City Leading the Charge in Preparing for Electric Cars

By Jill Colvin on July 14, 2011 11:25am 

The mayor tests the city's first public electric car charging station.
The mayor tests the city's first public electric car charging station.
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

MANHATTAN — Surrounded by a fleet of electric and hybrid vehicles before a city-sponsored screening of the documentary Revenge of the Electric CarTuesday, fans of the technology said that after years of anticipation, a revolution is poised to arrive.

“We want one!” said Hell’s Kitchen couple Catherine Taormina and Nick Addeo, at the event at Central Park's Naumberg Bandshell. They recently drove all the way to Washington, D.C. for a chance to test drive and win Nissan's new electric vehicle, the LEAF. The company expects to begin taking orders in the city later this year.

It was exactly a year ago that officials, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, gathered near the couple’s home to announce the installation of New York City’s first public electric car charging station at an Edison ParkFast on Ninth Avenue — one in a series of steps the city has taken to pave the way for electric cars.

And while many of the stations around Manhattan are rarely — if ever — used today, even those who’ve been disappointed by the pace at which electric vehicles have hit the road say they have no doubt that efforts will pay off soon.

“I think it’s just a matter of time,” said Nana Ansah, 37, the manager of the Edison ParkFast at Lafayette and Great Jones streets, who said he’s seen just two people use the charger since it was installed last year.

“We were expecting a lot of cars to come in after it was installed. But the turnout wasn't that great," said Ansah. "I was disappointed."

Still, he's convinced that as soon as the cars become more affordable and available, the charger will be buzzing.

Preparing Manhattan for a potential electric revolution has its challenges, said Tracy Woodard, director of government affairs at Nissan which has been working closely with the city and was recently selected to build its new taxi fleet.

With so few single family homes with garages, and so few shopping malls and big-box stores where people can shop for hours, she said finding appropriate locations for chargers is always tough.

That’s why networks like Edison’s have been such an important step.

The company now has 11 charging stations at lots across Manhattan, and intends to have a majority of its locations equipped by the end of the year, said Edison District Manager Michael Guarnieri, who acknowledged that while the chargers have been slow to take off, he’s seen interest steadily growing.

“I definitely wouldn't say it’s robust... [but] we've definitely seen a pickup over the past year. It’s become quite steady now,” he said.

He’s also noticed something else — a significant uptick in calls from current customers who say they’re thinking about switching to electric cars and want to check in to make sure they're covered before they invest.

In addition to public stations, private lots are also coming online.

Lower East Side co-op Seward Park installed four new charging stations in March to power its fleet of hybrid vehicles offered to residents through a car-sharing partnership with rental company Hertz.

While two of the chargers were paid for through federal grants, Seward Park paid for the other two themselves, setting the co-op back approximately $17,000 with installation, co-op General Manager Frank Durant said.

While no residents have started charging private cars at the complex yet, co-op board member Michael Tumminia said the mass sale of electric cars is just starting now and that he expects to see a major surge very soon.

What has him most excited are the numerous requests he's been receiving from area companies inquiring about whether they might be able to use the charging stations if they buy electric.

"What we have done is given organizations that want to go green, that are in the process of replacing their gasoline engines, a real option,” said Tumminia.

He said the investment helps to solve the long-time “chicken and the egg” dilemma of electric cars. Many are reluctant to buy them because they don’t know where they’ll charge them, while companies don’t invest because there are so few cars on the road.

“We’ve allowed people to really consider an [electric vehicle],” he said.

New Jersey Subaru driver Debby Dazzo, 34, said that she’d fallen in love with the LEAF when she first saw it at the New York International Auto Show at the Javits Center in April. But what’s really made the difference, she said, is that her employer, Johnson & Johnson, has recently installed charging stations at work, making a purchase a possibility.

“We’re ready to make the deposit,” she said.

In addition to efforts like helping draw media attention to the new chargers and working to prepare the grid for the cars, the city this week announced it has added 70 new electric vehicles to its already-green-heavy municipal fleet and launched a new website touting the cars’ benefits.

“A year ago no one really seemed convinced that this could be a reality,” Tumminia said.

“I think that people are believing now that the technology is going to be there and that there’s a political will. I think the future is now.”

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