By Dennis Dumapias
Patience. This is very much moto-related. I promise. 🙂
I got the chance to spend a few weeks driving an all-electric car this past winter. A co-worker of mine – who also happens to be a neighbor – had leased a Volkswagen e-Golf to use as a commuter during the week. We had already been carpooling for quite some time, especially during the winter season when I was more likely to drive a car than continue commuting on a motorcycle. As a trade-off for using my friend’s car(s), I would be the one to drive whenever we carpooled.
And that’s how I inadvertently racked up the experience in alternative fuel vehicles, and how I eventually came to compare what it’s like to daily commute in one, versus a motorcycle.
Prior to this, I didn’t really have any other experience with alternative fuel vehicles. I may have had a friend or two own hybrid cars, but there was never an occasion for me to drive them myself. I had been inside one before, getting a glimpse of how an electric car differs from a conventional car in the cabin. As if the alternative powerplant was not enough, an electric car’s driver cabin even looks dramatically different, foregoing levers and dials for touchscreen interfaces and knobs. The first time I got inside a Nissan Leaf and tried to move the car out of Park, I froze; Where the heck is the gear lever? Instead, it was a large knob in the middle console to select the drive modes, and even the configuration was ‘counter-intuitive’ to what I have been used to from a conventional automatic gearbox.
And this was something I appreciated on the e-Golf; other than being badged an ‘e-Golf’, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell that it was an electric car from the outside. And when you step into the car, you’d still be forgiven for mistaking it as a conventional vehicle. Volkswagen did a good job of keeping the car looking and feeling like a regular car. The driver cabin and controls are identical as you would find in a regular car, and it isn’t until you’re driving that you’d even notice it’s an electric car, when you realize just how quiet the drive is without the noise of a common internal combustion engine. Because of this, it didn’t take long for me to acclimate to driving an electric vehicle.
Halfway to our work commute on my first drive in the e-Golf, I was convinced: An electric car is PERFECT for the congested work week traffic in the Bay Area. If you live and work in the Bay Area or anywhere that suffers from an ever-increasing traffic congest and have to drive in your commute, you should seriously consider switching to an electric car.
Stop-and-go traffic may be the bane of every commuter’s patience, but it also makes for even worse fuel economy for a conventional car, the engine using up more power to move a multi-ton vehicle from a stop and wasting energy to slow or stop it again. In an electric car, stop-and-go traffic does not make a lick of a difference in the e-car’s power reserve, and the various regenerative braking systems implemented also serve to conserve and even recharge the e-car’s power system as you slow to a stop. Most e-cars even come with a ‘one-pedal’ driving system, during which each time you lift your foot off the accelerator pedal, the electric motor immediately reverses its spin to recharge the batteries with the momentum from deceleration. If you’ve driven a manual-transmission car, the feeling is akin to lifting off the accelerator pedal without disengaging the clutch – you can feel the engine braking slowing the vehicle, rather than gliding the way an automatic transmission would. This one-pedal driving system
actually made driving the e-car feel like a video game for me; just exactly how much range can I save driving like this? I think the best I’ve done is using up only 15 or 16 miles of range to travel our 22-mile commute.
Honestly, if your worksite has provisions to charge e-vehicles, or perhaps your round trip commute is less than the full range available on today’s variety of e-cars, I cannot recommend switching to an e-car for a daily commuter.
And before you ask, no, I still haven’t switched myself.
As impressed as I was with the e-Golf and as quickly as it had converted me to the idea of owning an e-car in the Bay Area, there was one remaining luxury it couldn’t afford me:
For all the virtues an e-car has that alleviated the bane of stop-and-go traffic – saving drivers money in wasted fuel at gas stations and in turn, the environment – the time lost sitting through Bay Area congestion was still something that eludes alternative fuel vehicles. And while I am well aware that alternative fuel vehicle drivers are awarded use of HOV lanes, the prevalence of alternative fuel vehicles in the Bay Area means that even these lanes can get congested on their own. You are still likely to move quicker through these lanes in your alternative fuel vehicle, but that’s only relative to the cars in the regular lanes. The Bay Area road infrastructure unfortunately has not kept up with the rise of alternative fuel vehicles.
So it remains that in order for me to save time – the most luxurious commodity to me right now – as a daily commuter, a motorcycle remains my best option. Being able to conservatively laneshare through any congestion means that I can ride through my 22-mile commute in half the time that it would otherwise take me in a car. And despite fossil fuel being my motorcycle’s primary source of energy, motorcycles tend to have more conservative fuel economy than cars. Even a liter sports motorcycle can turn out better fuel economy than today’s economical sub-compact cars.
So for now, as it has been for years, commuting on two-wheels remains the more green alternative form of transportation for myself.