Clean Fleet Report Founder Looks Back—And Forward
We have seen amazing progress in cars, electrified transportation and in the future of mobility, since I started Clean Fleet Report in 2006. Oil usage peaked in 2006 in the United States and other developed nations and I reported 10 reasons.
What once was rare (the EV) is becoming more commonplace
Clean Fleet Report was started to showcase success in clean transportation. Fleets were five years ahead of the mass market. Although I could not find hundreds of electric vehicles in my neighborhood, at US Marine Corps Camp Pendleton I witnessed hundreds of electric vehicles being charged with solar power. They also had a large fleet of advanced diesel vehicles running on biofuel and even a hydrogen fuel cell pilot. In 2006, it took fleets to put in the charging or fueling infrastructure, stock the parts, secure the advanced diagnostics and training, and keep everything running.
Now my neighborhood streets include a steady stream of electric cars from Tesla, Chevrolet, BMW, Nissan, Ford and dozens of others. Since I live near Silicon Valley, where every automaker has an R&D center, I also see a number of autonomous vehicles clocking-up their millions of miles.
I still am in awe of the innovators and the fleet managers who devote years to working through all the issues so that we can all benefit from the technology breakthroughs.
The Circle of Life
I interviewed hundreds of people for my book, Save Gas, Save the Planet. One theme that emerged is many experience a “circle of life.” Their college was in a city with excellent transit and they lived car-free. Later, a job, a relationship or a dog necessitated their buying a car. Relationships blossomed and they had a car and a truck. Many raised children and worked longer hours to support three or four vehicles. Eventually, they retire, downsizing to two, then one, and finally zero cars.
Shared electric bikes are another mobility option
With children long grown, my wife and I replaced our two cars with one Chevrolet Volt. My mom is down to zero. In my book and in Clean Fleet Report, I surveyed the progress of hybrids, electrics, advanced fuels and integrated urban transportation. When the book was released in 2009, much of the technology looked cutting edge.
Naysayers dismissed electric cars as expensive golf carts. Now we have millions of electric cars, SUVs, buses and trucks. We have 150 million electric bicycles. My wife and I only have one electric car, but two electric bikes, and frequently travel on electric buses and rail. Fleets continue to convert innovation into major success.
Another area of breakthrough success is in smart cities around the world. The future of urban mobility is ACES: Autonomous, Connected, Electric, Shared.
For decades, we have used shared mobility in cities as we ride on buses, rail and on-demand ride-sharing options, including Uber and Lyft. Most major cities have metro rail and bus systems that enable people to travel faster.
We don’t know what the transportation future will look like, but we hope it will be ACES
Of our shared choices, rail moves the most; cars the least, with buses in between. Rail is laid down into fixed routes that last 40 to 100 years, yet cities grow and reshape organically. When people deboard transit one-quarter mile from their destination, most walk. But for the last one-to-three miles, on-demand services are needed. Smart cities have integrated these services of rail, bus, on demand, bicycling and walking.
Around 20 years ago, Toyota added an electric motor and advanced battery to a conventional car and introduced the hybrid Prius. Success in hybrid cars led to hybrid heavy-duty vehicles such as buses and trucks. With the success of hybrids, plug-in vehicles were introduced, so that batteries could be charged from garage outlets or public chargers.
By 2025, Navigant expects 37 million electric vehicles (EVs) on the global roads, fueled by lithium battery costs falling from $1,000 per kWh in 2010 to $145 (GM’s price from LG Chem reports Car and Driver).
From electric cars to electric buses and electric rail, we are ending our dependence on gasoline and diesel powering 15 percent efficient drive systems and transitioning to local renewable energy powering 90 percent efficient electric drive systems. Mobility is increasingly powered by wind and solar, not from the extreme emissions from shale drilling and pipelines from tar sands. Millions of lives will be saved annually, now lost to lung damage from air pollution. Trillions will be saved in health care.
