To replace gas taxes, Oregon and Utah ask EVs to pay for road use

Gas taxes pay for the upkeep of our roads, but electric cars don’t use gasoline.

An electric car is pictured during charging on April 24, 2018 in Berlin, Germany

The end of 2019 saw a bunch of headlines proclaiming that it was a huge year for the electric vehicle. Yet more declare that actually, 2020 will be the year the EV really takes off. It’s true there are now more EVs; plug-in hybrid ones, battery ones, and even hydrogen fuel cell EVs in a range of shapes, sizes, and prices, and five of them made it into my list of the 10 best things I drove last year. When the numbers for 2019’s plug-in EV sales are complete, we expect more EVs to have been sold in 2019 than any year before, even if total new car sales in the US have dropped.

Still, let’s not get ahead of ourselves; EVs might be outselling manual transmissions by nearly 2:1, but they still account for little more than a rounding error in the context of ~17 million new car and truck sales. If that has you depressed, take heart that the trend for EV sales is moving in the right direction. And it’s a trend that is starting to worry some of the states. That’s because the US has traditionally paid for the upkeep of its roads via direct taxation of gasoline and diesel fuel, which means that as our fleet becomes more fuel-efficient, that revenue will drop in relation to the total number of vehicle miles traveled each year.

Utah tries something new

As a result, some states are starting to grapple with the problem of how to get drivers to pay for the roads they use in cars that use less or even no gas per mile. At the start of this year, Utah has begun a pilot Road Usage Charge program, coupled to an increase in registration fees for alternative fuel vehicles. Assuming a state gas tax of 30c/gallon and 15,542 miles/year driven, Utah says it collects $777 a year from a 6mpg heavy truck, $311 from a pickup getting 15mpg, $187 from a 25mpg sedan, $93 from a 50mpg hybrid, and nothing from anyone driving a battery EV.

So in 2020, Utah is increasing vehicle registration fees. In 2019, registering a BEV in Utah would cost $60; in 2020 that will be $90, increasing to $120 in 2021. PHEV fees were $26 in 2019, increasing to $39 this year and $52 in 2021, and not-plug-in hybrid fees have gone from $10 to $15, increasing to $20 next year. An extra $30 a year—or even $60 a year—is pretty small in the grand scheme of things, particularly considering how much cheaper an EV is to run.

But Utahns with EVs have an alternative. Instead of paying that flat fee, they can enroll in the pilot program that involves fitting a telematics device to the car that tracks the actual number of miles driven on Utah’s roads, or use an API from Smartcar to report mileage that does not require adding hardware. These are billed at a rate of 1.5c/mile, but only until the total equals whatever that year’s registration fee for the vehicle would have been; participating in the pilot means you could pay less than you would otherwise, but Utah’s Department of Transportation says that participants would not ever be charged more than that year’s registration fee. The data will be collected by a contractor called Emovis, which operates toll roads around the US. MORE

Cities Struggle to Boost Ridership With ‘Uber for Transit’ Schemes

Helsinki, Los Angeles, Shanghai, Singapore, and other metros have been experimenting with on-demand buses—and not seeing a lot of success.

In recent years some cities have experimented with techdriven ondemand bussing. The results have been decidedly mixed.

PHOTOGRAPH: MIEMO PENTTINEN/GETTY IMAGES

Since September, commuters using Shanghai’s Number 9 bus route have had a new way of catching a ride. Rather than stand at a designated stop, they open a smartphone app and book a ride to wherever they’re going. The service, provided by Alibaba, takes those reservations into account and calculates where the bus should go, using the company’s artificial intelligence to customize the route. The idea is to boost ridership—and curb traffic—by making public transit more convenient.

Shanghai is just the latest city to give this sort of scheme a try. From Helsinki, Finland, to Sydney, cities around the world have spent the past few years trying to implement AI-fueled, on-demand bus services. Few have succeeded.

Earlier this year, Singapore decided against renewing a pilot for on-demand buses. In Germany, microtransit company CleverShuttle—which bills itself as more of a ride-pooling service than a bus—pulled out of three of the eight cities it was operating in, citing economic and bureaucratic hurdles. In a pilot project with shared rides company Via, bringing underserved residents to public transit nodes, Los Angeles Metro is spending $14.50 per trip—twice what it spends on a regular bus trip.

