking garage around Manhattan, for the purpose of gathering data to determine how well such charging stations are used. $400,000.

Car Charging Group Inc. – Plans to install charging stations at up to 15 high-traffic locations in New York City, directed toward apartment dwellers who do not have parking at home. Sites would go in parking garages that are used primarily for monthly parking. NYSERDA funding: $200,000.

City of Rochester – Plans to install 24 charging stations at seven highly-visible and busy locations around the city, including municipal parking garages, City Hall, the Port of Rochester and the Rochester Public Market. NYSERDA funding: $228,000.

Coulomb Technologies Inc. – Partnering with National Grid, Coulomb will deploy 81 dual charging stations with Coulomb’s ChargePoint software. The technology will demonstrate a web-based demand response program, a new low-cost installation method and a customized reservation system. NYSERDA funding: $1 million.

EV Connect Inc. – Plans to install EV charging stations at five Marriott hotels around New York State that make use of a unique reservation and payment system. Project would make it possible for overnight visitors to charge their vehicles while staying at a hotel. NYSERDA funding: $250,000.

Golub Corp. (Price Chopper Supermarkets) - Plans to install 12 charging stations at four locations, each equipped with a weather canopy and lighting to make them visible. This is the first phase of an intended statewide rollout. NYSERDA funding: $325,000.

New York Port Authority – Plans to install seven experimental charging stations for fleet vehicles and public use that practice demand-response (aligning charging times with times of low power demands, reducing charging cost and impact during peak demand to the grid). NYSERDA funding: $720,000.

New York Power Authority – Plans to install 124 charging stations at train and bus stations, airports and municipal parking lots. Three sites would be powered in part through on-site solar power. NYSERDA funding: $989,000.

Plugin Stations Online – Plans to install charging stations at three apartment complexes in Albany, Rochester and Buffalo, as well as one at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy. NYSERDA funding: $64,000.

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Transportation Nation

Europe Slow to Warm Up to Electric Cars

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

A charging station in Berlin (photo by Kate Hinds)

Europe is home to expensive gas, a growing wind farm industry and aggressive carbon reduction goals.  But so far, when it comes to electric cars, il n'y a pas d'amour -- pas encore.

Transportation ministers and industry leaders, speaking last week at the International Transport Forum in Leipzig, Germany, said government subsidies and ever-increasing numbers of charging stations aren't yet enticement enough to convince European consumers.

Case in point: Sergio Monteiro, Portugal's Secretary of State for Public Works, Transport and Communications, said his country is laying the groundwork for EVs -- but so far his fellow citizens aren't buying.

"We have more than 1,300 charging points," he said, adding that Portugal is also financially incentivizing the purchase of EVs. "The average cost (of an electric car) is around 35,000 euros in Portugal, and we have a reduction of five thousand euros subsidized by the state."

But, said Monteiro, "we only managed to sell 200 vehicles last year." And 60 of those went to government administrators.

Monteiro dusted off a phrase uttered by the Irish transport minister earlier that day.  "It was like the field of dreams," he said. "You have the infrastructure, then services would come. That was not the case." He added that it was "living proof that infrastructure can only do so much -- you need to break a number of barriers." And chief among them is cost. Even with a 5,000 euro reduction, Monteiro said, EVs are too expensive for the average Portuguese citizen navigating austerity measures.

The wait for lower prices may be a decade away. Nissan vice president Mitsuhiko Yamashita said it usually takes ten years to reduce the price of new technologies by half. He used airbags as an example, saying it now cost automakers as much to put six airbags in a vehicle today as it did to include two a decade ago. "We can do the same thing for the EV, but...it takes maybe five to ten years, ten years on average. But during that time frame, I'd like to expect some type of support from the government."

While some European countries offer subsidies to purchase EVs, not all do.

Another issue hampering EV adoption is standardization. Europe is home to multiple electrical grids, and different EVs have different plugs. Pat O'Doherty, the CEO of Ireland's Electricity Supply Board, said "I should be able to drive my electric vehicle from Dublin in the future, down through Britain and charge it, down through France and into the South of Spain." He added that even the technology governing payment systems at public charging stations differs from place to place.

Yamashita later said ruefully "that's my headache at this moment."

Nissan launched the all-electric Leaf at the end of 2010, but so far sales have been underwhelming. Yamashita tried to put a good face on it. "We already sold more than 27,000 vehicles worldwide as of the beginning of April," he said. "Thirteen thousand in Japan, 11,000 in the U.S...We just started sales in Europe but we've sold 3,000."

Those are stark numbers, and it doesn't look much better when you read reports that Nissan wants to sell 20,000 to 25,000 of them in Europe in 2012. The company is trying to boost sales by moving production to the U.K., which will lower costs, and also redesign it in order to appeal to European tastes.

One bright spot for the Leaf, though, can be found in Norway, where 1,000 of them were sold in six months.

But on a large scale, "it will only work if the customer benefits financially," said O'Doherty. He said the Nissan Leaf had been selling better in Ireland since Nissan had knocked 5,000 euros off the price.

Watch a video of the conversation at the ITF summit below.

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Transportation Nation

Houston Expands Electric Vehicle Fleet; Adds Public Charging Stations

Friday, September 09, 2011

Houston mayor Annise Parker (photo courtesy of KUHF)

The City of Houston and its partners have launched a comprehensive, city-wide electric vehicle program -- which not only adds EVs to the city fleet, but will install 50 public charging stations around the city.

It's called Houston Drives Electric, a city program that implements clean and economic driving alternatives.  The HEB Buffalo Market in southwest Houston is now home to the Freedom Station, the city's first public electric vehicle charging station.

