Thursday, July 1, 2010

I want my PMV! Car-like Motorcycle-like Safe-definitely

Here’s the question: if you currently drive a car to work and for errands, would you prefer to drive a motorcycle-carlike vehicle that is one-quarter of a car? That is, one-quarter the cost, one-quarter the fuel consumption (easily 100 miles to the gallon), requires one-quarter the space to park at one-quarter the cost of regular parking, and pay one-quarter the cost of tolls.

OK, it’s true that its top speed might be 30 mph, with an average speed of 20 mph. But what if you could be traveling only with other lightweight vehicles traveling at similar speeds. [The average speed of cars is most cities is between 10-15 mph. In suburban areas you might be adding 5 minutes to your trip.]

Are you saying yes? Are you focused on the one-quarter the price part? And one-quarter the space to park?

I have this theory that lots of Americans would choose this option. And even more if they access to a second car, owned by them or shared nearby, that they could use on the small percentage of trips where they need a bigger and faster car.

Last week I got to ride (not drive) in one of GM’s eight EN-Vs (electric networked vehicles, pronounced “envy” – what an excellent name).[Video with the trend/business explanation; video with the EN-V/people dance performance]. It was enormously fun. My guess is that this vehicle will not be sold for ¼ the price of their regular cars, but some models could be. So I wondered:

Why would people switch? Because
 63% percent of all trips (and 75% of all work commute) they take are already alone in their car
 they would reduce the 18% of their income they spend on their car today
 they would not be beholden to price spikes in fossil fuels
 they want to find parking everywhere
 they want to be in the uncongested lane

Why do people not do it today?

 Well they do, particularly in Asia
 Here in America none of us relish the idea of going up against truck traffic, SUVs, or regular cars
 Motorcycles, as we know them, are scary (for some) to drive, you get wet and cold, and they are incredibly dangerous (60 times the fatality rates of regular cars – because of speed and the going head to head with much heavier vehicles).

Personal motorized vehicles would address an enormous number of problems associated with today’s cars: cost, congestion, pollution, CO2 emissions, parking. And I think consumer’s would choose them, based on cost, convenience, reliability, autonomy.

The problem lies with the extreme difficulty of enabling transitions. Two suggestions to get us there:
1.Take some lanes or some roads and make them accessible only to light weight and low speed vehicles (bikes too could travel these lanes, and we could split current lanes in half and get as many as 4 times the vehicles (and people traveling) in the same amount of space). These lanes could be used starting today by bicycles, motorized and electric bikes and small motorcycles. Think of all the people who would buy these vehicles and switch to these lanes if we gave them a lane of traffic.

2. Change the regulatory and safety requirements for these vehicles in line with the lesser accident risk. This would mean a lower cost to introduce new types of vehicles that meet the qualifications. And maybe even no driver’s license (!). In Europe today there are small engine electric vehicles that people can drive to get to work when their license is revoked. And in the US, we similarly don’t require licenses for small engine motorcycles.

Are you ready? What do you think? Would you switch?

And for the record, in dense metropolitan areas, it would still be faster to walk shorter distances, and take transit in dedicated lanes or rails, and never ever have to worry about parking.

See here for photos of lots of microcars
And here to take a virtual tour of the microcar museum.

1 comment:

Carlos Gershenson said...

Here in Mexico City the average speed of car travel is less than 10km/h, i.e. about 6 mph. Of course, cycling is the fastest mode of transport.

I can imagine that PMVs would also be faster than cars, especially if they are used massively. Even if they were the same speed, they offer all the advantages you mention.