The Suburbs, Unplugged (NYPA/THINK Clean Commute Program)- NY Times

As project manager for the program that was in NY, it eats me up every day about the loss of the program.

Seeing an article like this when you know you did good work even hurts more.

What can I say, we were really ready to go to 500 cars, but Ford bagged out.

Great program, lasting effects for those that participated, no TH!NK in site. Hopefully we can convince people (like I am trying to do and sell) full performance electric conversion cars. The reason why I am doing this is b/c I do not believe the car companies will step up with another EV for a longtime so why wait for something that will not happen.

March 19, 2006
Op-Ed Contributor
The Suburbs, Unplugged
By KENNETH BANDLER New York Times

White Plains

WHEN my family and I moved to Westchester five and a half years ago from New York City, I resisted purchasing a second car. But I soon discovered that the lack of sidewalks made walking between home and the train station too risky and sharing one car was a logistical challenge. It seemed inevitable that we would succumb to the two-car suburban lifestyle.

But then, great news arrived by way of the New York Power Authority. In the
summer of 2002, the power authority extended its pilot electric car program to the North White Plains train station from where I commuted into the city. I was the first to sign up to lease an electric car. The Think City, manufactured by Ford, became our second-car solution.

The two-passenger Think car was perfect for driving from home to the train station, the supermarket, the cinema, my daughter’s school and other local destinations without using any gas or emitting pollutants. It could go as far as 50 miles on a fully charged battery, which took four to six hours to refresh while parked and plugged in at the train station during the day or in my garage overnight.

Of course, driving a totally electric vehicle required some adjustments.  Two days after picking up the car, I embarked with my 8-year-old daughter on a Saturday morning drive to buy bagels in downtown White Plains. Everyone was staring and asking questions about our strange-looking, tiny vehicle, and I was delighted to explain. After all, I was a transportation pioneer, part of a technological revolution. On the way home, however, the fuel needle dropped more rapidly than an electric car novice could possibly have anticipated, and the car abruptly came to a halt.

Fortunately, the power authority program allowed four free tows a year. I quickly learned from the tow truck driver that everything affects the car’s battery — hills, air-conditioning, radio and how fast one drives — making the 50-mile limit a little less predictable.

But I got good at estimating the car’s capacity. I could comfortably drive on the Bronx River Parkway south to Scarsdale or journey north to a restaurant in Thornwood or a movie theater in Hawthorne. While I was anxious to press the envelope, I realized that driving over the Whitestone Bridge into Queens and back was too risky, even though the round-trip distance was less than the range for a fully charged car.

Sadly, the pilot program came to an end a little over a year ago. For the nearly 100 participants, who commuted on Metro-North Railroad from Brewster North (now Southeast), Chappaqua, North White Plains and White Plains and on the Long Island Rail Road from Hicksville and Huntington, the program was a success. At $199 a month, the lease was a bargain. The power authority provided free charging at the train station, $21 a month in transit checks for the train ticket and $40 a month to help cover insurance.

A number of us had hoped a way would be found to allow continued use of the Think beyond the pilot program period, but unfortunately the car, which was built in Norway, was permitted into the United States only for the program.

Without a passenger airbag, the car did not meet automobile standards in the United States. The power authority maintains that it was ready to expand the program to more than 300 cars using a new American-style Think, but Ford apparently abandoned that project.

I reluctantly turned in my Think car in December 2004. While there are other electric vehicles, like the open-air Daimler Chrysler Gem that is driven by police officers inside Grand Central Terminal, I haven’t been able to find a closed electric car for passenger use. A power authority official told me recently that they are still looking for an auto manufacturer partner that can build and support an electric vehicle.

Local shopkeepers and even my S.U.V.-driving neighbors still ask what happened to my little electric car. Meanwhile, my wife and I have become a two-car suburban family and the eight electric chargers at North White Plains and dozens more at several other suburban train stations sit idle — symbols of our nation’s failing energy policy. And that’s a real shame.

Kenneth Bandler is the director of communications for the American Jewish Committee.

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