Anthony Cherolis

The United States auto industry’s viewpoint of an electric vehicle (EV) future is the large, torquey Ford F150 Lightning and the sporty Tesla Model Y. To protect their existing profit model, automakers are aiming for a one-to-one ratio of replacing fossil-fueled cars and trucks with equivalently-sized battery-electric versions. The life cycle emissions of those e-vehicles are much better than a fossil-fueled equivalent, and those EV lifecycle emissions will reduce further as the electricity grid shifts to more non-fossil sources. 

“… the assessment finds that the life-cycle emissions over the lifetime of BEVs [battery electric vehicles] registered today in Europe, the United States, China, and India are already lower than a comparable gasoline car by 66%-69% in Europe, 60%–68% in the United States, 37%-45% in China, and 19%-34% in India.” Source – A Global Comparison of the Life-Cycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Combustion Engine and Electric Passenger Cars, Georg Bieker, 2021

Even though they emit zero tailpipe exhaust, significant emissions and pollution are generated by the mining of raw materials, production, and manufacturing of heavy e-vehicles, including the very large battery. With car-centric countries far off course for maintaining a stable global climate, partial solutions are not enough to avoid tipping over into climate catastrophe. We need solutions that reduce emissions rapidly, not in dribs and drabs.

A recent report looking at emissions reduction progress and future commitments shows that by the end of this century Earth is “… on a path to heat between 2.1 and 2.9 degrees [Celcius, or 3.8 to 5.2 deg F], which would lead to catastrophic climate impacts, including even more deadly heatwaves, worsening droughts and water shortages, crop failures, as well degradation of ecosystems that could wipe out some species of mammals, insects, birds and plants.” (Source, Is COP27 the End of Hopes for Limiting Global Warming to 1.5 Degrees Celsius?) That range is much higher than the 1.5 degree Celcius target above pre-industrial levels that was agreed to in 2015 in the Paris Agreement as the best chance for the future of humanity. To summarize, we are collectively in deep crap without more significant emissions reductions, especially from a major contributor like the transportation sector.

EV Vehicle Weight Comparison chart
Graph of electric vehicle weight from publicly available vehicle specs. Data in spreadsheet format. Credit: Anthony Cherolis / CTNewsJunkie

Emission reduction solutions are most effective if they improve multiple aspects at the same time. Conversely, some approaches can locally reduce emissions while increasing emissions elsewhere. For example, large, low-occupancy battery-electric vehicles may perversely increase rural sprawl by reducing the per-mile fuel cost of driving. More sprawling rural single-family houses increase residential greenhouse gas emissions because of more miles driven, more square footage per household, and a lawn with a fossil-fueled mower. 

Sprawling development and land-use policy are a big deal. Despite no population growth, Connecticut has recorded a 19% increase in residential emissions (see pg 3, figure 2) from 2016 to 2018. Rather than increase sprawl, e-bikes and battery-electric low-speed vehicles (LSVs) are more likely to encourage town center, transit-oriented, and infill development with shorter trips to destinations. Infill development is more likely to be near existing transit service and commuter rail corridors with a higher percentage of energy-efficient duplexes, apartments, and condos.

The rapidly rising demand for battery materials is leading many to predict major supply shortages. Supply shortages cause price spikes and electric vehicle shortages. That will slow the pace that fossil-fueled cars and trucks can be replaced with cleaner electric vehicles. Again, we do not have time to delay electrification and implement lower-emission transportation solutions. Big EVs with big batteries exacerbate this material supply shortage issue. A one-to-one, full-sized gasoline-to-battery electric fleet transition is not a viable path forward.

What path gets us there? Of course, first we need better land use policy and more infill development, combined with walkable, bike-able, and transit-oriented communities. That, and we need to replace more household fossil-fueled cars and SUVs with non-car options. That could be transit, or it could be battery-electric micromobility. In reality, it is often a combination of several non-car transport options.

