Tesla Model S

Project100’s purchase of 100 Tesla Model S’s and comprehensive transportation system solutions

Electric cars are a major focus of what I write about, but are not the be-all-end-all of solutions for the full range of transportation problems our society is facing.  Electric cars offer a great solution for noise pollution, air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and peak oil, but they do not offer a solution for the land wasted on parking lots, or for grid-lock.  I’m thinking about this because of a large purchase of Tesla Model S’s I learned of today (Project100 buying 100 Tesla Model S’s for Las Vegas car sharing program) by a car-sharing-transportation-system prject in Las Vegas.

The goal of Project100 is to set up a comprehensive transportation system for Las Vegas that will encourage residents to give up car ownership.  The system is slated to offer car sharing, ride sharing, bicycle sharing, and a shuttle bus service, in a multi-modal service that includes a smart phone application that will offer users a properly comprehensive list of transportation choices.

For example: 1 – Be picked up by a driver in a Tesla in 3 minutes, 2 – Drive yourself in a low range electric vehicle that’s 0.2 miles away, 3 – Grab a bike that’s 0.1 miles away or 4 – Hop on the party bus that will be near you in 4 minutes.

It’s cool and all that Project100 is planning to buy all those Model S’s, and I’m sure they’ll have a lot of fun setting up their service.  What I wanted to do was go over why this sort of service has huge potential to make a difference in the world.  That is, if the service is replicated to other cities and is successful in getting car owners to give up their cars.

And, yes, I do own a car myself, but that’s because the area I live in (typical suburbia) proactively makes it hard to do anything other than drive a car around.  Trust me on this, I’ve tried so many ways to get around this area without owning a car.  At least my car is electric.

Here’s a few problems that are not solved by electric cars:

  • Parking: Think of the vast tracts of land consumed by parking lots.  Isn’t there something better we could do with that land such as grow food?  Zoning laws in the U.S. require commercial parking lots to be sized for the maximum car traffic during the year (which is probably just before Christmas) meaning that most of the year the parking lots are half empty.  That’s a lot of land being WASTED on parking lots. 
  • Sprawl: The parking lots contribute to sprawl if only because they force a distance between shopping centers.  Basically the design paradigm for most U.S. cities requires an urban geometry that forces us down the path of sprawl.  Sprawl means we have less connection with our neighbors, it takes us longer to go to jobs or shopping, it means more land consumed per person, and on and on. 
  • Grid lock: Individual car ownership was supposed to be freeing, we could just hop in our car and drive anywhere anytime we wanted.  Tell that to the people stuck in traffic during “rush hour” (what a misnomer) crawling at bumper-bumper speed. 
  • Resource consumption to build cars: Each car that exists requires whatever amounts of metals and plastics to build the things.  So long as the ratio of car ownership remains as it is, the current rate of mining metals will continue.
  • Sedentary lifestyle and obesity:  Sitting in front of the boob tube, sitting in the car, sitting at the office, sitting here, sitting there, modern Americans do a lot of sitting and very little physical activity.  Transportation is one of the activities where our ancestors had to be non-sedentary (to ride a horse, walk, or ride a bicycle) where we, in our cars, get to sit and do little physical activity.

Now, how would a proper comprehensive transportation solution change these issues?  We’re talking about a system that erases the need for individual car ownership, while still giving people the transportation flexibility and freedom we all desire.  I don’t want to suggest a system that causes people to take a step backwards in terms of transportation freedom, but to suggest a system that preserves transportation flexibility while drastically reducing the environmental impact.

Such a system would have to be ubiquitous, meaning that one can easily access the system anywhere in a given urban area.  That includes the suburbs.  I hear that ZipCar is a great system, but they don’t offer the service down here in the suburbs so I’m not a member.  For example.

If a large number of people could be convinced to give up their cars …

  • Parking: Reduction in the ratio of parking spaces per car because fewer cars would be driven somewhere and just parked.  Instead a car sharing car would be driven somewhere, and then someone else would drive that car somewhere else, and on and on.
  • Sprawl:  Car sharing itself doesn’t do much for sprawl, except that the need for parking lot space is reduced.  However if we had a mass transit system that was comprehensive and widely used, that would transport more people at a given time per square foot of road surface.
  • Grid lock: ditto
  • Resource consumption to build cars: Fewer cars per person means fewer cars would be built, and fewer resources consumed to provide transportation needs for society.
  • Sedentary lifestyle and obesity: A multi-modal transportation system gives people an opportunity to WALK while they’re engaged in the act of (for example) commuting to work.  That can serve to break the sedentary lifestyle pattern.  A few years ago I read this astonishing factoid, that New York City residents tended to have a longer lifespan because they walked more.

Project100’s goals would (if they can pull it off) address all these issues.  It’s because they’re aiming to be more than a normal car sharing system, but instead to offer a fully comprehensive transportation solution.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.
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