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Are Hybrids, Electrics The Car's Future--Or Should Cars Be Shunned Like Cigarettes?

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Traffic in Atlanta, Georgia during rush hour (via Wikimedia)

Traffic in Atlanta, Georgia during rush hour (via Wikimedia)

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Many people who frequent this website with any regularity probably own a hybrid or electric vehicle.

Many of those probably think they're already driving the future--or an approximation of it at least. But just how big a part do cars of any sort play in the future of transportation?

Some would have you believe that electric vehicles and hybrids are merely a stop-gap themselves. Not the future of transportation, but an interim means to an eventually carless end.

According to IEEE Spectrum, some think the car will eventually garner the same image as the cigarette does today--an object that people hang on to for nothing more than familiarity, an unpleasant relic.

"The car is going to be the cigarette of the future," said Jaime Lerner, former mayor of Brazil's city of Curtiba, at The New York Times "energy for tomorrow" conference.

Lerner's problem with the car isn't merely its pollution--something reduced hugely with hybrid and electric vehicles--but the space that millions of vehicles inevitably occupy, and the effect that has on city living.

Lerner, and former Bogota mayor Enrique Penalosa, deem the car as a hugely inefficient way of moving people around, in terms of the space it occupies. Penalosa compares the car to buses, saying "If we are all equal before the law, a bus carrying 100 people should be entitled to 100 times as much road space as a private car."

According to Lerner, cars shouldn't just be going hybrid or electric, but being replaced by much more space-efficient personal transport--cars that are smaller and lower-performance than those of today.

While both have a point--a Nissan Leaf contributes just as much to congestion as a Ford F-Series--it isn't a viewpoint that would be entertained any time soon in the U.S.

Whatever the power source, much of the U.S. population doesn't just like their cars, but needs them too. Whole cities and communities have grown up with the car the only realistic, usable and practical source of transportation.

Hal Harvey, CEO of Energy Innovation: Policy and Technology LLC, noted at the conference that some cities are already curtailing entry when the center is considered "full" of traffic. And other cities, such as London, already implement a "congestion" charge (albeit one based on emissions rather than physical size).

In effect, congestion is becoming as big a problem in itself as pollution is--but congestion can't be solved by making cars cleaner.

That could have a major effect on how we consume cars in the future.

But in the U.S, that future is unlikely to be any time soon--the private car, whether electric, hybrid or gas-guzzler, is just too important to too many people. In that respect, the car is no mere cigarette.

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Comments (34)
  1. [saying "If we are all equal before the law, a bus carrying 100 people should be entitled to 100 times as much road space as a private car."]

    As cars are mostly driven below their carrying capacity, often bus and light rail are at less than capacity. Most cars are designed for 4 to 5 passengers. I've not seen a bus designed for 200 to 250 passengers yet. He may have exaggerated on that 100 times the space part, even though the basic idea is valid.
     
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  2. Sure there are double-articulated buses with capacities between 200 and 250 passengers. They are used in BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) systems in the U.S. and around the world. Just look for info about Curitiba's BRT (Brazil) or Bogota's Transmilenio. You can see a picture of one here: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Linha_Verde_Curitiba_BRT_02_2013_Est_Marechal_Floriano_5981.JPG
     
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  3. We already look at cars with disdain. Well, at least the cars of other people that are in our way as we try to drive home.
     
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  4. lol nice bait and switch :)
     
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  5. These studies seem to be done by people who never leave the center of a big city and can't fathom the fact that their needs for transportation don't carry over to every other member of society.
     
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  6. I think that is a fair assessment.

    Personally, I commute in and out of the city of Boston and a car is a real negative. Parking, congestion, stressful driving. I have switched to bicycling (which has its own negatives) because the cycling is just about as fast.

    Reality depends on where you live :)
     
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  7. "These studies seem to be done by people who never leave the center of a big city and can't fathom the fact that their needs for transportation don't carry over to every other member of society."

    A comment like this is understandable, as it is following this article, which does not mention the quotes were about cities. Not transportation in general, like the article pretends. Knowing this, the comment sounds funny. The quotes did not express "studies", but were made by two former mayors. Those two already transformed cities in a positive way, they already did it. F.e. in Bogota, the TransMilenio bus rapid transit created by Enrique Peñalosa resulted in 64% of trips done by bus, and only 19% by car, 16% walking. They have a record to show.
     
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  8. "[...] seem to be done by people who never leave the center of a big city and can't fathom the fact that their needs for transportation don't carry over to every other member of society."

    The comment is understandable, because of the misleading article. Still, Jaime Lerner and Enrique Penalosa never left the center of a big city? It's nonsense. After all, Enrique Peñalosa is president of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP). Jaime Lerner won a variety of Brazilian and international prizes. Of course they know needs for transportation f.e. of members of society in rural areas, don't carry to members of societies in cities. The author above just decided to ignore the fact that their statements were about cities.
     
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  9. If anything, Hybrid is the way to go. You have to drive 80 thousand miles in an electric car to brake even on your carbon foot print. The battery production is a filthy polluter.
     
