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“Electric cars won’t save us” Article

Posted: Wed, 27 Feb 2013, 19:22
by CometBoy
This article from "InDaily" may interest some? An interesting read.....
Please read the associated PDF at the bottom of this post for background information.


Electric cars won’t save us
Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Jago Dodson/

ELECTRIC vehicles have been touted as the dream technology to solve our suburban transport challenges and rescue us from oil dependence and environmental threats. Yet technology use occurs in a social context. Almost no discussion of electric vehicles has addressed the uneven suburban social patterns among which electric vehicles might be adopted.

The evidence that my colleagues Neil Sipe, Terry Li and I have assembled suggests the socio-economic structure of Australian suburbia, in combination with the distribution of public transport infrastructure, constitutes a major barrier to the widespread adoption of electric vehicles, especially among the most car-dependent households.

Relying on electric vehicles as a solution to energy and environmental problems may perpetuate suburban social disadvantage in a period of economic and resource insecurity.

Australia’s five largest cities are the most car-dependent national set outside the United States. Our previous studies (Dodson and Sipe 2007; 2008) have shown that outer suburban residents, especially those with lower socio-economic capacity, are among those most exposed to the pressures of higher transport fuel prices.

Future transport fuel costs are likely to be even higher (currently oil is approximately US$100 per barrel). Unconventional oil sources such as shale or tar sands may be abundant, but they have much higher production costs than conventional light crude. Their current production boom is underpinned by expectations that global oil prices will remain high or increase further over the long term.

Higher oil prices and the need to constrain carbon emissions will likely lead to much higher transport fuel costs than have prevailed in the past decade.

Electric vehicles are often presented as the most likely way to resolve this transport conundrum. Australia’s 2012 Energy White Paper alludes to a transition to electric vehicles as the economy of conventional fuels wanes.

Much of the Energy White Paper and the rhetoric around electric vehicles assumes an unproblematic transition – consumers will change their behaviour in response to price pressures. There is little discussion of potential barriers and impediments to this comforting, convenient narrative.

It makes sense that households who are most car dependent and least able to afford higher fuel prices would be the most eager to switch to an electric car. But, it turns out, the social structure of Australian suburbia means these groups are poorly placed to lead such a transition.

In our study of Brisbane we created datasets linking vehicle fuel efficiency with household socio-economic status. In our analysis, high vehicle fuel efficiency, including hybrids, serves as a proxy for future electric vehicles. We linked motor vehicle registration data with the Green Vehicle dataset on fuel efficiency, plus travel and socio-economic data from the ABS Census.

Our analysis builds a rich picture of how the spatial distribution of vehicle efficiency intersects with suburban socio-spatial patterns, using Brisbane and Sydney as case studies.

We found that the average commuting distance increases with distance from the CBD while average fuel efficiency of vehicles declines. So outer suburban residents travel further, in less efficient vehicles, than more centrally situated households. Outer suburban residents are also likely to be on relatively lower incomes than those closer in.

The result is those living in the outer suburbs have relatively weaker socio-economic status but are paying more for transport. For example, one-third of the most disadvantaged suburbs in greater Brisbane also have the most energy-intensive motor vehicle use.

A socially equitable transition to highly fuel efficient or electric vehicles ought to favour those with the highest current exposure to high fuel prices. Yet our research finds it’s not likely to happen.

Outer suburban groups also own the oldest vehicles in the fleet – they can’t afford newer ones – and this also contributes to poor fuel efficiency and big transport bills. The newest most fuel efficient vehicles are more commonly purchased by wealthier inner-urban households. They can afford the car, but have less need of the efficiency because they don’t travel as far. If such patterns are applied to electric vehicles, their high cost and novelty status means they’re likely to also be taken up by this more advantaged group. Any subsidies offered to spur their uptake will be largely captured by the wealthy.

The implication of our analysis is that the intersection of new fuel and vehicle technology costs with the social and travel patterns in Australian cities mean that suburban households face continued socio-economic stress even as these new vehicles become more widely adopted in Australian cities.
So if new technologies such as electric cars aren’t the solution, how can we secure suburban households against higher fuel prices?