Rental bicycles and battery electric low-speed vehicles
Rental bicycles and battery electric low-speed vehicles near Inlet Beach, Florida. It was common to see families and couples using the e-LSVs to get to dinner, parks, or the beach. Credit: Anthony Cherolis / CTNewsJunkie

Battery electric micromobility goes from single-passenger e-scooters (33 lbs) up to six-passenger deluxe low-speed vehicles (1,100 lbs). Reducing the pressure on battery raw materials, the six-passenger EZGO is three times lighter than the five-passenger Nissan Leaf. That lower raw material demand is combined with a much lower amount of electricity to charge the vehicle’s smaller battery. Going one step further, an e-cargo bike, like the Rad Runner Plus (77 lbs), is forty-seven times lighter than the Tesla Model 3 (3,648 lbs). 

Large multi-passenger EV carts are ideal for family transport in a city or town center where parking is tight and speeds are low. Several states have already passed laws allowing low-speed vehicles (LSVs) to operate on streets with posted speed limits under 35 mph, like this law in Florida.

Matt, owner and engineer at Spark Cycleworks in Branford, Connecticut says, “I personally believe light-electric vehicles are the key stepping stone in shifting the US to a full-electric transportation system. The vast majority of commutes are less than 5 miles and people buy cars about once every eight years. Between range anxiety, high costs, and supply availability, electric cars are still facing challenges that are going to push people away for quite a while. E-bikes outsold electric cars in 2021 and are on pace to do it again this year.” Matt’s company designs and sells battery electric mopeds that he calls personal electric vehicles (PEVs) or local commuting vehicles. The e-mopeds can go up to 40 mph and do not require a motorcycle license or insurance in most states. Matt sees the e-mopeds as a good option in areas without bike lanes, where it is safer to be riding on the local roads at the speed of surrounding traffic.

Spark Cycleworks Bandit Classic battery electric moped
Photo of the Spark Cycleworks Bandit Classic battery electric moped, a Connecticut designed and assembled personal electric vehicle (PEV). Credit: Contributed / Spark Cycleworks

We need a future that has fewer e-F150s and more e-bikes, e-mopeds, and electric low-speed vehicles. That is the most plausible path for universal vehicle electrification. Cities and towns can accelerate that shift with traffic-calmed streets, connected and safe bike routes, dedicated compact EV parking, and higher registration or parking fees for over-sized vehicles. Zoning regulations in cities and towns should be updated to incorporate standard electric vehicle charging as part of garages, parking lots, and employer parking. Of course, cities and towns should be installing convenient bicycle and e-moped / e-scooter parking areas, and requiring bike parking for all new developments.

Connecticut will be bringing e-bike rebates online in early 2023, via the CT CHEAPR program. That is a good start, but CT DEEP and legislators should next consider e-mopeds (like Spark Cycleworks, Branford CT) and electric low-speed vehicles as part of the state’s transition to sustainable electrified transportation.

Info graphic on Connecticut’s e-bike incentive program
Connecticut’s e-bike incentive program is expected to start in the 2nd quarter of 2023, initiated by a 2022 transportation climate action law. Credit: Contributed / Connecticut DEEP

At the state level, Connecticut has not yet allowed or regulated operation of low-speed electric vehicles on public roads. That would put Connecticut in the minority. This legislative report from 2008 identified forty states with existing low-speed vehicle (LSV) laws. It would be prudent for the Connecticut Transportation Committee to take this up in the 2023 session. A Connecticut low-speed vehicle law could specifically legalize battery electric LSVs for use on public roads and leave out the fossil-fueled versions. 

How to get involved and learn more

Bookmark the EV Club of Connecticut page, which includes thoughtful electric vehicle information and policy analysis.

Low Speed Vehicle caution sign in Florida
Florida’s Low-Speed Vehicle Law allows operation on streets with posted speed limits of less than 35 mph. There are also standard equipment requirements and the LSVs maximum speed is capped at 25 mph. Credit: Anthony Cherolis / CTNewsJunkie
3- and 4-wheeled scooters in Quebec
On a 2019 bicycle tour in Quebec, the author saw a surprising number of seniors on 3- and 4-wheeled mobility scooters. This one was fully enclosed. Their scooters go quicker (and further) than the home and grocery scooters common in the US. Credit: Anthony Cherolis / CTNewsJunkie

Anthony Cherolis is a former aerospace engineer, BiCi Co. founder, a former Hartford resident, and the former Transport Hartford Coordinator at the Center for Latino Progress. He also writes at All Famous Together.

The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of or any of the author's other employers.