Changing car culture in California

August 28, 2014 § Leave a comment

la-freeway-1California: Beyond cars? asks Tom Turrentine in this journal article. He runs through the state’s history of car culture, describes its unique qualities including the role of Silicon Valley, and looks at the possibilities such as on-demand car-sharing, lift-sharing, bike-sharing, alt-fuels, EVs and smartphone app-enabled transport services, concluding that a transition ain’t going to happen overnight but that California is a big enough vehicle market to make a difference if new sustainable transport behaviours take off there. So it’s not exactly beyond cars, then, even in his most forward-thinking forecasts (it’s the usual networked/integrated/lower-carbon scenario) but it’s an optimistic and descriptive look nonetheless at some of the social background and contributing factors to car-dependency in the state.

  • And to illustrate the above further, news on California’s attempt to extend its tax rebates for EV buyers to target lower-income groups; rebates of up to $7500 could be on offer to qualifying households to tempt them to trade in older, polluting vehicles for something plug-in. Incentives under debate include cash-for-clunkers ‘scrappage’ payments or vouchers towards joining car-share programmes or for using public transport, to persuade people to give up their own cars full stop. The bill goes through its final approval from the Senate at the end of this month.
  • Transport for London is trialling wireless charging for four plug-in hybrid buses on the 69 route between Canning Town and Walthamstow; this is expected to increase their electric-only range to allow them to operate minus diesel engine for much of the time. More here.
  • The Eco Travel Network – behind the Eco Funky Travel fleet of 10 Renault Twizys operating in Wales, rented to tourists and visitors – is working on a more rugged version of the micro-EV. A trial prototype, with modified suspension, different tyres and added luggage racks, is heading to the island of Eigg for trial. More here. The Adapted Rural Twizy will be shared between 10 households in the trial, with particular attention to how much of Eigg’s  locally-generated renewable electricity it consumes. The goal is, says the ETN blog, “to explore what kind of lightweight, low cost, rugged electric vehicle might work on remote islands like Eigg where all journeys are short and the island generates its own renewable electricity but has to ship in expensive diesel by ferry to power the cars.” The Eigg trial is also to evaluate a Gazelle buggy.
  • Some car-sharing data from Dr Susan Shaheen and the Transportation Sustainability Research Center, reported here. Highlights of the 2014 Carsharing Outlook include over 1,462,000 members of car-shares (as of Jan 1st) in the Americas, sharing nearly 21,500 vehicles; 19 car-share programmes in Canada (over 224,500 members), 24 in the US (nearly 1,229,000 members) plus 1 programme each in Brazil and Mexico. “Growth in shared-use vehicle systems continues worldwide”, says Dr Shaheen.
  • Old newspapers could be a source of bio-butanol, due to the presence of of particular strain of bacteria which breaks down organic cellulose; research at Tulane University, New Orleans, reported here.
  • Latest news from Sakti3 (a University of Michigan spin-off) on its solid-state batteries: these could double the range of a Tesla Model S, could be produced for around $100 per kWhr (less than half the current price of Tesla batteries), and are safer (less flammable) than current lithium-ion tech, the start-up claims. Reported here.

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