On-demand buses have been a thing for decades. Public transit agencies often call them demand-responsive buses, and deploy them to serve users who lack easy access to standard routes because they live especially far away, or may have special needs. Because they reach relatively few people, they’re expensive to operate. They’re inefficient too, often making riders wait undetermined amounts of time for a ride. So cities must strike a balance between making public transit accessible to the largest number of residents, and meeting their budget goals.

Projects like the one in Shanghai represent a new kind of effort. The new, tech-powered services—sometimes called microtransit, because they use small vehicles—claim to make those routes cost-effective and attractive by pairing transit data with the convenience of a smartphone app. The goal is to help transit agencies reach currently underserved populations, such as people who need a ride home from the train stationnight riders, or urbanites who’d like to ditch the car but don’t want to use public transit.

According to the tech companies pushing this solution, making on-demand busing work is a matter of crunching vast amounts of transit data, now made available by location tracking, and using algorithms to create custom shared routes. Data will help agencies reroute buses in real time based on factors like user demand and congestion, says Amos Haggiag, CEO of Optibus, whose software helps cities plan and manage bus routes, both on-demand and fixed. “I do see mass transit, even the large buses, as much more dynamic.” Many of those companies, including Uber, think all buses, not just those in low-ridership areas, should run on demand.

Reality, though, adds complications. Not everyone who needs to get around has access to an app. Smartphone ownership remains vastly unequal among countries, and between income and age groups. The cost of data is still cited as a major barrier to smartphone use around the world. And even those who do have phones may not want to rely on them to get to work. When I point out that my smartphone shuts down when the weather gets too cold in winter, Haggiag says my situation is “extreme.” I live in Montreal, along with 1.75 million other people.

Tech companies and planners often make decisions without considering the needs of people who are not like them. A pilot project in St. Petersburg, Florida, that let residents use Uber to connect to bus stops faced low adoption rates. The local transit authority realized residents, many of whom were low-income, didn’t know how to use Uber. They needed help on how to use the app, a planner told WIRED in 2017. Elsewhere, “smart city” initiatives have been called out for their lack of inclusivity.

The problem is “elite projection,” according to public transit consultant Jarrett Walker—“the mistake of not realizing that you are in the minority by virtue of being elite, which means that you may be in love with something that doesn’t actually scale to the whole population.” That helps explain why Uber, which has undoubtedly improved the quality of life for those who can afford it, is used by many microtransit companies as a baseline for what a transit experience should look like: available on demand and ultra-convenient. “All of these companies have enormous amounts of venture capital, and therefore an enormous ability to shape the conversation in a way that serves their interests,” Walker says.

If you want to know what happens when transit becomes fully Uberized, look to Innisfil. The small city in Ontario didn’t have enough cash to set up a fully fledged transit system, so it partnered with Uber to offer subsidized rides. The scheme has proven so popular that the municipality has had to cap rides and increase fares to keep it going. “They’ve had too much demand,” says Moaz Ahmad, a Toronto-based public transit consultant. “When anything grows, it will find plateaus, it will find barriers that have to be surmounted.”

If the success of a transit system depends on the number of people who use it, then successful public transit is everything but on-demand transportation. Cities have been able to boost bus ridership by making improvements not on their ability to reach users where they live, but by increasing frequency, speed, and capacity on the busiest routes. They’ve done this by removing stops or spacing them out, building dedicated bus lanes, and decreasing the time it takes for people to get on and off the bus, for instance by letting people board through rear doors. Ridership and on-time performance soared on Manhattan’s 14th Street bus line after efficiency measures were introduced starting in 2018, while travel times dropped 38 percent.

New tech could deliver real value, though, on a transit system’s most important routes. “People are always talking about first mile, last mile, but no one is dealing with all the miles in between,” says Optibus’ Haggiag. Where many transit authorities still rely on spreadsheets and analog planning tools to design bus routes, the Optibus software can input unlimited data sources to calculate optimal routes and schedules. The city of Herzliya, Israel, saw its bus ridership double after redesigning its bus map and increasing frequency, Haggiag adds.

Time and again, cities have found that making those main corridors more reliable increases incentives for people to find a way to reach bus stops, whether that’s by riding an Uber, a scooter, or a bike. Most often, though, that’s by walking, which is easier said than done. Denver has drafted a plan to improve walkability after finding that 39 percent of sidewalks within a mile of bus stops are either nonexistent or too narrow. Portland, Oregon, is improving access to transit stops as part of its Vision Zero plan to eliminate traffic deaths, because 32 percent of stops have been found to be unsafe for pedestrians. Sometimes the best way to get people on the bus involves no technology at all.