We need a sustained strategy to redress the grossly inequitable supply of public transport to our suburbs. We also need to decentralise our cities, getting jobs and services out into the suburbs and reducing the distances people need to travel by car.

Electric vehicles may be fantastic technology but they risk heading up a cul-de-sac of real suburban vulnerability.

The full paper on which this article is based can be downloaded for free until 6 March 2013.

Jago Dodson is Associate Professor and Director, Urban Research Program at Griffith University

This article was first published at


“Electric cars won’t save us” Article

Posted: Wed, 27 Feb 2013, 21:30
by Richo
Interesting read and I agree BUT

1. More fuel efficient cars do pass down the line to the lower economic areas over time.
2. Weathly generally aren't interested in electric cars since they can easily take the stance - "i can't wait 'til petrol is $6 a litre then there will be less cars on the road"
3. This paper is implying that electric cars are cheaper to run in overall cost than the petrol eqv - which even at today's prices would be debateable.

At some point some of the public will make a decision that the car is too expensive and use public transport.
This will happen at different stages depending on economic status.
Then public transport will need to be upgraded to cope.
It won't happen overnight.

Electric cars might fix this in the short term.
And still it won't fix congestion.

And what ever happened to decentralisation as a viable option.

“Electric cars won’t save us” Article

Posted: Thu, 28 Feb 2013, 02:01
by Shirker
These people only have a hammer - but they're looking at a screw... Their status quo thinking takes no account of technology adoption models (e.g. "Crossing the Chasm" by Geoffrey Moore, "Innovator's Dilemma" by Clayton Christensen)...

As Richo says, new cars eventually find their way into the hands of old car buyers; increased EV sales will bring down prices through economies of scale; evidence of prices too high for the mass market will spawn disruptors; more e-cars drives more infrastructure generating more interest/incentive to buy (a second-hand EV!)...

That's how tech markets work.

Besides, "e-cars are no good because the poor can't afford them" - really? Who are these people? Did their 2007 papers decry the iPhone because nobody in the outer suburbs of Brisbane could ever afford one? Doh!

“Electric cars won’t save us” Article

Posted: Thu, 28 Feb 2013, 02:25
by jonescg
I'll be the first person in a debate such as this to say "Ride a f&^*ing bike". Electric two-wheelers are the way to go to avoid congestion while reducing airborne pollution, and they are affordable.

I reckon Barnett/McGowan could both reduce congestion AND not spent a cent if they simply bumped the e-bike power limit up to 1 kW. Then simply enforce speed limits and general road behaviour. Then scrap the petrol excise and pay one cent per kilometer travelled. Much fairer way to collect funds proportional to usage, and it doesn't matter what your energy supply is.

You know it makes sense Image

“Electric cars won’t save us” Article

Posted: Thu, 28 Feb 2013, 20:42
by Richo
Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image

Maybe start with 2kW and if is a problem wind it back to 1kW.

It won't help the people driving thier empty hummer just in case thier friend rings up and wants a lift.
But it defn is another slice of the pie to solve the problem.

“Electric cars won’t save us” Article

Posted: Thu, 28 Feb 2013, 21:51
by jonescg
Yeah, it got me thinking that EV drivers are paying less towards road maintenance because of them not paying the petrol excise. So I happen to think it's fair we still pay for the roads we enjoy using, but proportional to how much we use them. So every time you pay your rego you have to submit your odometer reading. Failure to comply = fineseville.

That way my CRX has about an extra $3 added to it's annual bill Image

The high-powered e-bike thing has to be a winner. They can't complain about a lack of revenue stream either, cause those formerly car-driving people would have caught the train or rode their bike anyway.

“Electric cars won’t save us” Article

Posted: Fri, 01 Mar 2013, 06:12
by acmotor
So what happens when it rains ? the bike riders take their car or bus or train. What happens when the trains break down ? public transport put on more busses.
Bottom line.... put on more busses in the first place. Not more bikes, cars or trains.
Public transport should be based in the first instance on a really good bus service so there is a bus no more than 500m from your house. It can be sheduled by smart software from your smart phone if you like.... and guess what.... it can be an electric bus. (I'd use smaller busses on some routes)

There would be no point in raising the bike power to 1kW+ (although it makes sense) while we have those rediculous dual use pathways. Face up govt. and planners.... a cycle way is a cycle way not a dog path !

