National Drive Electric Week Embraces Non-Car Alternatives (and Nuance)

Up until now, the celebrations have been pretty car-centric.

National Drive Electric Week

National Drive Electric Week

As we’ve learned from the perennial behavior change versus systems change debates, the green world doesn’t always do nuance that well. And that’s true when it comes to cars, electrification, and alternatives to private car use too. On the one hand, we are learning that electric cars are significantly greener than their gas-burning, emission-spewing counterparts. On the other hand, they are still private cars, which means they are a relatively inefficient use of space and resources.  

If we were rethinking and rebuilding our transportation systems from scratch—with social equity and ecological sanity as our guiding principles—it seems fair to suggest that private car ownership would be a lot less central to the vision, and perhaps even entirely obsolete. 

But we are not starting from scratch. And that’s where the nuance comes in. 

Since 2010, National Drive Electric Week has been evangelizing and educating around the benefits of vehicle electrification. Founded by Zan Dubin-Scott and Jeff U'Ren through Plug In America, it describes itself as “the nation's premiere celebration intended to accelerate electric vehicle adoption.” Up until now, the celebrations have been pretty car-centric with pre-pandemic events often comprising of mass rallies, test drives, and other opportunities for would-be drivers to get behind the wheel. 

This year, however, there’s an interesting new twist on proceedings with a two-panel webinar entitled "Cars Are Overrated: e-Bikes, Buses, and Box Trucks, Oh My!" The first panel will comprise of a "101-How To" with national advocates about riding e-bikes, e-cargo bikes, electric motorcycles, and other modes of e-micromobility. 

The second panel of experts, however, is the one that really caught my eye, with its focus on policy, planning, and practical considerations relating to public transit, electric buses, livable cities, car sharing, autonomous vehicles. The goal is to consider how we can all share the road, and the questions covered will include:

  • Should personal vehicles, even if electric, continue to dominate our roads and cities for a car-centric status quo?
  • How do we get more people riding instead of driving?
  • How do we share funding, incentives, sidewalks, parking spaces, and roads? 
  • Where do bike-sharing and car-sharing fit in?
  • What's the latest on replacing all those big gasoline delivery vehicles with e-cargo bikes? 
  • Will free subways and buses increase ridership?
  • How do we equitably advance electric transportation solutions for all communities? 

According to National Drive Electric Week co-founder Zan Dubin-Scott, the aim is to get people talking who really should be allies but who, in my experience, too often find themselves on opposing sides of a Twitter war: 

"We're going to learn and have fun with this webinar, but with the climate clock ticking, it's past time to broaden the tent. We all want the same thing--C02 reduction. But many EV advocates haven't been talking to e-bike supporters, public transit experts or urbanists, and vice versa. Getting them together is one impetus for this event. Electrification is inevitable, but we must try to work together while building equitable solutions." 

Sounds a lot like that magic word ‘nuance’ I’ve been going on about. 

I’m probably in danger of sounding like a broken record, but whether it’s "reducetarians" finding common ground with vegans, or no-fly campaigners building a broad movement that includes people who haven’t yet been able to kick the habit, we are all going to have to master a tricky balancing act. On the one hand, we must demand that our society moves much faster, and much more ambitiously, toward serious decarbonization—in this case by shifting the focus away from private cars. On the other hand, we must also accept that going cold turkey can feel unattainable, and that imperfect solutions (and imperfect people) have a critical role to play in moving us toward some tipping points.