It may be that on-demand buses or microtransit may be the best solution for a city’s needs, but in most cases the answer starts with good governance. “When you are responding to a marketing pitch, you are not thinking,” Walker says. “Thinking begins by having a moral conversation about your goals, about what kind of city you want, and about what you want life in your city to be.” SOURCE

From zero to $60: Edmonton parents brace for increases to school bus fees

Extracurricular activities, family’s budget will be impacted, says one mom

Last week’s decision to increase bus fees will impact the families of around 11,000 Edmonton Public School students. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

With school bus fees set to rise by hundreds of dollars in the new year, Tia McAdam says her Edmonton family has some difficult decisions to make.

She has already cut back on her twin daughters’ choir and dance lessons in light of rising school fees. But McAdam says all extracurricular activities could be kiboshed to help pay for a three-fold hike in bus fees, approved last week by Edmonton Public School Board trustees.

“That’s what’s heartbreaking,” she said.

“I hate the fact that they’re doing nothing but homework and housework when they come from school. But, you know, I guess that’s just the political climate right now.”

On Feb. 1, the cost to bus her daughters to Riverbend Junior High on a subsidized Edmonton Transit Service pass will increase from $19 to $60 a month. It takes about an hour for the Grade 7 students to make the seven-kilometre trip on transit.

Trustees approved the increase last Tuesday, in reaction to the Alberta government’s decision to eliminate the School Fee Reduction grant. That program was introduced by the NDP government to help offset the costs of 2017 legislation that prohibited school boards from charging bus fees to families living more than 2.4 kilometres from their designated school.

In February, the monthly cost of a yellow bus for students from kindergarten up to Grade 6 will rise from zero to $33 a month for families living further than 2.4 kilometres. For older students, the monthly fee rises from zero to $60.

Similar fees, also going into effect Feb. 1, were approved Tuesday by the Edmonton Catholic School Division. Under its cost recovery program, the monthly cost of passes for students from kindergarten to grade 6 will be $33.50 per month. The cost for older students will be $56.50 per month.  MORE

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1 in 5 Cars Need to Be Electric by 2030: What Will it Take?

Last month, GM President Mark Reuss wrote an op-ed titled, “Electric cars won’t go mainstream until we fix these problems.” Mark’s article summarizes the top reasons why EVs haven’t yet achieved widespread adoption: EVs struggle to compete with gasoline vehicles on cost and range, and there is not enough public EV charging infrastructure. Mark predicts that EVs with more efficient batteries will achieve cost parity with the internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle within a decade, “maybe sooner,” and that widespread EV adoption will then be possible.

A decade ago, this would have been an exciting pronouncement. And the business-as-usual timeline of patiently waiting for consumer demand to grow, while battery efficiency and cost reductions are made, and more abundant EV charging infrastructure is put in place, would have been viewed by many as a pragmatic investment approach. But popular support is growing around the overwhelming scientific consensus that we’re in a climate scenario now that won’t wait for business as usualAnd as this consensus gains more and more traction, all eyes will be on the light-duty vehicle sector.

Transportation is the single largest carbon-emitting sector in the United States, responsible for 29 percent of all emissions. And as electricity generation continues to rapidly transition to cleaner, renewable energy sources, transportation’s share of emissions is only growing. Within the transportation sector, light-duty vehicles in the United States account for 59 percent of emissions, 23 percent come from medium and heavy-duty trucks, and the majority of the remaining transportation emissions come from planes, ships, rail, buses, and motorcycles. Bottom line, there’s virtually no way to meet carbon reduction goals without a significant contribution from the light-duty vehicle sector.

MORE

Sales of electric vehicles plummet in Ontario after Ford cancels rebate

A Chevrolet Volt is plug into a charging station as a Volkswagen e-Golf backs into a parking spot at Lansdowne Mall in Peterborough, Ontario on Sunday, June 17, 2018. File photo by The Canadian Press/Doug Ives

Sales of electric vehicles in Ontario have plummeted since the Progressive Conservative government cancelled a rebate last year, hampering progress toward a national target.

In the first six months of this year, sales in Ontario were down more than 55 per cent from the same period in 2018, according to data from Electric Mobility Canada. In the second quarter of this year 2,933 electric vehicles were sold in the province, down from 7,110 in the same period last year.

Ontario is the only province not seeing increases in sales, year over year.

Quebec and British Columbia, which have their own provincial rebates, have long been leading in total sales. Ontario’s figures had been increasing on par with theirs until the province’s financial incentive disappeared.