That feels better. Image

“Electric cars won’t save us” Article

Posted: Fri, 01 Mar 2013, 07:06
by jonescg
If it rains, the exact same thing will happen as it currently happens. Everybody drives/takes the bus. Except some slightly greater percentage of them will still ride in the rain.

While spending time in Canberra I read that the territory's bus system, Action, costs so much to maintain and run, that it would be cheaper to pay a taxi fare for every Canberra resident. Now, it's not a fair comparison because of the added congestion that would cause, but it does highlight the enormous cost of an inefficient mass transit system. Coupled with the fact that we all want to go to work and come home at the same time (hello, peak load anyone?) and our poor urban planning, AND our amazingly cheap vehicle rego, it's little wonder everyone prefers to drive their own private vehicle.

By offering an attractive option to some of those vehicle drivers, such as an electric bike that comfortably does 40 km/h on the road, you can get people out of their cars. My point is that it wouldn't cost the government a cent. Just change the law and let the e-bike experience go viral.

Absolutely keep the buses and expand rail networks, but you cannot stop people from choosing to take their private transport, even if it means fighting gridlock. Might as well have a bit of fun in the process.

“Electric cars won’t save us” Article

Posted: Fri, 01 Mar 2013, 16:15
by acmotor
Oh no ! roads full of sit on coffins doing 40kmph. Image

I can appreciate the e-bike sentiment, but they don't represent transport for more than a portion of the population. Yes, expand the e-bike usage to its full potential but do realise the limit of that potential.
And do away with dual use pathways !

Canberra is a bad example for any form of cost control. Image
Still, any public transport system costs sooooo much and the fares to use it never reflect the actual cost. (but it is a SERVICE)

Keep in mind, I hear that the cost of cycleways, with the road mods/bridges/underpasses etc. would be more than a taxi fare for each and every trip by a bike rider. OK, a bit of an open claim, but you get the point.

Hey, if you want to halve congestion, halve the vehicle size or as you say, ride a bike. But don't kid yourself that bikes alone are the answer.
I do think the health and exercise factors of bikes are what drive government funding. As such, large e-motors are not their focus.

I still agree with increasing the emotor size on bikes though.

“Electric cars won’t save us” Article

Posted: Fri, 01 Mar 2013, 16:53
by jonescg
I suggested 40 km/h as it would reduce the DOT's desire to licence our e-bikes. I like flying under the radar as it stands.

Bikes aren't for everyone, but if you had to measure any effort to reduce congestion on a cost-effort scale, encouraging powerful e-bike use would have to be one of the cheapest things you could do with the maximum benefit. I think I did say "Keep the buses and build more rail"

A bus with no people on it is wasteful, as is a tram built on city streets. At least a bike has one passenger, and is appropriately sized for the job. At 8:30 am, I can ride my push-bike to UWA in less time (28 min) than it takes to drive a car there (35 minutes). A bus would get me there in 50 minutes.

Oh, I'm happy to ride on the road with everyone. Most fear of bike riding on the road is unfounded.

“Electric cars won’t save us” Article

Posted: Fri, 01 Mar 2013, 21:50
by jonescg
As an addendum:

I happen to think congestion is a good thing. If not for congestion, our politicians wouldn't be discussing mass transit systems. Congestion is the tipping point which makes people sit up and look at themselves and ask " you think maybe... ...I might be part of the problem?"


In Brisbane they built more roads, and the motorists filled them. So they built more roads, and the motorists filled them too.

In Vancouver they said "too bad, you're not getting any more roads!" So people took the bus. The buses were crowded, so they put more buses on and coordinated them better. Now they have one of the world's best mass transit systems.

All thanks to road congestion!

“Electric cars won’t save us” Article

Posted: Sat, 02 Mar 2013, 04:39
by acmotor
jonescg wrote: .... The buses were crowded, so they put more buses on and coordinated them better. Now they have one of the world's best mass transit systems......

exactly ! Without rail lines.

