Have wall socket, will travel

Harvard R. Fong is a senior industrial hygienist with the California Environmental Protection Agency’s Department of Pesticide Regulation, Worker Health and Safety Branch
There are some different-looking little cars around Sacramento, and I’m not talking about Minis. Some are Global Electric Motorcars (GEMs), some are Th!nks, and a few are Bombardiers, but they’re all Neighborhood Electric Vehicles (NEVs). I’ve been driving a four-passenger GEM since last August, commuting from East Sacramento to downtown.

Driving one of these cars is like tooling around in Disney’s Autopia, except on city streets. Since we put on the soft-sided doors, though, it looks less like a sleek racecar and more like a four-wheeled garment bag.

Getting around in an NEV takes a little planning. These vehicles are legally limited to a maximum speed of 25 mph and can only be driven on roads posted for 35 mph or less. I must either stick to low-density streets or wait for rush hour on the high-density streets, when it’s de facto 25 mph or less. Driving on P Street in the morning is ill-advised; the death grip tends to warp the steering wheel. And I’ll never attend the state fair in my NEV, unless it’s under cover of night across the Guy West Bridge.

But there are miles of safe and accessible road in East Sac, Midtown, downtown, Land Park and Oak Park—all areas to which I’ve actually driven in the NEV.

The NEV is the right answer to the right question about transportation. Unlike the debate between the big electric vehicles—such as the Toyota RAV4 EV—and the gas-powered cars, the NEV makes complete sense for its specific purpose: short commutes in a local, low-speed area. Gas engines may have the advantage for long hauls on freeways, but the NEV can’t be beat for driving around town. It’s quiet; it has zippo emission; and it gets us to work, day care (yes, it accepts child seats) and grocery and hardware stores.

In addition to free parking and battery charging downtown, we’ve avoided wear and tear on the gasoline vehicle. I was surprised to see that I’ve saved close to 2,000 miles on the gas-powered car since I got the NEV—not to mention the gasoline money saved.

And, unlike the big electronic vehicles, the charging infrastructure is already in place—a wall socket and an extension cord.