Greening Your Ride

Bay Area residents think outside the Prius

Silver, sexy, and so expensive: The all-electric Tesla Roadster appeals to the eco-minded driver for whom money is no object.

Photograph courtesy tesla

We all have places we need to go, but driving a gas-powered car is expensive and polluting, and walking, biking, and public transit can only take us so far. Thankfully, transportation alternatives are growing. From car sharing to carpooling to owning your own electric bike or car, from the free-of-charge to the very expensive, numerous transportation options in the South Bay are both innovative and environmentally friendly.

Car Sharing
Car sharing programs are sponsored by municipalities, non-profits, and private businesses throughout the United States. Anyone who occasionally needs to use a car can obtain a membership in a car-sharing service, usually for about $50 per year. When the need arises, he or she reserves a car online or over the phone, choosing options such as what type of car and where and when it will be picked up. An electronic key, provided with each membership, opens the chosen car at the pre-selected time and place. Car share company Zipcar has one station in the South Bay, located off Palm Drive on the Santa Clara University campus. Stanford University in Palo Alto has 27 Zipcars on or near campus, making it the largest university program in the United States, says a Zipcar spokesman. Depending on the type of membership, Zipcar charges about $8 per hour or $66 per day, and slightly more on weekends. The average trip lasts about 30 miles and three to four hours. Members must be at least 21 years old and have a clean driving record. For programs on college campuses, the age prerequisite drops to 18. In general, says Zipcar spokesman John Williams, members save about $600 a month compared to car owners. Car sharing differs from renting a car in several ways. It is not limited to office hours; cars are available 24/7. Cars can be rented by the hour, rather than in 24-hour periods, and the rate includes gas, maintenance, roadside service, and insurance. Once a membership is established, the entire transaction is self-service. On the downside, vehicles are not cleaned and refueled after each use.

Ride Sharing
If you’re interested in ride sharing, also known as carpooling, consider signing up with Zimride. Zimride uses the Facebook model of online social networking, but to hook up with rides as well as friends. Zimride focuses primarily on universities. A majority of University of California campuses are signed on to the network, says Zimride co-founder John Zimmer.

The company doesn’t release the number of people involved on a regional level, but says it has some 300,000 people signed up nationwide. A browsing feature allows people to find other users looking for rides in their area, whether they are daytrippers or daily commuters. A recent search found 19 people in the San Jose area looking for rides. Zimride started at Cornell University as a free Facebook application and is now a Silicon Valley start-up with eight employees. Zimmer says he believes the company will have more than 100 schools and corporations signed on for the creation of their own private ridesharing community by the end of this year.

The Bay Area’s traffic and transportation resource,, also offers a ridesharing service to help potential carpoolers find each other. Users log on to and create a profile that describes their typical commuting routes and times. Like an online dating service, the system matches them with others who have similar schedules. Matched commuters are able to contact each other by email or phone. For safety reasons, carpoolers are encouraged to meet each other before the first shared trip and talk about the exact route, schedule, and who will be the designated driver. They should also discuss insurance, parking, and even matters of etiquette, such as whether or not it’s okay to eat in the car, wear perfume, talk on cell phones, and the like.

A similar service, but with less frills, is, which has been around since 1999. The car-sharing site charges companies with 200 or more employees for the privilege of having their own web pages, but it’s free for everyone else.

Electric Scooters
For an environmentally conscious ride with more power than the classic bicycle, an electric scooter or bike is a viable option.

With two showrooms in the San Jose area, Scooter Land US offers 12 different models of electric bikes. Riding them does not require a special license because they’re powered by less than one horsepower.

The bikes, which cost between $699 and $1,395, can travel up to 35 miles on one 6- to 8-hour charge, and can be ridden on bike lanes. The bikes are stylish and appeal to younger consumers with cute names like Tyala, Mulayo, and Bumble Bee.

“One of them, called the Dragon, will go 30 miles per hour,” says Joe Farris, the director of operations for Scooter Land US. “It will give you a 35-mile range.”

Electric Cars
Electric cars are also becoming more common, including the Triac EV three-wheel electric car, which has a top speed of 80 miles per hour and a range of 100 miles per charge.

At a cost of $24,995, the Triac EV can be driven on freeway carpool lanes and costs about a penny a mile to operate. The Triac EV prototype was introduced to the market in April 2008 and includes a lithium-ion battery pack.

“It’s the world’s only affordable advanced electric vehicle today under $25,000,” says Lee Edward Colin, the vice president of business development for Green Vehicles, Inc., which produces the vehicles.

