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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Kids in the Woods

Air Date: Week of

Commentator Ruth Page reflects on the many benefits of youth conservation programs. Putting young people to work for the environment benefits the land, society, and most of all the kids themselves.


CURWOOD: Whether they run on electric wheels or more traditional designs, the first place to see large numbers of electric cars could be New York City. That's if David Freeman's vision of the future prevails. Freeman was among the early supporters of energy efficiency and renewable power more than 20 years ago, and he's recently signed on as head of the New York Power Authority, one of the largest public utilities in the country. David Freeman joins us now from his office in New York City. Mr. Freeman, why electric cars for New York?

FREEMAN: There's a lot of good things about electric cars that people usually talk about. You know, it's going to displace imported oil and stop global warming. But I want to talk about some things that are a good deal more apparent to the naked eye. The electric car does not emit any heat. So that on a hot summer day, if you replace all these internal combustion engines, Manhattan will be cooler. But more important than that, it will be quieter. The electric car doesn't make much noise. If you imagine all the screeching and screaming of the cars that travel now, gone, you have a city that's cooler and quieter, and then there's no pollution out of the tailpipe of anything. So that the air is essentially much, much cleaner. Now, those are things that would turn you on for electric cars, and you think you've developed a new idea. And then some senior citizen writes you a letter like they did me last week, with the pages from the December 10, 1898 Harper's Bazaar. And guess what the article was about? Electric taxi cabs in New York City. There was a company that operated a fleet of electric taxi cabs in New York, way back at the turn of the century. The charge was 30 cents a passenger mile, and the cabs did about 20 miles per hour. The average in New York today is about 7 miles per hour. So we need to go back to the future and have electrics that are smaller, safer, stronger, quieter, and cleaner.

CURWOOD: Of course I'm wondering if all those New York cabs are quieter because they are electric, that we'll actually hear what the cabbies are saying to each other and us as we drive by.

FREEMAN: Well, we might get educated. I always learn from the New York cab drivers, perhaps as much from the media, as to what the hell's going on.

CURWOOD: Or other things. But seriously, why push the electric in New York where a lot of people don't even use a car? Don't even need a car?

FREEMAN: Well for one reason, this is a culture where people don't live in their automobile for hours at a time, as they do in California. Some people do, I know they commute. But we have a huge number of people who are already dependent on electric transportation in terms of the subways and in terms of the trains. And they are candidates for small electrics to get to the train station, and this is a population that I think would be quite amenable and excited about electric taxi cabs and things. I've conducted my own poll. I've asked every cab driver whose cab I've been in, what they would think. I have had no negative response and, you know, these - the cab drivers are perfectly happy and excited, some of them, about the idea of driving cabs where they don't have to pay for all this gasoline. Because the electricity will certainly be a lot cheaper.

CURWOOD: Manhattan certainly has lots of traffic jams. And I'm wondering, what advantage do electric cars have, do you think, for traffic jams?

FREEMAN: If you're stuck in traffic in an electric car, you're not idling. You don't use any energy at all. That's a significant advantage in New York City, believe me.

CURWOOD: The government there in New York has passed this law requiring 2% of all cars manufactured or sold in the state be electric. Now how do you convince people to buy these cars? Do you have one yourself?

FREEMAN: Well I had one in Sacramento. I don't own an automobile in New York City. But I will guarantee you that this utility will have a few soon. But the way they'll be marketed initially is the utilities will help bring them to the market, and they'll be leased on the basis, you know, try one. And if you like it you can keep it; if not, you can turn it back in. I think that the public is hungry for a clean car.

CURWOOD: David Freeman, thank you so much for taking this time with us.

FREEMAN: Well thank you for having me.

CURWOOD: David Freeman heads the New York Power Authority.



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