Yes, a 50+ l/100km bus with less than 10 people on it is wasteful.
I'd have a mix of bus sizes as well.

“Electric cars won’t save us” Article

Posted: Sat, 02 Mar 2013, 05:17
by jonescg
The SkyTrain has proven to be a roaring success:

So much so they are looking to remove the old Banana bus B-line with an underground rail connection to UBC.

Whatcha got against rail?

“Electric cars won’t save us” Article

Posted: Sat, 02 Mar 2013, 05:36
by bga
Some of my dodgy pennies...

The report makes a a telling point; that Australian cities are some of the most car dependent in the world. Rivaling the USA where enforced car culture has been on the agenda for 50 or more years is not very flattering and points to serious future problems. Undoubtedly, the the rise of the mega-shopping centre has fueled this dependence.

While I agree with the observation that inner suburbs tend to have more fuel efficient cars (ignoring Porsche Gruntsters) than the outer suburbs, the difference may have something to do with the urban streetscape and family size. Inner urban areas are not large vehicle-friendly. Affluence makes a new-ish car a viable choice there.

EVs may never get as cheap as petrol vehicles, even if they do, the battlers still won't be able to afford a new one.

Something that concerns me is that most EVs (barring miracles) are likely to have a battery life in the order of 10 years, after which there will be a major expense. This would suggest that EVs will be scrapped (think of the e-parts woo hoo!) and not make it to the second or third owner in the outer suburbs.

It could get ugly!

“Electric cars won’t save us” Article

Posted: Sat, 02 Mar 2013, 05:51
by bga
Did anybody hear a report on the ABC today discussing fuel security. Apparently Australia as a total reserve of transport fuels in the order of 21 days. It wouldn't take much of a disruption to stop Australia in its tracks.

“Electric cars won’t save us” Article

Posted: Sat, 02 Mar 2013, 07:02
by acmotor
jonescg wrote: The SkyTrain has proven to be a roaring success:

So much so they are looking to remove the old Banana bus B-line with an underground rail connection to UBC.

Whatcha got against rail?

You answered your own question. Their skytrain is largely up in the air so it doesn't result in the on ground disruption that conventional 'rail' produces. McGowan might blow $40b building that in Perth.

I'd support monorails... but even they are not going to wander into the suburbs as true public transport should.

Much of the world's public transport requires people to live in dog boxes at the stations.
That is where rail fails. It is too concentrated and concentrates people.
I don't want that for Australia. Get out of each others armpits !

“Electric cars won’t save us” Article

Posted: Sat, 02 Mar 2013, 17:55
by jonescg
Right, so your opposition to rail is really an extension of your dislike of high density living? That's a pretty long bow to draw. Given that TransPerth moves a million people a week by rail says something about it's popularity.

You might not want to live in high density apartments within 1 km of a train line, but there are plenty of people who do. The whole reason we have congestion issues is because the suburbs were allowed to expand unhindered to the horizons without the infrastructure to move people in and out. Decentralising our cities is essential. I think the City of Stirling has plans to create a 'second CBD'. Makes perfect sense.

“Electric cars won’t save us” Article

Posted: Sat, 02 Mar 2013, 19:28
by bga
We should be wary of energy intensive solutions to, what is effectively, a planning failure.

In Perth, the rail system works really well for city centre commuting, and is much less effective for suburb to suburb commutes, such as from wherever to UWA. This is because of the bus legs, which add 20 or minutes to the journey each, making for more than an hour each direction for a 20km commute, or the same for a total distance of 10km if the travel includes city centre streets.

Elevated tramways are a interesting idea and may be relatively inexpensive to implement. Some years back, there was a proposal for such a system:
The promoter's concept was for small single direction loops, interconnected at node stations where the trams would meet door-to-door so that passengers would be able to efficiently travel through several loops on the way to their destinations.
The promoter was envisioning automated driverless mini-bus sized vehicles. This would make sense to keep the vehicle weight low and the trackway costs down. Span distances could be significant, minimising the number of pylons needed.
Some challenges to an automated vehicle system may include stopping the patrons trashing the cars on the inside, walking on the elevated trackway and driving their cars into the pylons.
I could see a place for a battery-electric and/or third rail powered hybrid system to reduce costs and improve safety.