In most developed nations of the world, transit systems in major cities are connected with high-speed rail, which is pure electric. The planned 800-mile high-speed rail system for California will connect all major cities, 25 transit systems and run on 100 percent renewable energy. Those transit systems are planning on thousands of electric buses. Ridesharing providers are already adding electric cars to their fleets.
Drivers kill over a million annually, making the roads unsafe for other drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. Self-driving cars see better, using multiple cameras, lasers and 360-degree lidar. Self-driving cars are totally focused on driving; don’t text, bounce to music, drive after drinking, smoke dope or get distracted.
Sharing is becoming a real, growing option to car ownership; soon that shared car may pick you up instead of you picking it
Machine learning and big data will make full use of autonomous fleets during peak hours, routing them to the right places at the right times. In some cities, wireless charging will be used for the fleets of self-driving cars and shuttles. In others, the vehicles will drive themselves during off-peak hours to car washes and parking structures where they will be fast-charged.
The benefits of self-driving are hotly debated. A transportation authority, San Francisco CTA, states that the on-demand services have made the streets of SF more congested. Other studies conclude that on-demand leads to fewer cars and more transit use. After analyzing the data from three million taxi rides, MIT calculated that 2,000 on-demand 10-person vans in New York CIty could replace 14,000 taxis. MIT researchers also estimate that successful use of ride-share apps like Uber and Lyft could reduce the number of vehicles on the road by a whopping 75 percent without slowing down travel.
We will have autonomous cars, buses and trucks. Vancouver even has electric self-driving Skytrain monorail.
Put a price on carbon, congestion zones and vehicle miles traveled during peak hours, and most urban transportation will not be solo drivers. It will be in electric and autonomous shared rides like Lyft Lines, Waymo and Waze (Alphabet companies) shuttle vans, autonomous buses and rail. Autonomous vehicles will save lives, insurance rates will drop, hospital bills will drop, urban housing will be more affordable without requirements of one and two spaces per unit. ACES mobility improves urban density.
When I listen to debates about autonomous vehicles, I am reminded of similar debates 10 years ago about electric vehicles. EVs were predicted to add massive congestion, use nothing but coal power, eliminate jobs and cause recessions by reducing petroleum demand. None of these alarming forecasts happened.
We were making a long and painful drive back from Los Angeles to San Francisco in heavy traffic. On the freeway, in the middle an empty desert, my Android Auto navigation told me that I could save 37 minutes by taking the next exit. I almost dismissed the direction as an error, but I trusted Google Maps and took the exit. As we drove 12 miles on a windy sideroad, I looked at the I-5 freeway in complete gridlock, due to a major accident. After 12 miles, we were directed back on the freeway, indeed saving 37 minutes.
Your car is now connected to the world and can help you navigate through it
Google could see the speed of thousands of Google Map users at that GPS location. In my Google Map settings, I had given permission to reroute me based on traffic information. Google’s sophisticated algorithms saved me valuable time. Tomorrow, similar apps will guide us through our day of interconnected services making best use of rail, transit, car, and some healthy walking.
Leading cities are already using ACES – autonomous, connected, electric, and shared mobility. Look for high growth in smart cities. ACES brings us mobility that is safe, pollution-free, healthy and less expensive.
Congratulations to all who have made a difference these past 12 years. Engineers have dramatically improved drive systems. Software wizards have transformed cars into networks of supercomputers on wheels.
Congratulations to Michael Coates, who has been running Clean Fleet Report these last three years and to his team, which keeps you updated about today’s most efficient cars and tomorrow’s most intelligent transportation. Most important are all the readers from fleet managers and car owners who take the best information and ideas and put them into action.
A New Way To Get a Car for an Errand—an Hour—or a Day
It’s nice to have your own car, but what if you don’t need one most of the time? What if you could use one only when you had an errand to run, a quick trip to make, or someone to meet? You could save the purchase price, the payments, the insurance, the maintenance and other headaches.
Well, is you live in sections of Oakland and Berkeley, California, you can do it today. I did. I used Gig Car Share, a service from AAA that lets you find a car nearby, reserve it, drive it, and leave it when you’re done any place in the Oakland/Berkeley “home area.”
