Published on The Doomstead Diner on September 4, 2016
Discuss this article at the Science & Technology Table inside the Diner
While I am well aware that there are many Kollapsniks out there who think the situation we are in is irretrievably HOPELESS, I am not one of those depressing nihilists. I continue to look for solutions, which even if not implemented on the grand scale might be implemented on small scale to maintain some semblance of modern living a while longer. At least as long as I expect to live anyhow, maybe another 10 years? After that, the question of how to transition and adapt is no longer my problem, it is the problem of the people still left after I buy my ticket to the Great Beyond. Meanwhile though, while I am still above ground level walking the earth, I can try to Save As Many As I Can.
So in this episode today, I am going to talk about the transportation problem and the reliance on automobiles for everyone to drive around, doing the daily shopping, getting the kids to school and activities, commuting to work, etc.
Automobiles are really marvelous devices, and I own several of them. All old used vehicles bought on the cheap and rarely driven these days, but I do own them. They are indespensible with the current infrastructure we live in to get certain tasks done. The problem of course with the carz is they are tremendously consumptive of energy and they emit tons of CO2 all the time, which is not doing wonders for the atmosphere or ocean pH levels either. The traffic jams are no fun either. So they are doing a lot of damage, and if we could reduce our dependency on them, then that extends out our time in transitioning down to a lower per capita energy future.
My solution to this particular problem came as a result of serendipity, it was not something I thought of in advance. A few years ago even prior to my neck injury, Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) was making it difficult to walk long distances, much less keep up with my gymmies when out for a run to develop cardio-vascular fitness. So I bought a small electric scooter to be able to keep up. It wasn't EZ to get up to Alaska either because of various Hazmat regulations regarding batteries, but I did get it up here with some creative shipping methods.
At first before the neck injury it was mainly a recreational type toy and not used too often. I rode it in a couple of parades and took the gymmies out for a run a few times. Today though, it is an indespensible device that increases my mobility, and not only that saves me a huge amount of money on gas for the carz. It has more than paid for itself over the last 2 years.
So, scooters like this are great for cripples like me, but might they not have a much wider applicability? I think they could be so useful, and cut total energy consumption by half or even more without a huge change in lifestyle otherwise.
These devices are far different than the Teslas that Elon Musk is snake-oil selling at the moment on gobs of debt money issued by Wall Street. Those vehicles are basically replicas of an ICE powered car, just they use an electric power plant instead, with the energy stored in batteries rather than in distilled petroleum products like gasoline and diesel. Their size and weight is approximately the same as a conventional car, so they take the same amount of energy to accelerate and to overcome wind and internal resistance. That energy generally still comes from fossil fuel powered thermoelectric plants, which might be slightly more efficient burning the fuel, but not that much after transmission losses, battery storage losses and so forth. The problem here is that driving around such a big hunk of metal, plastic and glass all the time is a HUGE energy waster and thoroughly unecesary for the typical tasks you do each day.
Really, do you need to move around 2000 lbs just to go to the convenience store to buy some milk? Do you need it to get to work and then leave it in the parking lot all day, and then sit in traffic on the way home too? Do Soccer Moms really need to function as taxi drivers for their kids to get them from school to their various activities?
In contrast to a 2000 lb car, my current scooter weighs only 90 pounds. It runs on 3 typical 12V 10AH batteries which give it a range of about 15 miles. As opposed to Elon Musk's even cheapest Tesla, instead of costing $30,000, it cost $600. A full new Battset for it costs $150, as opposed to a new Battset for a Tesla which goes for over $5000.
What can I do with this scooter? Well first off my main use for it these days is to do all my food shopping, as the picture heading the article and this one indicate.
Not only can I ride it to the store to shop for food, I can actually ride it right INTO the store and do my shopping! 🙂 Because of that, I can actually do the whole food shopping expedition in less time than it would take me to drive my car there, park, walk around the store and then drive back home and park again and take the groceries from the car inside the digs.