The above concept correctly identified the concept that interconnection delays are one of the biggest detractors in most public transit systems.

The proposed tramway through Perth city centre streets will largely be impeded by car traffic, as most of the routes will be obliged to share vehicle lanes, in the same way as many of the tramways in Melbourne.

I am very skeptical of this sort of tramway retrofit project, as it is unlikely to deliver substantial freedom from traffic congestion. The money would probably be better spent upgrading bus lanes, and moving to trolley and/or hybrid buses that can operate cleanly and quietly, although Euro-IV is already very good. Moving away from total dependence on oil would be beneficial, but this is way off local politician's thoughts.

“Electric cars won’t save us” Article

Posted: Sat, 02 Mar 2013, 19:34
by acmotor
The very need to 'move' a million people per week by rail in a little city should tell you something about where you are going wrong. Now pour more fuel on the fire. That'll help.

We need a long discussion about the definition of sustainability. How about coffee ?   Image

“Electric cars won’t save us” Article

Posted: Sun, 03 Mar 2013, 05:30
by Al-Bunzel
With advances in telecommunications technology including video conferencing, a lot of people in office jobs could work from home. That will cut commute times, clear up congestion on transport networks and give workers more free time as the commute time is cut.

Businesses then won't have to provide office spaces which cuts on real estate costs.

If face to face meetings are required, they can schedule to meet in a meeting room near the work location.

Even, if people worked from home on average just 1 day per week, that would probably cut congestion by 20%, travel costs by 20% and travel times by 20%.

Interested in your thoughts?

“Electric cars won’t save us” Article

Posted: Sun, 03 Mar 2013, 06:20
by jonescg
As I've gotten older I have become more of a greeny-libertarian. I can see value in all of the political parties, but no one party that does all of them well. You could say I am a small-government, do-no-harm, don't force people to do stuff even if it's good for them kind of an environmentalist... It's an odd strategy, but it works for me.

So with this in mind I am acutely aware of how hard it is to get people to change their ways, and how counter-productive it can be to legislate, or threaten folks with prosecution if they don't do what's good for them, and the nation/globe.

Asking people to work from home wherever possible is a good strategy. So is asking people to change the time they come into work. Arrive an hour early, eave an hour early - it all makes a difference to the congestion of the roads and mass transit system by reducing the peak demand. But for the person in Mandurah who scored a great well paid job in the city; asking them to not commute to the CBD for the good of others just isn't going to cut it. Neither is asking heavy industry currently established near our ports and goods hubs to relocate to regional areas. So we have to concede defeat in some cases, but leave other options there. If you can't stop people commuting 60 km to work each day, at least make that commute as energy/resource efficient as possible.

Cars are cheap. I just paid the rego on my CRX - $385. For a whole year! It's little wonder our roads are chock full of people enjoying relatively inexpensive transport on their own terms! So if I wasn't concerned about my health, I could drive to work each day and it would cost me about $20 a week. You cant even ride the bus for less than that!

You can try to make car use less attractive by taxing it more, but this turns folks off. Alternatively, you can make other options more attractive. Things like showers at work are a good thing for cyclists, or if you have a nice fast e-bike you won't really crack a sweat Image. You can offer discounts on mass transit, make EVs a bit more affordable through cheaper finance, or even cheap/free parking for small cars and motorcycles. Even better, you can let the forces of supply and demand play out - by not building more parking.

The reality is, Australia's cities are sprawling messes with little to no planning, and the power to decide on the fate of the city rest with a few wealthy families. So like it or not, people who chose to live in Ellenbrook or Jandakot will still have to find their way to work. Building in massive infrastructure at great expense WILL provide a means to move lots of people, but is there a better way? I think we can start by in-filling our cities with higher density living. It doesn't have to go up by much; maybe from 18 persons per hectare to 25.

As for the original article (just to bring it back on topic) yes EVs are a luxury item and they solve only a couple of the many problems we face here. Like all things, they create a few conundrums too. Most of the unsolved problems stem from the fact that they are still cars, no matter what the means of propulsion.