The first thing you see is a map of where the cars are
The first step is to download the app. For my iPhone, I grabbed it from the App Store. Then, I used the software in the app to sign up for a free account. This was interesting, because besides entering information, such as name, address, email address and credit card information in the easy-to-use forms, the app directed me to photograph my driver’s license and take a selfie to compare my face to it. I got it right the first time around, and then popped open the app.
The app opens to a map, centered on where you are. If you’re not in the car zone, just slide yourself over there. As usual, the locations are grouped, so, if you see a circled with “20” in it, as soon as you zoom in further it’ll break into more and more detail, until you are looking at single vehicles. These are available rides, which you can reserve right from your phone. Of course, it makes sense to do it when you’re close by (you can reserve up to 30 minutes in advance).
I found one just around the corner and walked there. I wanted to check it out before pushing the Reserve button.
This is the car I found
Every Gig Car Share is a black Toyota Prius C hybrid (the small Prius hatchback) with a pair of bike racks mounted on top. You can tell it by the big “G” logo on the rear pillar. Though it’s not a large car, you can squeeze three people in the back seat, making it good for taking your friends along.
I found the car in good shape, if not sparkly clean. I saw a few bird droppings and some dust, but it looked serviceable. In the photo above, it looks great.
When you first reserve the car, the app asks you to check out the body for flaws, so you can report them and not be blamed for them. I noticed several scrapes and dings that had been marked with stickers, which showed that Gig Car Share already knew about them. I saw a tiny scrape on the right side but decided to let it go.
My car had a nearly full tank of gas, which was good to know. When you reserve a car, the app shows you the amount of fuel available. If, while using the vehicle, you need more, there’s a gas card inside the glovebox. Just call Gig Car Share for a pin to operate it.
The windshield unlock tag
You use the app—or a card the company sends you—to gain access to the car. There’s a little device in the lower left corner of the windshield that you place your phone or card near to connect to the car. Then, you can touch “Unlock” on your phone and you’ll gain access. I did, and sat down in the black interior.
I had read online about customers having issues with cars that were smoky, but this one just smelled lightly of air freshener, and was fairly clean. I found a couple small pieces of plastic wrapper and the driver’s mat had some dirt, but overall it was just fine. I pressed Start, carefully backed out of the tight spot, and was off.
The floor mat–not clean, but not bad
Once you’re underway, there’s really nothing different about the driving experience. The Prius C is a competent car for errands, commuting, and general use, and this one was no different. The audio system had FM available, and I tuned to my favorite station.
After a mile or so, I decided that there was nothing to be gained from going further from my starting point, so I turned and then parked down the street.
The app allows you to park and return to your car
When you stop, you can end the service and relinquish the ride for someone else’s use by selecting “End Booking.” Or, you can keep the car, in case, for example, you want to stop and pick up something or someone. I tried this, using the “Park and Come Back” setting on the phone.
While I was parked, I was charged $0.30 a minute – different from the normal $2.50 per mile rate for driving.
While I was parked, I took time to examine the bike racks. To use them, you take the key out of the packet in the glove compartment and place your bike in per the instructions on the key chain.
Every car comes with a bike rack, giving you different options
There are short videos on the Gig Car Share website that quickly explain how to perform the bike rack process—and the other features. I took time to watch the video on my phone before I tried the service. This makes it easy to figure things out, although I did lightly pinch my finger fooling with the bike rack.
The app is easy to use, with logical selections to get information you need before and after a ride.
When I was ready to resume, I unlocked the car again—it gave me a minute to open the door—and headed back to the area where I had started my ride. Because I was testing the service from a place near my own car—not my house—I tried to make it close to the original pickup point, but if I had needed a one-way trip, my drop-off could have been miles away, as long as I stayed inside the service area.
Back to a new home
I finally found a spot in front of a house a couple of blocks from my car. I carefully checked for my personal belongings (the app warns you to), and ended the booking with one touch.