How much food can I load up on the scooter? Well normally I only buy bits at a time, so I don't load it up, but if I really wanted to I could drop about 100 lbs of food on to it. I have panniers for the back as well as the basket on the front, and I can put a case of beer no problem on the bottom platform. Shopping with it once a week, I would have no problem feeding a family of four.
What about the Soccer Mom issue? Well, instead of mom driving around the Minivan to get the school for pickup and then driving the kids to activities, the kids do this THEMSELVES on their scooters! Anybody above the age of 10 or so who can ride a bicycle safely can ride one of these safely, at least as long as there are Bike Paths for them to do it on and not be out in the car traffic.
These kids can then ALSO ride the scooters to school, reducing the total number of School Buses you need for a given population. Long as the school is within 5 miles of where your McMansion is, the scooter will get the kid to school inside around 20 minutes or so, at the Federally mandated max speed of 15 mph for such devices currently. That is way faster than the school bus with all the stops it has to make for individual pickups.
What about Work Commuters?
The biggest problem for work commutes is the "Last Mile" on either end off a Light Rail, Subway or Bus system. If you live out in the suburbs, your McMansion is probably 2-5 miles away from the nearest light rail station. So you gotta drive to the station, park your car for the day, get on the train and then when you get to the other end you still might have 2-5 miles to cover to get to the workplace, which you would need a cab or bus to cover.
The scooter solves this problem on BOTH ends, as long as you can take it on the train. Ride the scooter from home to the station, bring it on the train, get off the train and ride it to the workplace! Think of the vast reduction in traffic problems you would get doing this, and the concurrent energy savings! Of course, you would need to redesign the cars and provide more of them to be able to accomodate the scooters, especially on really packed commuter lines.
There are other ways beyond the trains you could do this on smaller scale. Use one with a 16 passenger van pulling a 15' Trailer to load the scooters on to. Everybody in your area going to a given location the van goes to loads up in the morning, the van drives to a central location for everybody and then they drive their scooters to work. Now instead of 16 carz on the road, you have only one 16 passenger van! It could even still be ICE powered and the energy savings would still be enormous, but also vans are amongst the easiest things to convert to electric themselves because of their design. Plenty of room for batteries, no problem there.
The biggest complaint I get when pitching this idea is the WEATHER problem. Rain, Snow, Cold etc.
Well folks, remember where I live. ALASKA! lol. Yes, there are some days that I do not venture out on the scooter because it is too wet, snowy or rainy. Never because it is too cold, you just dress for the weather there. In terms of total number of days in the last year that riding the scooter was if not impossible (forget 6" of fresh snow, I tried it just bogs down and doesn't GO) just real unpleasant and not worth trying, MAYBE it was 30 days worth. In areas of the country where it hardly ever rains or snows like Sunny California, I can't imagine more than 10 days you couldn't ride.
However, you still would want to have Backup Plans for days that the scooters are impractical. Easiest there is just to have an old car like I do. When the weather sucks, I just use the car instead of the scooter. However the total amount of driving miles each year on the car tires is enormously reduced, an order of magnitude here. I used to spend 10X the amount of money on gas each year I do now.
The next big problem/complaint is the infrastructure necessary here. These scooters travelling as slow as they do are NOT SAFE to be riding along with car traffic! They need separate Bike Paths to operate on. I am fortunate in that where I live has such a bike path, but for these things to be used ubiquitously, the road setup would need to be modified in most places. A simple way to do it would be to just put a Barrier on current roads separating the carz from the scooterz. Since there would be fewer carz on the road, you wouldn't need so many lanes for them. This solution only works for multi-lane roads though.
For single lane roads, you would need to cut a parallel bike path in order to keep the scooters separate from the carz. However, in generally quiet suburban communities, you can ride relatively safely on the road as long as the car speeds are regulated down to around 25 mph.
So, obviously such a transition cannot be made in all places simultaneously, but if we get the process underway making this transition, just tons of energy can be conserved this way. If we halve the amount of fossil fuels we use each day, we double the time we have to ween ourselves off of this addiction. It is the CHOICE of every community whether they wish to do this. Later this month I travel to South Carolina to try and get one town to begin this effort with the SUN☼ Foundation.
Build it, and they will COME!