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  10. "The battery production is a filthy polluter"
    Ah is that any more polluting than drilling, pumping, transporting, refining, transporting again, pumping, pumping again and burning at an inefficient rate something we have done for the last 100 plus years! Give me a break!
     
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  11. Cars won't disappear, but they will change, as hinted in the article. Public transport is currently conceived as mass transport, but that can never meet more than a very small proprtion of need. The solution to congestion, energy consumption, RTAs, and many other ills must be what I think of as the autonomous taxi, cheap enough for car ownership to be a rare luxury. The basic technologies now exist. Many projects are working in that direction. They should be encouraged strongly. It must happen eventually, the sooner the better. There will be losers, such as those wanting the thrill of driving manually, probably including all forms of motorbike. They will need to operate in a 'sport' realm, on a separate (private?) road system.
     
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  12. Build an overhead electric tram above each urban freeway.
    Make that freeway into a toll road.
    Who would sit in a miserable traffic jam, have to pay for the experience, and watch a high speed electric train with low fares zoom over their head?

    ct
     
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  13. Good Grief, does anybody watch Star Trek? The answers are obvious :)
     
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  14. You beat me to it.

    Until someone develops reliable transporters, Americans won't be giving up their cars. Mass transit makes sense in places like NY, Boston and San Francisco. But, for most of the people living in suburban or rural areas, it's not practical at all.
     
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  15. Somehow I don't think former Bogota mayor Enrique Penalosa pictures himself among those 100 people crammed in that bus. That's the solution for the "other people".
     
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  16. Somehow what one thought was wrong. Former Bogota mayor Enrique Penalosa pictures himself as one of the people on that bus, he actually uses public transportation; actually, in 1991 running for mayor he was touring the city walking, biking or riding on public transportation (and that means bus). So it isn't for the "other people". Unless the definition of "other people" includes oneself, which would be diametrically opposing what the definition in the dictionary says. What is being displayed with this comment is, like already mentioned above, many might not realize that 100 passengers don't have to be crammed on these bi-articulated buses with a capacity of 200+ like used in Curitiba or the TransMilenio in Bogota.
     
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  17. Private vehicles are here to stay. They may be electric. They may drive themselves. But whatever, they are here to stay. I personally no longer drive and am fine without one in my present situation and where I live, but more most people - especially with families - the private car will remain the most popular means of transportation for the foreseeable, and unforeseeable future.
     
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  18. "Private vehicles are here to stay."

    Nobody said anything otherwise, the author of the article just omitted the fact that the quoted persons above were talking about cities. In cities, there are cases were cars were partially excluded. Or completely: Even in New York City, parts of Broadway at Times and Herald Square were converted into pedestrian-only plazas. So in these plazas, private vehicles are not here to stay. They are not even allowed to enter in the first place, in order to possibly stay there later. Also large other parts of Broadway have been converted: only a narrow space for cars, instead bikelanes and wide sidewalks, and greens.

    The quotes above were about cities. In cities, partially, private vehicles are not here to stay.
     
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  19. "[For] most people [...] the private car will remain the most popular means of transportation for the foreseeable, and unforeseeable future."

    That depends on the location. The quotes in the article above were from a discussion panel about cities, not about transportation in general, a fact the author decided to leave out. According to 2000 Census, 79.219% of the US population lives in urban areas. 58.274% even in urbanized areas with a population of over 200,000. So this is not about all people, but most people. And in some U.S. cities, already today, for most the private car is not the most popular means of transportation anymore, when measured by trips taken by respective transport modes. One of these is New York City.
     
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  20. "[For] most people [...] the private car will remain the most popular means of transportation for the foreseeable, and unforeseeable future."

    It depends on the location. The quotes in the article above were actually about cities, which unfortunately wasn't mentioned.

    In New York City for example, the 2009 American Community Survey found out, that 54% of households don't even own a car. That means, the private car is not the most popular means of transportation. These 54% of households completely rely on public transportation, or walking and biking. When commuting, 29% used the private car, but 41% the subway, 12% the bus, 10% walk to work, 2% use commuter rail. Public transit is only going to increase its share in the foreseeable future.
     
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  21. Not everyone live in a densely populated city.

    Some folks like to have 50 acres with trees, hills, lakes and grass... Those area needs "working trucks"...
     
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  22. Thank you for writing this article ... and presenting it to those who might find it uncomfortable: it challenges a deep ingrained assumption we have about personal transportation in the US. Amory Lovins spoke at my college way back about the cost of private transportation. He made a premise: if we add up all the costs of driving a private vehicle: production, fuel (drilling, refining, transportation), roads, insurance, and maintenance and equated it to a speed, we'd only manage to go 5 mph. The rest of that actual vehicle "speed" is time spent working to pay for the costs, so why not just walk (or bicycle)?

    I drive electric and do feel it is only a temporary solution, since I'd much rather have public transportation.
     
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  23. I always find it fascinating when confronted with a traffic jam picture as shown as to what it would be like to have everyone step out of their cars and congregate into a close group. It would make for a very small footprint compared to the one cars make complete with their surrounding safety zone's. Very inefficient and wasteful when seen in this perspective.
     