So far, five of the “early adopter” versions of the Triac EV have been sold, Colin says. About 35 of the vehicles remain, although Salinas-based Green Vehicles Inc. expects to manufacture about 1,000 a year beginning this October.

A cheaper electric-vehicle alternative is ZAP (Zero Air Pollution), a Santa Rosa-based company which manufacturers a number of different electric vehicles, including three-wheel sedans and three- and four-wheel vans and trucks. The $9,000 2009 five-door hatchback sedan, which includes an optional solar panel charger on the roof, can go 40 miles on an eight-hour charge.

O’Connell Electric, located at 1537 Webster Street in Alameda, has 12 ZAP vehicles in stock, including four scooters and one motorcycle.
In 2008, San Jose became the first United States city to offer electric-car charging stations within its existing infrastructure. The stations, which can be found at train stations and outside San Jose’s City Hall, are 110-volt outlets that any electric car owner can plug into, then pay with a credit card. Several South Bay companies have also installed electric-car charging stations in their employee parking lots, including Google and Adobe Systems.

Cupertino resident and electric vehicle champion Terry Wilson sounded a note of caution for those looking to use electric vehicles.
“They’re somewhat limited in how far you go,” says Wilson, who is also the secretary of the San Jose chapter of the Electric Auto Association. “If you’re using something locally that’s great … It’s good, useful transportation, but you have to know where you’re going. You can’t plug in really fast and get a fast charge and keep going.”

Wilson spent about $2,500 to convert a 1980 gas-powered motorcycle into his own electric vehicle, which can go up to 20 miles on a charge. A hand-built sidecar made out of recycled parts carries the nine rechargeable lead-acid batteries that power the vehicle.
“I got a lot of stuff really, really, really cheap,” Wilson says. “It takes time to find all this stuff.” Public transit plays a big part of using his vehicle, Wilson says. If he wants to go to San Francisco, he rides to the station, parks, and boards a train.

Ron Freund, the national chair of the Electric Auto Association, drives the now-defunct electric 2002 Toyota RAV4 EV and says he’s able to drive at 60 mph for 100 miles after a five-hour charge. There are no stops at the gas station, maintenance costs virtually nothing, and the vehicle is silent.

The vehicle cost him $29,500 after a $13,000 rebate. “The cost per mile is virtually zero,” says Freund, who also powers his home and charges his vehicle using solar energy.

Like other electric car enthusiasts, the Los Gatos resident blames politics and big business for prohibiting a mass-market electric car that offers the power and range of gas-powered automobiles.

But for those with money and patience, Tesla Motors is expecting to produce as many as 20,000 seven-passenger Model S vehicles by the end of 2013, thanks to a $465 million loan it received from the United States Department of Energy. The Model S will have a range of up to 300 miles and take about 45 minutes to charge. Prices are expected to start at just under $50,000.

Since 2008, Tesla Motors has produced 900 electric vehicles in two models, the Roadster and Roaster Sport. The Roadster costs $109,000 while the Roadster Sport accelerates faster, has a more luxurious interior, and costs $128,000. If the price tag seems too steep, Tesla will also lease its Roadsters for $1,658 per month. The three-year, 30,000-mile contract requires more than $12,000 at signing. Is the Tesla worth the price? Doug Cheeseman, a Roadster owner and retired biology professor living in Saratoga, says the car is fun to drive and opens up conversations about environmentalism with people curious about the vehicle.

“It’s the most fun car I’ve ever had by far, because of the acceleration and reliability, and it burns so clean,” says Cheeseman, who now conducts worldwide wildlife and environmentalism tours through Cheesemans’ Ecology Safaris.

Cheeseman, who purchased the vehicle in 2009, says it can go 244 miles per three-hour charge and only needs a 15- or 20-minute charge to go about 30 miles. “I drive a lot around town,” he says.

He says he likes the Roadster so much that he plans to purchase a Model S when that vehicle becomes available.

Looking for a more eco-friendly ride?
The following is a list of transportation alternatives.
Scooter Land US sells 12 different models of electric bikes. Call or go online at
O’Connell Electric in Alameda has 12 ZAP electric vehicles in stock. Call sales associate Larry Cerqueira at .
Located in Salinas, Green Vehicles, Inc., is the manufacturer of the electric Triac EV. Call or go online at for more information.
The Electric Auto Association is a worldwide non-profit organization that promotes the advancement and widespread adoption of electric vehicles. Go online at
The Zipcar car share service has two vehicles at the Santa Clara University campus and many more on or near the Stanford University campus. Go online at
To share rides with local carpoolers, go to,, or