Arun Banskota is the head of NRG Electric Vehicle Services, one of the partners in this effort. He said each Freedom Station offers room for two cars to charge simultaneously. "What is very important is the one on the left is only one of two DC chargers, rapid chargers in the nation today," he said. "You plug in your car, walk inside HEB for 15 minutes, you get a 50 mile boost of range. It's a very rapid charger."

Mayor Annise Parker --who spent 20 years in the oil and  gas industry -- was on hand. "The City of Houston recently purchased two Nissan Leafs, which are displayed here today," she said. "These are the first all-electric municipal fleet vehicles in Texas. Another 23 electric vehicles will be added to the city's fleet by the year end, joining the 15 plug-in hybrids we already have in our fleet." Houston is expanding its fleet of electric city vehicles, buying 30 cars with the help of the federal government.

A Houston EV (photo courtesy of KUHF)

Luke Metzger is the director of Environment Texas, a citizen-based environmental advocacy organization that works to shift to clean energy. "Houston's worldwide known for being the oil capital of the world, so to make a big commitment to electric vehicles is very impressive," he said. "Not just through words, but through financial investments. Buying electric cars for the city fleet, installing the charging stations, and bringing the utilities to the table and making this a major priority for the city I think is really impressive."

All told Houston, working with its partner ECOtality, will install 28 additional public charging stations at city libraries and parks. Another partner, GRIDbot, will handle the installation of an additional 28 municipal charging stations in the parking garage underneath Tranquility Park, for the  fleet of city vehicles.

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Transportation Nation

Should EV Owners Pay a Gas Tax Anyway?

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) Washington State is looking to levy a special tax on eco-conscious car owners. Road maintenance is typically funded by a gas tax, both federal and local. So the prospect of a growing number of electric cars that wouldn't use gas at all is putting a little worry in the Washington state legislature.

The proposed tax would be $100 a year per electric car. According to The Seattle Times, Mary Margaret Haugen, the lead sponsor of the plan, said, "Electric cars will be driving on the highways right along with all the other cars. One of our biggest issues is preservation and maintenance of our existing highways. We believe they should be paying their fair share."

At an average of $12,000 miles per year and average fuel efficiency, The Times calculates that the average gas-consuming driver pays about $200 a year in gas tax.

Is this just fairness in public finance? Or disincentive for purchasing cleaner cars?

(Via Inhabitat.)

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First Chevy Volt Rental Happened Today in NYC

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) A tiny milestone in the march towards an electric car market just crossed the Transportation Nation news desk. The very first rental of a Chevy Volt occured today, according to Hertz.

A company spokesperson tells TN, "Hertz rented the first Volt in its fleet from its East 64th Street location in New York City. The company plans to make additional vehicles available in other locations over the next few months." As we reported last month, Hertz began renting all-electric Smart cars through its Hertz Connect hourly car sharing program. The Volt is a gas-electric hybrid with a much longer range and thus a more likely candidate for wider adoption for conventional car rental.

Chevy Volt for Rent at East 64th Street in Manhattan. (Photo: Hertz)

Zipcar has dabbled with renting EVs and electric hybrids in the past. Spokesperson Ashley Cheng told TN last month, “We were the first major car sharing company in the US to have EVs. We had them in Boston starting in 2003 and we currently have them in London and San Fransisco. We clearly have experience with  EVs and continue to evaluate the technology… as are the world’s largest automakers. We welcome Hertz to the space.”

The Volt has been getting considerable attention since earning four "car of the year" awards in recent months.  EVs as car share options are a strong sign of corporate confidence in electric cars, and they offer an opportunity for potential buyers to test out the technology. We'll keep you posted on on EV rental expansion as it happens.

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Tennessee Cracker Barrel Restaurants to Become EV Charging Stations

Friday, December 03, 2010

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) 24 Cracker Barrel restaurants in Tennessee will get electric vehicle charging stations, the company said in a press release.

Gas2.org reports that 12 locations will get Blink DC Charging Stations—capable of getting a plug in hybrid to 80 percent charge in 20 minutes. That's faster than it will take to finish your fried chicken liver. The other restaurants will receive a slower Level 2 charging system.

"These locations are centered on the Tennessee Triangle, a 425 mile stretch of highway connecting Knoxville, Nashville, and Chattanooga. Installations start next spring, and while costs haven’t been discussed, I doubt they are just giving this service away. "

GOOD points out that Tennessee is part of the EV Project, a public private partnership sponsored by the Department of Energy to promote and build EV infrastructure in six states.

Why start this chain store roll out in Tennessee you might ask? Well, just 11 minutes away from the Smyrna, Tenn. Cracker Barrel you find the Nissan manufacturing plant building electric Leaf cars for one.  The Cracker Barrels are pretty well distributed around major highway arteries. And if you have to stop to charge up your locally built leaf, why not do it where you can pick up some country cooking?

Texas, also in the EV Project partnership, recently got some good news on this front as well with the announcement of a privately funded initiative by NRG Energy in Houston. Why not a fast food home cooking restaurant?

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Transportation Nation

New York Gets Its First Public EV Charging Station

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

(WNYC, New York) Own an electric car? Thinking about buying one? Until now, you've been, um, running on empty if you're stuck in New York City with a low battery.

But starting today, California company Coulomb Technologies plans to install 300 of the stations—called ChargePoints—in the New York metropolitan area by October 2011.

Carmakers Chevrolet and Ford, as well as smart USA, distributor of the "Smart Car,"  plan to bring Electric Vehicles—known as EV in industry parlance—to New York City streets in the coming months.

"We want New York City to be prepared when people start buying them," New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at a press conference unveiling the station today.

Motorists will be able to pay about $2 to fill an empty battery -- enough for about four hours of driving. The charging stations look like gas pumps -- but are much narrower and more elegant.

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