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Urban Transportation Commission votes to back electric vehicle program

Tuesday, October 18, 2011 by Josh Rosenblatt

Members of the Urban Transportation Commission have thrown their support behind a pilot program to bring electric low-speed vehicles (ELSV) to downtown. If Council approves a measure amending city regulations to allow for the operation of such vehicles on second and third reading this Thursday, the program could be up and running by early January.


The pilot program calls for two jitney-style routes, one east/west and one north/south, to serve downtown bus stops, taxi stands, and off-street parking facilities.


At last week’s meeting, Council Member Mike Martinez proposed approving ordinance changes on first reading only so that the Urban Transportation Commission could discuss and make recommendations on 14 equipment criteria. Upon learning that no electric vehicles on the market meet all those criteria, Martinez argued that language should be placed in the ordinance allowing for “equivalent alternatives” – using an industry standard braking system in lieu of disc brakes.


At its Tuesday meeting, the commission agreed to put in language that would allow for equivalent standards in vehicles used by companies contracting with the city.


“As we inspect the vehicle, if it meets the performance standards that are equivalent to what’s in (the ordinance), staff can check it off,” said Gordon Derr, assistant director of the Transportation Department.


That new language should save the city a lot of time, said engineer Carlton Thomas.


“We contacted a dealer and asked about purchasing a vehicle outfitted with the requirements here, and we were advised it would take up to 12 weeks if we ordered it today,” said Thomas.


Considering city staff is anticipating putting out the application for approval sometime in mid-November, making their choices in mid-December, and starting the program in early January, waiting three months for vehicles is simply impractical.


Council also asked the commission to make recommendations on whether to restrict the hours of operations for the vehicles during the one-year pilot program. The commission decided that since staff will have flexibility in both choosing and altering routes before and during the program, establishing hours of operations in the ordinance itself wouldn’t make sense.


“Someone might propose an ELSV do a big loop around UT, which might run daytime and that’s the only time,” said Commission Chair Dustin Lanier. “So unless you’re going to say we only want to see (these vehicles) in the entertainment district, I don’t know if you can make a statement about what hours they are running. I don’t know if you have enough information right now to say the hours. As long as you’re going to leave it open, you might as well leave it open.”


The commission also voted to support the program running on a fixed-fare system, unlike taxis or pedi-cabs.


They did take issue with one element of the ordinance and recommended to Council that they eliminate the provision limiting the number of vehicles operating on a route to a maximum of four at any one time.


Lanier said staff should have the flexibility to address that issue through the application process.

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