Under the previous Liberal government, Ontario had offered up to $14,000 back for buyers of electric vehicles, but Premier Doug Ford’s government cancelled it after winning the June 2018 election, saying it was going to people who could already afford expensive cars.

Shortly after that, Ontario’s sales sharply dropped — and national sales did, too.

They rebounded after the introduction this spring of a $5,000 federal rebate, but national sales of electric vehicles are still only at 3.5 per cent, which is a far cry from the federal government’s target of 10 per cent in 2025.

“It’s going to be challenging for the federal government to meet that target…then even more by 2030 (when Ottawa hopes the number rises to 30 per cent),” said Al Cormier of Electric Mobility Canada.

“If Ontario was in the game again it would make the whole thing a lot easier.”

B.C. is now at 10 per cent of sales, with Quebec close behind at seven per cent. In Ontario, electric vehicle made up around three per cent of total passenger vehicle sales at its highest point, then dropped to below one per cent after the cancellation of the provincial rebate, then climbed to sit under two per cent after the introduction of the federal rebate.

Experts say rebates are key because the up-front cost of an electric vehicle can be anywhere from $10,000 to $30,000 more than a similar gas-powered car. Rebates take away some of that initial price shock, said Cara Clairman, the CEO of Plug’n Drive, a not for profit devoted to electric vehicles.

“The total cost of ownership, when you take into account that you’re not going to be paying for gas and there’s less maintenance,” she said. “The total cost of ownership today is actually lower for an EV than for most gas cars.”

Mark Nantais, president of the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers’ Association, said that right now the auto industry is taking a loss on electric vehicles of upwards of $10,000 a car. The cost of the technology is still so much higher than that of gas-powered vehicles, he said, but it won’t always be that way.

“We see that gap, or that differential, there until probably where you see cost parity in late next decade,” Nantais said.

“We’ve been quite clear on the need to continue with the consumer point-of-purchase incentives. That’s really critical until we reach price parity with internal combustion engines.”

Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney’s office refused to make her available for an interview.

Clairman said a 2017 survey of about 1,200 drivers in the Greater Toronto Area found that price was a larger barrier to people purchasing electric vehicles than range anxiety — people’s worry that their electric vehicle will run out of power before reaching their destination.

It helps that vehicle manufacturers are now coming out with models with a battery range of 400 kilometres, Clairman said, but more public charging infrastructure is still needed.

In Ontario, the former government had put $20 million toward installing a network of 500 charging stations across the province. Nearly 350 of them were ultimately put into service, and the current government has not built any more. Metrolinx, the provincial transit agency, actually removed some earlier this year.

Private companies such as Petro-Canada are stepping in to build charging stations and there are now roughly 1,400 public chargers in Ontario, according to federal and provincial data. Experts say more are needed.

It would help, Cormier said, if the government put in place requirements for charging stations in new public buildings and garages. Earlier this year, the Ontario government removed a requirement for new homes to include the wiring for potential electric vehicle charging stations.

“It’s not just that they haven’t supported building these things up, they’ve actually got in the way of what we were already doing,” said Dianne Saxe, Ontario’s former environmental commissioner whose job was axed by the Ford government.

The transportation sector makes up Ontario’s largest chunk of greenhouse gas emissions, at 35 per cent. But electric vehicles are not the silver bullet, she suggested.

“I don’t start with saying we need to change gasoline cars into electric cars,” she said. “What we most need to do is reduce the need to travel by car.”

Building denser communities that reduce the need for vehicle travel is the best “bang for the buck,” Saxe said, followed by public transit, followed by electric vehicles for transportation needs that can’t be met the first two ways.

Clairman believes that the pace of electric vehicle sales will one day pick up in Ontario, just perhaps not as quickly as it otherwise would have.

“Do I think rebates would help?” she said. “Yes. We’ll get there eventually either way. We’d love to speed it up. With the urgency of climate change we really should speed it up.”  SOURCE

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China’s great wall motor debuts ORA R1, the world’s cheapest electric car

Claiming to catalyze a ‘new generation of electric cars’, china’s great wall motor debuts the ORA R1 from their newly created EV-subsidiary. the car delivers a maximum cruising range of 351km thanks to a 35kw motor. all of this is available for between 59,800 and 77,800 yuan ($8,680 to $11,293 USD), making it the world’s cheapest electric car.

