Letters 08-01-2016

Voter Suppression And Choice In 2013, five Supreme Court justices, each appointed by Republican presidents, knocked the teeth out of the Voting Rights Act. Immediately a majority of Republican-dominated states began passing laws aimed at suppressing the votes of their majority Democrat demographics: minorities, students and the elderly. These laws – requiring voter IDs, cutting early voting, eliminating same-day registration, closing selected polling places, banning straight-ticket voting, etc. — never flat-out deny a person’s right to vote; they just make actual registering and voting more difficult, and therefore make it more likely that individuals in certain groups will not vote. Think of voter suppression as a kind of reverse marketing strategy, one aimed at getting people not to do something...

Free Parking Patrick Sullivan’s good story on parking overlooked one source of “free parking” that has become an increasing problem in Traverse City: spill-over into adjacent neighborhoods. Instead of discouraging people from bringing cars downtown, we’re allowing them to park on both sides of narrow residential streets all day long...

Real American Duality Isiah Smith didn’t really put his deep thinking hat on before writing the “American Duality” commentary. First there’s geography. His daughter feels safer in Sweden than in the United States, at least partially because of the violence in Dallas, Baton Rouge and Minnesota. Really? Safer than in northern Michigan, which is further away from Dallas and Baton Rouge than Stockholm is from Ansbach, Paris or Brussels and no closer to Minnesota than Sweden is to Germany? Did Smith miss recent supremely violent events in those places? Alrighty then...

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Plugging In - E cars

Katie Huston - July 19th, 2007
Until a year ago, the train station in TC was home to the Grand Traverse dinner train, paying homage to transportation of the past. Now, the station houses ecompany, an electric vehicle rental company and dealership that’s looking to the future.
“We are late getting on board in America,” says Ella Cooper, the vice president of ecompany. “When you go to Japan, an electric vehicle is not an oddity.”
Cooper and president Martin Lagina launched their business on May 15. They’ve got a fleet of nine: six two-seaters, and three that fit a family of four.
The vehicles, which are about half the size of a conventional car, are known as “neighborhood electric vehicles,” or “NVs,” because they’re designed for city driving – they have a top speed of 25 miles per hour and can travel 35-40 miles on a set of fully-charged batteries.
They run on standard electricity, and you can recharge by plugging the vehicles into any household outlet. They cost less than two cents per mile to drive–about five times less than a “fuel-efficient” SUV–and take eight hours to charge completely. Ecompany’s charging stations are powered entirely by renewable energy, largely solar energy that’s been harvested on-site.
People who invest in an NV may actually save money, Cooper says. Once you purchase an NV, which costs $9,800 to $13,800, you won’t have to fill your gas tank–and empty your wallet–every couple of days. NVs have fewer moving parts
to be replaced. Because they travel at slower speeds, there’s less wear-and-tear on the tires. They don’t need oil. Batteries last about six years, and cost a mere $100 to replace.
She believes that ecompany’s location in Northern Michigan is ideal. “Traverse City is quite removed from the metropolitan mecca, yet it’s quite forward in its thinking. It’s not your sort of backwoods area–there’s some nice vision going on here,” she says.
And if we don’t do something now, she cautions, Northern Michigan may not always be the pristine environment its residents treasure and protect. “People move to Traverse City because of its natural beauty,” Cooper says. “If we continue to pump emissions into the air, we can’t necessarily control that for the future.”
Ecompany is targeting both tourists and residents. Tourists may need a way to get around the city, and a fun and novel NV could be just the thing, Cooper says.
She also hopes that locals will embrace NVs as a practical, economical and green way to get around town. The average American drives 29 miles per day, often entirely within city limits.
“Everyone who lives here should come and try one of these vehicles,” Cooper says. “Who knows? Maybe one in ten would find this meets their needs. Maybe people would realize, ‘Four days out of seven, I don’t leave the city limits. Maybe with a little forethought, I can reduce the emissions I put out and embrace this new technology.’”
Ecompany also rents to people in other towns in the region; so far they’ve shipped NVs out to Bay View and Bay Harbor.
Traverse City resident Shari Chouinard has rented an NV three or four times. She uses it to commute to work, run errands and pay bills, hoping to reduce her carbon footprint.
Does she recommend it? “Definitely,” she says. “Most places that I need to go are right within the city limits, or at least within the speed zone. It’s got a really sleek look to it, it’s fun to drive.”
An NV is “definitely a conversation starter,” Chouinard says. “Every single time that I have parked the car, there have been people who have asked questions, and it’s all had a very positive response.”
Would she buy one? Chouinard is thinking about it. She needs another car for out-of-town ventures, but says, “This is something I would consider having on a longer term.”
Cooper agrees that because of its limited range, an NV would best function as a second vehicle. “We’re basically a two-car population,” Cooper points out; people could have one in-city car and one out-of-town car. An NV could also be a good choice for businesses that drive a lot locally: pizza deliveries, mail carriers, meter readers, dry cleaners, and even ice cream trucks.

