80% of Europeans live in cities. This means traffic jams, rush hours, pollution and a decreased quality of life. Could electric vehicles, bicycles or free public transportation be the solutions for the need of larger urban mobility?
Europe has committed to some very ambitious objective in this regard. This is a very rational approach seeing as how 84% of the oil on which it depends is imported. At the beginning of the year, the European Commission launched the Clean Power for Transport initiative, meant to solve this dependence and to facilitate the creation of a single market for alternative fuels.
As far as electric vehicles are concerned, it all seems to be going around in a vicious circle. Consumers don’t purchase electric or hybrid vehicles because prices are too high and there are no refueling stations. New fueling stations aren’t built because there aren’t enough vehicles on the road and vehicles will not be sold at more competitive prices because there isn’t enough demand for them.
There are some who say that this revolution has to start with public transportation. The answer, for the time being, is no. The problems of battery charges is still far from being solved because you cannot wait 2-3 hours at the bus-stop for the bus to recharge.
The only people who seem to be enthusiastic about the electric vehicle revolution are the car producers who say that they are living through one of the most interesting periods of the auto industry. According to estimations, by 2025 there will be around 1 billion electric vehicles in traffic. Is the electric car the answer that will get the industry out of crisis? It would seem so. Peculiar, because even though the auto market is an extremely dynamic one, this is an area where things tend to move rather slowly. Or maybe today you need an electric vehicle in your portfolio in order to look like ca credible car maker?
The example for success comes from America. Tesla is the perfect blend of innovation, technology and tax exemptions. In 2009 the US government lent to the Tesla company $500 billion. A loan which it got back 9 years later. This happened because every month 2000 cars roll out of the factory. More than that, Tesla already has an 8.4% piece of the luxury car market. This success is largely thanks to the government as well, which offers many advantages to buyers. Some of the American states have done away with sales taxes, in Colorado for instance, beside the official writing off of $7.500, the state also pays a further $6.000, and drivers of electric vehicles are also allowed to drive in the bus lane to allow for greater mobility. Aggressive marketing which has paid off. According to Tesla, the 2013 sales figure has been the largest of the past 6 years and they are expecting a 10% increase for 2014.
Surely, innovation is important in Europe as well. But in an age in which government are barely capable of paying their own bills, it remains to be seen how capable they will be to support such programs. The USA boasts about 150.000 electric vehicles, China 50.000, when it comes to Europe the numbers aren’t as good. Germany has somewhere around 11.000, which is understandable since there are no second-hand electric vehicles yet. Spain has about 7.200, Belgium a little over 1.000 and Portugal 300.
In Romania, the Romanian Auto Registry – RAR – has only 44 such vehicles in the books. In the entire country there are only two recharging stations: in Brasov and Bucharest. The Romanian state offers at the current time an eco-ticket for the sum of 12.000 lei – but no more than 20% of a car’s value – which doesn’t make any real difference.
Those who have decided to purchase an electric vehicles must have three things in mind: at the current time you won’t nave driving autonomy for more than 150 km, there are no recharging stations and you have to pay more than 30.000 Euro for one. On the other hand, a fully recharged battery will cost you only 10 RON, which makes the vehicle a profitable investment in the long term, and the driving experience is quite unique, something that has been confirmed by all who have driven an electric vehicle.
Regardless of brand and price, features and autonomy, electric vehicles are the great gambit of auto producers for the next 10 years.
Until now, the only practical example which work in regards to urban mobility within Europe are: biking schemes and car sharing.
Dublin has 40 bicycle stations. You can pick up one of the 4.500 bicycles at any time, use it within city limits, return it and then at the end pay a small fee.
Another solution which seems to be working in big cities is car sharing. What does this mean? Several individuals who have the same destination can share a ride in the same car. It’s much cheaper per travelers, it decreases the number of cars in traffic, it also reduces the need for parking spots and is much more eco-friendly.
The Estonians are even more radical. At the start of this year, in Tallinn, public transportation has become free. Tallinn citizens purchase a green card with just 2 Euro, you personalize it and it grants unlimited access to all the routes. This recipe seems to be working. Officials have said that revenue has been in the green for the first time and that traffic has gotten significantly better in the city.
Just as the bicycle evolved from something convenient to something trendy and has been accepted as a transportation means in the whole of Europe, it is likewise that the coming years will see a return and reacceptance of public transportation as a viable alternative. It remains to be seen where this will happen and how quickly it will happen.