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  24. Good article. But the subject is far more appropriate if applied to motorcycles.
     
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  25. There are some important facts most human beings will be aware of when reading this article. For those readers who are not, here it is: The conference took place at The Times Center in New York, NY on April 25, 2013, and it was called "Energy for Tomorrow: Building Sustainable Cities". Notice that? "Building Sustainable Cities". Still the headline of this article doesn't say "Are Hybrids, Electrics The Car's Future in cities --Or Should Cars Be Shunned Like Cigarettes in cities?", but it does this important omission. The reader may wonder if the author even watched the panel discussion, or just tried to make a new article out of the IEEE Spectrum article, which would explain why so many statements are presented out of context here.
     
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  26. Glad you enjoyed the article, dear anonymous.

    Have you ever thought about writing your own blog?
     
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  27. Seems like a weird response.

    Thank you for all of the information.

    BTW, one can still see video clips of the conference online.

    www.nytenergyfortomorrow.com

    It's great. Also this thing here can be found. Can just be recommended, to everyone who is interested in the future of cities.
     
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  28. The name of the specific panel discussion (taking place 9.30am to 10.15am) the above quotes were taken out of was "The mayors’ panel: how do we reinvent our cities for the third industrial revolution?" So certainly when trying to reinvent our cities (a discussion of former and current mayors, stressing the fact that the whole event was about cities, which was omitted here in the article), which was the pre-set topic, most would get to realize that cars, their pollution, land-use and all other undesirable things they bring along, would lead to reimagining a city with less cars. Which would not mean at all, that nobody outside of the cities should use cars anymore. To most, adding even more cars to the cities of the future seems problematic.
     
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  29. To put the above quote back into context, here are some statements, Jaime Lerner, former mayor of Curitiba, Brazil, made:

    "I'm proud of my city that we didn't take too much priority to cars".

    "My city was the first city in 1974 to build a system of public transport [...], which is called now BRT. And now, there are 126 cities, all around the world [with bus rapid transit]."

    "We started a system of mobility [where is everything is] linked."

    And finally: "My point of view is, the car is going to be the cigarette of the future."

    When talking about creating more public transportation systems in cities, that are actually attractive and used by the inhabitants, and 85% of Curitibanos use public transport, the comparison doesn't seem so off.
     
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  30. So although the article doesn't present it that way, the whole event was about cities, this discussion in particular: "how do we reinvent our cities for the 3rd industrial revolution?"

    Trying to reinvent cities, what should they be like? To be designed more like Curitiba, with attractive public transport, used by the vast majority of people, bike-friendly, with lots of green spaces, predestrian-friendy? With, as a result, people only having to spend only 10% of their income on transportation? With one of lowest rates of ambient air pollution?

    Or, say, like the L.A. basin? With major congestion? Mostly car-dependent. Inhabitants spending a higher percentage of their income on transportation? 15 days a year with air classified as unhealthy?
     
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  31. By deciding to leave out the fact that both the whole event and specific discussion was about cities, the author of this article takes things out of context. One can put it back into context, by adding "in cities." For example: "But just how big a part do cars of any sort play in the future of transportation in cities?" At least that would have been touching the topic of the panel discussion. Nobody was suggesting f.e. people in rural areas should do without cars.

    Continuing: "Some would have you believe that in cities, electric vehicles and hybrids are merely a stop-gap themselves. Not the future of transportation in cities, but an interim means to an eventually carless end". That reflected it better, the question remains "Who is some?"
     
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  32. "Some would have you believe that electric vehicles and hybrids are merely a stop-gap themselves." Even if this was specifically about transportation in cities, who is the "some" referring to at the beginning of the paragraph? For the case of Jaime Lerner, he even is participating in designing an electric micro car, and obviously he wouldn't help to create something he himself sees as a "stop-gap". Actually during the event, the words "electric", "hybrid" or "stop-gap" were never said by him. It appears his focus is not on cars, but on cities and the people who live in them. Which is what the event was about. It seems like the electric/hybrid stop-gap sentence was just added, to be able to turn this into an article at a green car website.
     
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  33. "According to Lerner, cars shouldn't just be going hybrid or electric, but being replaced by much more space-efficient personal transport--cars that are smaller and lower-performance than those of today."

    Most of all, obviously Lerner has the opinion public transport should be a big part of the mix, as well as bicycle and pedestrian traffic. Above sentence makes it sound like cars should be replaced by space-efficient personal transport. One on one. That isn't a proper representation. F.e. in Curitiba, a high number of BRT riders previously drove cars. So cars were replaced by public transit. One result of this policy: population has doubled since 1974, yet auto traffic has declined by 30%. To most, this sounds good, f.e. compared to L.A.
     
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  34. It all boils down to efficiency and cost. EV's cost way too much because the batteries required are big, expensive, and carry a long term environmental cost. Gas cars, those problems are known all too well by everyone.

    Hydraulic hybrids are are much better than electric hybrids, when combined with a fossil fueled engine.

    But combining hydraulic and electric technologies, that solves a huge host of problems. Read about my attempt to bring electric hydraulic hybrids to the market, at ersdrive.blogspot.com
     
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