By Don MacGillivray

A year ago, the Portland City Council voted unanimously to adopt the 2017 Electric Vehicle (EV) Strategy in hopes of increasing EV awareness, expanding access, adding chargers, electrifying fleets of vehicles, and supporting innovation.

There are nearly fifty actions to help Portland transition to EVs in the next four years in partnership with local utilities and community based organizations.

Portland’s Climate Action Plan drives this effort and the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) has sustainability as a core value making EVs an important implementation tool.

Portland officially began its experiment regarding Electric Vehicles seven years ago which was one of the first activities of this kind in the nation.

A partnership was formed among the City of Portland, Portland State University (PSU), Portland General Electric (PGE) as well as several private companies to research, demonstrate, and promote the use of EVs.

A thirty month experimental project was approved to build and operate what became known as Electric Avenue as a place to view the cars and everything needed to service them including the special equipment for battery charging. It was built on SW Montgomery St. between Sixth Ave. and Broadway Blvd. on the PSU campus.

Then as now, new EVs are increasing in number. The list includes: Toyota’s Prius, Chevy’s Spark, Mitsubishi’s I Miev, Nissan’s Leaf, Ford’s Fusion, Hyundai’s Ioniq, BMW’s i3, Fiat’s 500e, Kia’s Soul EV, Volkswagon’s E-golf, Honda’s Clarity and others.

It is expected many new charging stations will spring up around Portland and throughout Oregon to facilitate the use the EVs. The lower cost to operate an EV is one of their great advantages over the conventional automobile.

The initial Electric Avenue experiment was continued for an additional eighteen months until 2014 and is now located adjacent to PGE’s World Trade Center building on SW Second Ave. in downtown.

Most owners charge their vehicles overnight in a normal electric wall socket. This is known as Level 1 charging and a 10 hour charge gives the car a range of about 45 miles.

A Level 2 battery charging station will add from 25 to 70 miles in an hour. Portland has over thirty Level 2 stations available at various locations, but it is recommended that the vehicle owner install their own Level 2 charger at home for about $2,000.

There are Direct Current Fast Charging stations that can give a battery 240 miles of range in one hour. There are about a half dozen of these stations available to the public around town,

It is expected that ten percent of the cars in Oregon will be electric by 2019. Today, less than one percent are electric. Uber, Car2Go, and BMW’s Reach Now are all developing ways to use electric smart cars as taxis.

Later on in 2018, Drive Oregon will sponsor “The Electric Vehicle Conference” June 19 and 20 at 25 SW Salmon St. The conference will explore developments, case studies, and emerging questions that will shape the electrification of transportation over the coming decade.

Another significant change underway is the advance of self driving cars. Many people are apprehensive about the future of these new driverless cars as both an owner and as a passenger in traffic with others. Three quarters of drivers currently express reservations.

Google driverless cars have traveled one and a half million miles without serious difficulties. This good test record may be because the Google cars are operated at below 25 miles per hour. In testing when the driverless cars were involved in accidents they were never at fault and their accidents were significantly less severe than those caused by human drivers.

Still it is hard for the average driver to believe that their car can be controlled by a computer. It is likely that autonomous cars will eventually be safer, accident free, better for the environment and more economical for everyone.

Most legacy automobile manufactures are developing driverless cars. Silicon Valley companies like Google, Uber, Tesla, Lyft, Ford, and many others are advancing quickly as are Portland’s Daimler Trucks of North America.

The hardware for these new vehicles is available, but the software is still undergoing testing that must be done in real city driving. This software can see hundreds of distinct objects at the same time which is something a human does imperfectly.

A computer won’t get tired or suffer from distractions or drive under the influence of controlled substances and as the self driving car travels, it is constantly learning and improving its driving skills.

In 2016 37,461 people in the United States lost their lives in motor vehicle accidents. Ninety-four percent of these accidents were due to bad choices and errors made by the human driving the car.

Driver assisted technologies in recent years have proven their worth in making driving safer. The driverless car is just the final step in putting everything together into one vehicle.

It offers social benefits too by improving the quality of life and independence for those who cannot drive because of advanced age or disability.

Self-driving cars operated as taxis may be less expensive to use and can stay in service longer. Without a driver, labor costs are cut drastically. People may switch to public transit and reduce their use of private autos and this could happen very quickly if many challenges are addressed and solved.

Driverless cars get lots of attention nationally, but few cities are welcoming them onto their streets and highways. Not so with Portland.

Here, we are planning to invite testing of driverless cars for a two year period as soon as appropriate policies and rules can be developed for their safe use.

The city hopes the experience will help us gain advantages in this technology. The experience is expected to reduce congestion, miles traveled, carbon emissions, and perhaps prioritize shared fleets of company owned cars, buses, and even bicycles over private vehicles.