Ride yer bike Image

“Electric cars won’t save us” Article

Posted: Sun, 03 Mar 2013, 06:24
by acmotor
Entertaining this thought since it runs with the thinking that more transport is not a be-all solution to congestion. ( if I am allowed to take it that way Al )

There are + and - to working from home.

Some negative.
If you work from home then you are always at work !
If you are home then you may not work.
Not all types of work can be done from home.

Some positive.
Reduced congestion. Al's very point.
Saving in travel cost,time, etc.
Clear thought without interruption.
Possibly a more pleasant environment (unless you live in a dog box and you'd rather be at work)
Possibly a richer home life.

I work with a number of people who do the office thing 4 days a week and 1 day working from home. Interestingly most of them are the 1 hour commute each way lot. Somehow they are quite productive, maybe because they make up their hours on the 4 days in the office with early starts and late finishes to dodge the traffic anyway.

In a household where both H&W work, it is good for them to take turns in a weekday at home, with the kids even if they don't get any work done, the kids love it. (until they get older !) Ok, so not actually working at home then, but make up the hours on the other days.


“Electric cars won’t save us” Article

Posted: Sun, 03 Mar 2013, 07:47
by acmotor
Increasing city density is not a sustainable solution to congestion.

It is like building a hybrid car. The oil companies rub their hands and say "oil is getting harder to find and extract, but wait, with hybrids we can sell you half as much fuel at twice the price and we'll be fine" Sooner or later the oil supply or consequence of its use will catch up with you.
Similarly, sooner or later increasing density to reduce congestion will catch up with you as there are plenty of down sides to go with it. Next year we will have to increase again and so on.

Agreed with the musings on legislation to force change.
But think of this... I'm asked to pay for a rail system that doesn't go where I want to go yet taxing me to pay for it while also charging me carbon tax on electricity (that part I don't get from WT and PV) to charge what is a small and highly energy efficient non polluting vehicle and with no reductions in registration or incentives on purchase. (mix of state and federal there)

I don't actually consider it is the EV's fault that Oz is so backward in this new technology.

Agreed that EVs don't directly tackle congestion, but vehicle size is another area that people may be taking liberties in. If vehicles were 20% smaller that would reduce congestion, in parking too.
CJ, that should appeal to you. Isn't part of the ebike sell that it is small in size and low in energy consumption ? Image

“Electric cars won’t save us” Article

Posted: Mon, 04 Mar 2013, 06:39
by jonescg
If we accept that spreading the population inexorably outwards towards the horizons is not a good thing, how else can we accommodate a rising population? Some of the most vibrant cities in the world have very high density living allowing them to walk everywhere they need to be. New York is a fine example - Manhattan has the lowest household car ownership in the USA at only 25%. Sydney is really quite unique in that it is truly the most densely populated city for it's area, while Melbourne in all its artisan glory actually has more urban sprawl than Perth. Urban sprawl and centralisation is causing things like this:
http://melbourneurbanist.files.wordpres ... e-jobs.jpg

I pay for all sorts of things in my tax that I don't benefit from, like a children's hospital or a train line to Ellenbrook. But I don't mind because I know lots of people DO benefit from that kind of infrastructure, not least the 100,000 people on that rail corridor.

Actually, can you imagine what the federal budget would look like if the public were allowed to allocate their tax bill towards specific departments? The results would be very enlightening... and scary.

Oh and yes, more people on two wheels the better. But you don't need to preach that to me Image

“Electric cars won’t save us” Article

Posted: Mon, 04 Mar 2013, 17:41
by acmotor
jonescg wrote: If we accept that spreading the population inexorably outwards towards the horizons is not a good thing......

At that point you lose me. It is like other debates that are around.
The assumption that a initial premiss has been debated and is correct is not a wise starting point for the remainder of the discussion !

I do feel that a sustainable living unit is not one that must have its food (edible), water (drinkable), air (breathable), Power (wasteable) shipped in and its rubbish shipped out, AKA high density city.

Set yourself a challenge.... consider what a sustainable living unit would be that is not at the expense of others or the environment ?

If there is one thing we should spend taxes on it is planning for sustainability.