In addition to being cost-efficient, environmentally friendly, and low-maintenance, electric vehicles are quiet. They have “regenerative braking”--as you apply the brakes, energy flows back into the battery. In Traverse City, NVs can park for free, although they’re still subject to time limits. And they qualify for substantial tax credit.
NVs are not without their drawbacks. Because many people live on the outskirts of town, the 35-40 mile speed limit is often not enough. And although NVs can easily be modified to reach speeds of 35 miles per hour, Michigan law prevents them from driving fast-er than 25mph because they don’t have airbags. This means they can only be used on roads with speed limits of 35 miles per hour or less.
Critics of electric vehicles also argue that 55% of America’s electricity comes from dirty, coal-fired power plants, which means electric vehicles are not as “emissions-free” as they appear. Still, an electric vehicle can travel farther than a gas-powered car for the energy burned, and can be charged from renewable sources.
The vehicles lack a few creature comforts like air conditioning, but they have removable roofs and wind-down windows. “We’ve come to expect air conditioning in vehicles, but to lessen the environmental impact of your vehicle you need to take pause and say, ‘What is essential?’” Cooper says.
The cars do come with stereos, and they’re Bluetooth-enabled, which means you can plug in an iPod or cell phone. They have window wipers and headlights. And you can fit six bags of groceries in the trunk.

What about the winter? NVs are essentially fair-weather vehicles; although they have heating, it’s not strong enough to defrost a snow-covered car. “But how many convertibles do we drive up in Northern Michigan in the winter?” Cooper asks. “We’re willing to make concessions when we’re driving our convertible Mustangs–we don’t take that out in the winter either.”
Embracing electric car technology will finance research to improve batteries, increase vehicle scale and speed, lengthen range, and add more features for passengers, she says. “I think the technology is here to stay. We need to enhance its application, or be a little bit more creative in the way we apply it.”
Ecompany offers a short-circuit program, geared to tourists or people who just want to give the cars a try, for $25. A two-seater costs $75 to rent for a day, or $375 per week; the four-person vehicles are $90 and $450. To inquire about monthly or seasonal rates, purchasing, or for more information, call (231) 947-1277, visit www.ecocarstc.com, or stop by the Traverse City train station.

New Ways to Get Around

Gas prices may top $4 a gallon by the end of the summer. America’s “addiction to foreign oil” has entangled us in the Middle East, drained the national budget and cost many lives. And the effects of global warming can no longer be denied, even by many of the staunchest skeptics. Everyone agrees: it’s time for America to do something about fuel.
But what can you do about it? As it turns out, plenty.
This summer, Northern Express features a series on alternative modes of transport. From driving a novel and fun electric vehicle to simply hopping on a bike, there’s a way for all of us to cut down on our carbon emissions – and perhaps put a bit of gas money back into our pockets, too.

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