Archive for December 4th, 2011|Daily archive page

Electric Cars for Rent Now: Lancé lundi à Paris, Autolib veut changer la route en ville, Actualités boursières

Lancé lundi à Paris, Autolib veut changer la route en ville, Actualités boursières.

My notion much earlier this year was not at all unlike this grand effort in Paris to make available electric cars in the manner of VeloLib: a citywide network of rental stations. Infrastructure would be implicitly taken care of, as each station would have charging facilities. And the cost of a vehicle would be immaterial, as one would pay, as one does now for AutoShare or Zip cars, per hour or so.

Paris, however, is a little unusual in two regards, at least. Its population density is high and for those living in the central arrondisements, car ownership is hardly obligatory. Of course, many other heavily developed European cities share these characteristics. But in North America, where car ownership is as much a badge of national identity as a means of transport (and a generation of right wing policies has made sure that there are few alternatives to cars in cities), making available electric cars for rent within urban centres is more of a challenge.

But not an insurmountable one by any means. Manhattan, for instance, resembles Paris in both regards, for instance, as do several other US cities (Chicago, Boston, SF come to mind). And here in Toronto, despite having some of the *worst* streets for cyclists (potholes, lousy visibility, no bike lanes, and a frequently hostile car traffic coming from the suburbs and grudging urban obligations), has its own bike rental system, Bixi. It also has ZipCars, AutoShare, and so on, as parking is both costly and hard to find.

Who would use these electric cars? For starters, all those who now rent hybrids for a few hours to go to the market, run errands, etc.–even go to the airport, say: cheaper than a limousine, it occurs to me (the public transportation, the subway/bus–you take the subway to the end of the line then wait for the ironically named “Rocket” to take you to the actual airport: a trip that takes me, coming from downtown, about an hour). Limos, taxis cost about 60 CAD. one way: a lot.

Besides the occasional if repeated errand, there are many other uses that come to mind. So it’s not that there would not be a market for this. It’s rather that the initial cost to set it up would probably be formidable. But here is where government help comes in. Our current mayor, Rob Ford, has gone on supporting cars over other modes of transport. This has not endeared him particularly among the inner parts of Toronto. But supporting a network of electric rental cars premised on the lines of ZipCar or AutoShare or the new Parisian model, would, in all likelihood, do a great deal to redeem not only Ford among the inner circles but also help with establishing a sustainable electric vehicle market. And given the way the world is going and given the dependencies of the Canadian, esp. the Ontario economy, on the US automobile manufacturing ecosystem (think Sword of Damocles), having such a solution, especially if the cars could be made here, mostly, would be not only a bold step in the right direction but a firm one that would benefit tens of thousands of people.

If only.