ORA stands for ‘open, reliable and alternative’ and is aimed at the young and upcoming city dweller (image credits)

All  images courtesy of great wall motor

With most vehicles ‘built from oil to electricity’ at present, great wall motor has created their first dedicated platform for EVs. called the ‘ME’ platform, the system arranges the overall layout of the core components such as the motor, battery and electronic control, and full integration of the three-electric system. the construction also enables it to be lightweight and long-lasting, with a 16% reduction in volume and 12% in weight.

The ORA R1 focuses on delivering five core principles: high value, large space, smarter, safer and higher quality. with a size of 3495 x 1660 x 1560mm, the spacious car also offers security with a body made from more than 60% of high-strength steel. the design itself is simple, unique and cute in style – highlighted immediately with its big eye headlights. finally, the vehicle is also equipped with an artificial intelligence system that can be woken up by simply saying, ‘hello, ORA’. the car is available in 5 color models to fit individual needs: titanium white, cadet blue, sky blue, combination titanium white and glitter black, and combination cadet blue and titanium white.

MORE

 

Yes, electric vehicles really are better than fossil fuel burners

Hans-Werner Sinn’s opinion piece on whether electric cars are as climate friendly as they seem generated a good deal of controversy. William Todts, executive director of Transport & Environment, gives his response. William Todts


 ‘If we want to halt global warming we need vehicles that don’t burn stuff.’ Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Hans-Werner Sinn is quite the character. This German economics professor’s writings range from the Greek crisis to migration, to German energy policy.

Recently he has discovered a new passion: electric vehicles. Back in April Sinn published a paper claiming electric cars were worse than diesel. The study was roundly criticised for being misleading. Even Germany’s largest carmaker VW felt compelled to publicly contradict the report days after its publication, giving a rare glimpse of its own lifecycle analysis based on company-specific data that shows Volkswagen EVs are better than their diesels.

Yet rather than backing down, Sinn’s now back at it in an article published by the Guardian. Rather than forcing carmakers to invest in clean technology – the EU’s current policy – Sinn proposes introducing a big fuel tax on car drivers which he believes would be more effective than forcing German carmakers to go electric.

But this isn’t about Sinn. In fact, whenever you read a newspaper article claiming EVs are worse than diesel or petrol cars, that article will be based on a report that deliberately makes EVs look worse than they are.

Usually the plot is as follows: a smaller petrol or diesel car is compared with a bigger, more powerful electric car; then the fossil fuel car is assumed to be as efficient as the EU’s official tests portray (in reality its fuel economy is always a lot worse); and finally the electric car is driving in a region with a very dirty electricity mix. Then you assume very high emissions for battery production based on outdated studies and finally you pretend electric cars don’t last very long and that its batteries aren’t reused or recycled.

There will always be a new study with some flawed assumptions to keep us all busy and we could rebut these until we all drop. The advantage for the oil and diesel industry is that articles and reports, however poor, keep the controversy alive. Discrediting or distorting science is a political strategy, as Naomi Oreskes chronicles so well in Merchants of Doubt.

So let’s skip the detailed rebuttal and just look at some basic facts. Every year we burn around 275m tonnes of petroleum and diesel in cars, vans and trucks in the EU alone. Petrol and diesel vehicles are hugely inefficient. Around 70% of the energy that goes into a car engine is wasted. Oil that is burned cannot be recovered, reused or recycled. Oil cannot be made clean. Actually, thanks to the rise of unconventional oil, it is getting dirtier.

So if we want to halt global warming we need vehicles that don’t burn stuff. That’s the unique appeal of electric cars, trains and buses. They’re ultra-efficient and have no tailpipe emissions. And yes, of course, we’ll need clean electricity to run the vehicles and to produce the cars and batteries.

But we know how to make power clean and we’re making rapid progress towards exactly that. The UK has almost got rid of coalGermany is phasing it out, and even in Poland and Trump’s America, coal is in decline. Meanwhile clean wind and solar power are on the rise. By 2030 half of the EU’s electricity will come from renewables driven by renewable electricity mandates and the increasingly robust EU carbon pricing scheme.

The rise of electric cars and green power are some of the biggest climate success stories of the past few years. It is the result of regulators in Europe, California and China doing their job and industry rising to the occasion. It shows what we can achieve if we set industry ambitious goals to clean up its act.

That might not please some but it is fair, effective and, for the climate, unequivocally a good thing. As the Nobel prize committee eloquently put it: “Lithium-ion batteries have revolutionised our lives since they first entered the market in 1991. They have laid the foundation of a wireless, fossil fuel-free society, and are of the greatest benefit to humankind.” SOURCE