Thursday, June 05, 2008

Too Dangerous for Canada but Safe for New York City

It is not that I am much of a greenie, but I was curious about what electric cars are available for sale in Canada given the GM layoffs and the current price of oil. My curiosity lead me to the ZENN Motor Company and the discovery that this Canadian designed and manufactured electric car, which sells literally everywhere, is not available for sale in Canada. In fact, even if you made a run south of the border and bought a ZENN you would not be legally allowed to drive it on the streets of Toronto.
The Economist even carried a little blurb on the bureaucratic blundering:
Canadian companies, ZENN Motor Company and Dynasty Electric Car, make small electric cars designed for city use; a third, which will use new battery technology developed by Exxon Mobil, plans to launch a model later this year.

But almost all these "low-speed vehicles" (or LSVs) are exported to the United States because Canada refuses to allow their use on public roads. Transport Canada, the regulatory agency, questions their safety. It doubts they would stand up in a collision with a delivery truck or a sport utility vehicle. Officials say they crash-tested one which didn't fare well, though they refuse to release the data. The agency wants LSVs confined to "controlled areas", such as university campuses, military bases, parks and Canada's few gated communities. Its advice has carried weight with the provinces, which make the rules of the road.

It is true that the cars are made from lightweight metals and plastics. But the manufacturers allege political bias: Stephen Harper's conservative government has much support in oil-rich Alberta. Backed by thousands of would-be buyers, they are campaigning to reverse the agency's decision. "It's a ludicrous regulatory situation. All you can point to is oil and the big guys and think there's a conspiracy somewhere," says Danny Epp of Dynasty.

Mr Epp reckons that his car should be allowed on urban streets with speed limits of around 50kph (30mph) or less. But Dynasty recently gave up the battle. In March it announced that it is being bought by a Pakistani firm, which will move production to Karachi and export to the United States from there.

ZENN—that stands for zero emission, no noise—promises to fight on. Ian Clifford, its boss, points out that there has not been a single death related to LSVs in the United States, where 44 states allow them and some 45,000 such cars are in use. And gas-guzzlers imperil public safety by polluting the air, he notes. But Mr Clifford is not expecting change soon. He claims that his campaign against Transport Canada has made him enemies. "Two senior, entrenched bureaucrats have told me personally that if it is the last thing they do, they'll keep LSVs off the road in Canada," he says.
Apparently, CBC did a little blurb on it. I missed it because I cannot stand to watch the CBC on a regular basis but it is available here for all those like me.

Oddly enough, there are already low speed vehicles on our roads. Here in Canada we call them bicycles and electric scooters but apparently the electric cars are just far more dangerous to drive on the road than a bike. I live on a major street in downtown Toronto and have lived here since 1995. One of the first unknown hazards about living here concerns keeping my living room windows open during the day without a fan on. If I do not run a fan, the living room fills up with exhaust fumes from the cars driving along the road. I should be lucky to live to see the day when no exhaust fumes filled my home, and yet, the streets were filled with cars.

I just find it incredible irritating how the government so often works against innovate solutions to old problems and actively works to thwart the best interests of citizens at almost every turn.

The bureaucratic blundering of the Conservative government of this issue should be a key point in Dion’s platform – that is, if Dion was really serious about greening Canada rather than expending his energy on disgraced former cabinet ministers. And the Conservatives, they need to start being accountable to their base (like me) and remember a key point of being a conservative is to ‘conserve’ and then, act on it. If I was a Greenie in Canada, I seriously think I would be contemplating slitting my own throat right about now for having to put up with the rest of us.

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