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May 23, 2014

Electric cars for city dwellers?

Front 3Q indy

Many city dwellers don't have cars. Ideally, they rely on their bikes, their feet, and public transit to get around. Certainly that's the best environmental choice.

But what about when they need to go farther, or biking or transit aren't viable options? Some cities and their residents are getting creative about electric cars.

This week in Indianapolis, where the Electric Drive Transportation Association held its annual conference, Mayor Greg Ballard announced a major new electric car sharing program. Other companies, such as Car2Go and Zipcar, have been experimenting with electric car-sharing, but BlueIndy will be the biggest one yet. Set to open within eight months, the program will include up to 500 electric vehicles, 200 service locations, and 1,000 charging stations. It will be run by the Bolloré Group, which currently operates EV car-sharing programs in a number of French cities.

It does matter how the electricity is generated. In Indiana, which relies heavily on coal for its electricity, full battery electric vehicles are at least 37 percent lower in carbon emissions than the average comparable conventional car -- but a bit higher than today's hybrid vehicles. See the Sierra Club's EV Guide and calculate emission comparisons for your own region. As the Midwest shifts away from fossil fuels and toward more renewable sources of power, as it must, EVs in Indianapolis are expected to get even cleaner over time.

For those city dwellers who want to buy an electric car for themselves but don't have access to a charging station at work or in their apartment or condo complex, the installation of EV charging stations may soon get easier in California. AB 2565, a bill introduced by Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi would ensure that a lease cannot unfairly restrict a tenant - a business or apartment dweller - from installing an EV charging station so long as the tenant pays for the station, installation, and upkeep. This kind of policy would allow more people eager to drive EVs to install the charging stations at home or access them at work or in public locations.
In fact, if you live in California, you could help by signing this petition urging state leadership to support this new policy.

Whether it be car-sharing or ownership, electric cars are becoming more viable for urban Americans - but for many not fast enough. Tell us what you think of these programs or ones you’d like introduced in your own community.

-- Gina Coplon-Newfield is the Sierra Club's Director of Future Fleet & Electric Vehicles Initiative.

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