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Rinspeed in Switzerland has developed a prototype electric car that could be carried by commuter trains. The car will officially debut at Geneva Auto Show..
Rinspeed in Switzerland has developed a prototype called the UC, an electric car that could be carried by commuter trains, as well as long-haul, high-speed trains.

How to Make A Small Electric Car-based Mobility System Work

Transit consultant David Petrie revives the Car Bus idea.

By David Petrie

Traffic congestion is one of the most vexing problems facing our society. But conversion to EV's is motivated largely by global warming and dependence on foreign oil, our transportation administrators assuming congestion is a given part of a modern society, only to be managed, not curable.

In 1968, the US Congress foresaw the congestion crisis, enacting the New Transportation Systems Research Act. Subsequent think tank studies came up with a concept labeled Dual Mode, where the car could be either driven in the normal way, or transported during the longer portion of a typical commute. The ideal vehicle proposed was a small EV. The oil and car industries felt threatened, lobbying against development of Dual Mode.

The general solution to congestion in low-density urban areas will employ a Car Bus that transports the personal car at 80-mph on a barriered inside lane-now the HOV lane in many American metropolises- of the freeway. Stations will be located above the freeway at 5-mile intervals, accessed by ramps emanating from the outside lanes. Loading of occupied personal cars will be automated, 30 seconds elapsing from stop to restart of the Car Bus.

Since the Car Bus will be fuel-cell powered and the motors of the transported cars will be OFF during the freeway portion of a typical commute, pollution due to fossil-fueled transport will be roughly halved. It is anticipated that Car Bus will capture 40-70% of all commuter-miles. The capacity of this guideway will be so enormous that many high-performance freight trucks, equipped with automation kits, can be interwoven- a technique called "zipping"- with Car Bus via entrance/exit gates.

The transporters will be automated with a computerized safety control sub-system, effectively adding up to 20 lanes of capacity each way on a single dedicated guideway, as 8-foot long electric microcars become available for general commuting and errands. The entrance of all cars and trucks into this unified transportation network will be computer-coordinated by GPS navigation feed into an automated cell-phone based communication system.

Since the transporters, microcars, stations, guideway, and central computer control should operate as an integrated system, a proof-of-concept demonstration on 100-acre site should be built. This will also serve as a developmental tool to perfect operating software, proof-test hardware, estimate patron use patterns, and gain operational experience.

Once the general public is aware of the improvements in quality of life availed by Dual Mode, the small EV could become the most popular car in the 21st Century: Sales of EV’s will avalanche, rapidly advancing the Greening of our transportation sector.

In the modern low-density city—typical in the USA--only 3% of commuters use public transit. This is because the car/highway system over the past seventy years has shifted concentration of homes, workplaces, and shops from within walking distance of mass transit rail/bus stops to lower density suburbia. Such distributed development is not compatible with conventional mass transit. Stated more simply, people who want to use public transit must first get to the rail/bus station from their homes, then get from the station to their destinations. To walk the usual several-hundred yards to/from the stations is quite impractical for most commuters. As a result, 13 out of 14 commuters in the USA drive alone, giving rise to the term SOV (single occupant vehicle).

Mass production techniques have made the personal car affordable to almost every citizen. In the USA, there are now 1.1 cars per licensed driver, with many owning vehicles designed for specific purposes: vans/sport utility vehicles, pickup trucks, sport cars, and motorcycles.

We have now built a society based on the car/highway system from which there is no turning back. Car pooling is near impossible, because few commuters can readily find a nearby neighbor who works at the same plant, on the same shift, and doesn’t have personal requirements to stop by the child care center or buy groceries for dinner. High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes in the USA, intended to coerce SOV commuters into car pooling, have failed to mitigate congestion. The necessary dependence on the SOV results in massive congestion on urban freeways and intra-city arterial roads.

As the Dual Mode solution to freeway congestion becomes commonplace, the EV microcar will replace the conventional ICV for daily use, the latter now consuming inordinate road and parking lot space. Many families will still retain (or spot-rent) an ICV van/sedan for long-range family trips, camping outings, and heavy hauls. But they will become ‘dust catchers’, due to their infrequent use. The Car Bus will have a profound impact on urban travel in particular, and quality of life in general.

A typical family with two working parents and a college student will own a seldom-used ICV minivan, with three EV microcars, angle-parked within the second garage stall. Freeway congestion will be virtually eliminated. Many workplace and shopping mall parking lots will be redesigned with tiered robotic parking, near tripling capacity. Human energy and time, now wasted in freeway traffic, will be available for more productive use.

If we are to maximize the efficiency of Car Bus and parking lots in our war on congestion, a purpose-built car is in order. The Dual Mode microcar needs to be 8-feet long, to match the typical width of a transporter for transverse unload/load.

An interesting EV microcar design employs composite structure and has three seats, the driver in a business-class seat in the center, flanked on each side by an economy-class seat 14-inches aft of the drivers seat, canted outward 11-degrees, taking advantage of knees being narrower than shoulders. Such a car should have a curb weight of 800-lbs, similar to a touring motorcycle. It will be powered by a 25-HP motor, be freeway-compatible at 65-mph, equipped with a 180-lb Li-Ion battery providing a range of 80-miles. The floor-mounted battery can be automatically swapped with a leased fresh-charged battery in less than a minute.

The stations are located above the freeway, this arrangement giving the microcars access to the transporters without interfering with conventional traffic.

The early version of Car Bus will employ conventional truck design. The ultimate dream transit system will employ the smooth-silent maglev chassis, typified by the proven Japanese HSST-200 (125-mph).

A coordinated attack these coupled problems of congestion, global warming, and dependence on foreign oil would be via an URBAN MOBILITY INITIATIVE (UMI) at the federal level, wrapped into the forthcoming $500 billion Transportation Bill.

Times Article Viewed: 15146
Published: 06-Jan-2010

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