New York Launches Largest Station Car Program Yet
By Bill Moore
America is a car culture.
Automobiles pervade nearly every aspect of our lives. It seems every other commercial on television is a car commercial. Car pitchmen dominate the radio waves and motor industry advertising provides significant financial underpinnings to the magazine and newspaper industries.
Yet, there are places in America where efficient, electric-powered mass-transit still moves millions of people daily. One of those places is the greater New York City metropolitan area. Annually, the city's subway system alone -- one of the oldest in the world -- carries 1.3 billion passengers, the same as Mexico City. (Moscow's subway is the world leader with 3.2 billion passengers, annually.) Commuters also arrive by the tens of thousands daily from Long Island, Connecticut and New Jersey by fast commuter trains, many of them electric.
This is why the New York Power Authority and Ford Motor Company's Th!nk division recently announced the creation of the largest station car program to date. To learn more about this new program, EV World interviewed Eugene Zeltmann, the president of NYPA at his office in Albany, New York.
Ironically, Albany doesn't enjoy the same level of convenient mass transit and Mr. Zeltmann found himself caught in a massive traffic jam on the way into work the morning of our interview, which delayed us some 45 minutes.
When we finally connected via telephone, we asked Zeltmann to first tell us a little about NYPA. According to Zeltmann, NYPA provides about 25% of the state's electric power, most of it from two giant hydro-electric facilites, one at Niagra Falls and the other on the St. Lawrence River. The Niagra plant produces 2,200 MW alone. Additional generation comes from steam and combustion turbines in and around New York City, itself. The utility also owns about 35% of New York's long distance transmission system.
During his tenure as NYPA president over the last four years, Zeltmann has had the opportunity to drive both "pure" battery electric and hybrid-electric vehicles. He pointed out that NYPA is one of the few electric utilities in the nation to amass more than 1million EV miles through a series of demonstration programs around the state.
"I've driven these vehicles back and forth home. I've also driven the hybrids, and it's exciting. The thing about it is, you've got a new way of driving... " He explained that in the case of battery EVs you quickly learn about regenerative braking and how to extend your range. He pointed out that EVs and hybrids like the Insight and Prius, don't emit pollution while siting at a stop. He wished more cars had this technology because it would have been very helpful during the traffic jam in which he found himself that morning.
The Next Step
NYPA has been experimenting with EVs for many years, but the NYPA/Th!nk Clean Commute program, as it is officially called, represents the "next step" -- according to Zeltmann -- in promoting the introduction of more environmentally-responsible transportation options.
The Clean Commute program isn't the first station car effort in the region. NYPA introduced the first one in White Plains in 1995. This was followed by a similar program in Trenton, NJ in 1997. But the Clean Commute program is the largest one today with some 100 Th!nk city electric cars.
Program participants will lease the two-passenger Th!nk city from selected Ford dealerships in and around New York City for 34 months at a cost of $199 a month. They will drive them from home to their commuter train station where NYPA and MTA are in the process of installing charging stations. When the lessee returns from work, he or she will have a full-charged vehicle waiting form them. The Th!nk has a range of 50-55 miles and a top speed of 55 mph.
Zeltmann added that the program is a "collaborative effort" with Ford, NYPA, the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), New York State Energy Research Development Authority, the Long Island Power Authority, New York State Department of Transportation and the US Department of Energy.
Having the cars leased through Ford dealerships is, in Zeltmann's view, a key part of the program.
"That's a critical part of any of these programs," he said, "because when you get into one of these things, you have to recognize that you need to have maintenance capabilities. You need to have recharging capabilities and all this has to be coordinated. Because otherwise it's kind of a nice demonstration, but if you can't get it maintained, if you can't get a charge, you don't have much going for you. So, that's how we've looked at this thing."
As a part of this effort, Ford is contributing $225,000 dollars to the program in the form of dealer support and spare vehicles. Some of the other costs including between $20-50,000 per train station for rechargers. The vehicles themselves, which are European versions of the Th!nk city, will have a $28,000 sticker price.
First Th!nks To Be Black & Whites
Interestingly, some of the first Th!nk electric vehicles to be introduced in the state will be used by community police forces for traffic and parking enforcement. Referring to the ideal match between the stop-and-go performance of EVs and the range of the Th!nk city, Zeltmann commented, "The officers in the local area suburbs find that they never put that much mileage on the vehicle in a day on that kind of operation, so it's just perfect."
In addition to setting up charging stations, training and equipping dealerships, and coordinating with MTA on price incentives (program participants will be given a $21 a month rebate on their commuter train fares), Clean Commute has to find drivers. According to Zeltmann MTA is announcing the program through a series of billboards and in brochures at train stations. Ford will also distribute marketing brochures in the same venues. Potential applicants can also sign up on the program's web site at www.nypa.gov/ev.
Zeltmann also sees the Clean Commute program as a means of developing niches for these specialized vehicles. He points out that the US DOE will be collecting emissions and performance data on the program for the next three years.
"As far as I am concerned, it is kind of the first program to really test the market for EVs. What we are looking for here was really a niche... an area of how do you do this the best?"
While he thought Ford would probably be best able to explain its strategy for participating in the program, he felt much of it had to do with the fact that train commuters don't typically drive long distances, which makes the Th!nk a good candidate for this program. The area also suffers from air quality problems and the EV is ideally suited to solve the local emissions problem.
"In this instance, people going back and forth to train stations probably fill this bill very nicely."
As for the consumer benefits of the program, Zeltmann had this to say.
"I think what you've got here is a chance to make a major environmental contribution in so far as clean air is concerned and that's what really drives me. And then to be very candid about it, it's fun. That's not terribly philosophical, but these are fun vehicles to drive."
PART TWO CONTINUED NEXT WEEK....
blog comments powered by Disqus