Gig Car Share uses software from Ridecell, an established San Francisco startup that bills itself as “The World’s Most Intelligent Mobility Platform.” Their platform also supplies the software for BMW’s ReachNow car sharing service, which is currently active in Portland, Oregon and other places. Ridecell also offers ridesharing software, and with the acquisition of Auro, they are moving into autonomous vehicles, as well. Their end-to-end platform is designed for companies to set up their own car, ride or autonomous fleets.
The receipt comes after you’re ended the loan; if you’d used the car for a “gig,” you could even cover the cost of the loan
Gig Car Share sent me my receipt in an email. I felt that $6.43 was a reasonable price for an experiment. I even received a 10 percent discount as a AAA member. If you used the car longer and went further, of course it would cost more.
After a refreshing walk to my own car, I headed home and realized that someday, with services like Gig Car Share, Uber, Lyft and their autonomous vehicle iterations, I may not need to own a car anymore. Gig Car Share isn’t available where I live, or in most places–yet, but something like it likely will be available before long. I’d like to see the fleets use fully electric cars, and perhaps offer more choices of vehicle. But for now, the efficient little Prius is just fine.
The easy-to-use home page for the app
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Ride Services Appear To Be Driving People Out of Their Cars
This may not seem like news because it’s been conventional wisdom for so long, but up to now there has been little documentation of a decline of car ownership due to new ride sharing mobility apps.
If you can always get a ride, do you need to own your own car
A Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll published this month (May 2017) has defined the shift everyone has been talking about for years. Nine percent of those polled had given up their cars and shifted to exclusively using ride services. Another similar percentage said they planned to do the same in the coming year.
This may be less than 20 percent of a portion of potential new car buyers, but the impact has the potential to blow up the old model of automobile purchasing. And the fear of automakers is that this may only be the tip of the iceberg as different mobility services roll out (some, ironically, coming from the automakers themselves).
New Cars for Services May Not Replace Them
One possible upside of the mobility services is more frequent purchases of cars by the drivers for the services, who will be putting on more miles, and therefore needing to buy new cars more often. By the aggregating nature of the mobility services, it is clear that the app world will not create more sales than the traditional model.
Reuters quoted Lyft Director of Transportation Policy Emily Castor as saying the survey was “early evidence” that its vision of a world where personal car ownership was unnecessary was beginning to take hold.
The number of personal cars may be shrinking
As the first survey of this type, there is no basis to tell if the number of car-droppers is growing, but future polls should be able to illuminate that trend.
The survey did find that 39 percent of Americans had used ride services and that 27 percent of that group used the services several times per week. The poll was conducted online in English April 5-11, 2017. It had responses from 584 people who said they disposed of their personal vehicle within the past 12 months and 566 people who said they planned to get ride of their personal vehicles in the next 12 months.
The poll had a five percent margin of error. It should be interesting to revisit the subject next year–and the year after.
ACEEE Ranks Most Energy-Efficient Cities
Here’s where you want to live if you drive an electric car. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) has been measuring the energy-efficiency of the 51 major American cities for several years. Among the criteria to be a top pick is an active transportation policy that is designed to make their cities more compact and closer to transit options, shifts to efficient modes of transportation, transit investments, efficient vehicles and vehicle infrastructure, and energy-efficient freight transport.
This year’s rankings were just released and there are some surprises. Here are the top 10:
- New York City
EV charging aids to a cities sustainability score (here in Boston)
- Los Angeles
- Portland (tied for #4)
- Washington, DC
- San Francisco (tied for #9)
In addition to their transportation activities, cities were judged on their local government efficiency, community-wide initiatives (for energy diversification and decentralization), building policies (stringent energy codes and incentives) and efficient energy utilities.
Another group of cities were cited as those showing the most improvement, including San Diego, Kansas City, Phoenix and Orlando (LA was also among the most improved).
Among the actions the cities’ representatives called out as reasons for their success were using renewable or cleaner-burning fuels in city vehicles, boosting bus service and light rail, and adding infrastructure like electric vehicle charging stations.
At the other end of the list, five cities were noted as most in need of improvement—Hartford, Memphis, Detroit, Oklahoma City and Birmingham.