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Air Quality focus is on Transit:  Electric Cab of North America

It’s Ozone Season in Central Texas – transit is highlighted as a means to reduce emissions and keep our area in compliance with federal standards.  As of 2017 Central Texas’s value for ozone was 69 parts per billion (ppb) while the federal standard limit is 70 ppb   With only 1 ppb away from our limit and a long, hot summer ahead of us, AFVs are helping us keep our air clean.  Vehicular emissions are responsible for a large share of Austin’s ozone and mass transit can help reduce vehicle miles traveled.

Pecan Street Inc. was awarded $1M from DOE’s Vehicle Technology Program in 2017 to implement the Electric Last Mile (ELM) Project. Pecan Street and Capital Metro, along with Electric Cab of North America, Austin Transportation Department, and Austin Energy have deployed Electric Cab’s low-speed electric shuttle circulators in two Austin neighborhoods.  Another pilot route will launch in June in the Mueller community, connecting residents with major transit stops, retail, and medical facilities.

The project’s goal is to double the use of public transportation in each of the three pilot neighborhoods using Electric Cab’s all-electric, zero emissions, fleet of low-speed vehicles to further reduce transportation emissions.

Have you used one of these cabs?  If so, please share your input by taking a 5-minute survey here.  Those who take the survey will be entered into a drawing for a $25 Amazon Gift Card.

Click here for information on this project.

Heavy-duty Electric Vehicle Workshop

On June 21st Elizabeth presented on Lone Star Clean Fuels Alliance and Clean Cities resources at a Heavy-duty Electric Vehicle Workshop held at the Texas Conference of Urban Counties.  As electric vehicle funding is anticipated to be available from the VW Emissions Mitigation Settlement, the purpose of the meeting was to identify and understand the issues and opportunities around Heavy Duty Electric Vehicles to develop information for front-line utilities and fleet managers related to funding projects, electric power demands and purchasing HD EV and the associated infrastructure to ensure successful deployment.  The role and resources of the Texas Clean Cities Coalitions with EVs and AFVs in general were also highlighted.  If this is something you would be interested in attending in the future, please contact Elizabeth at elizabeth@lonestarcfa.org.

National Clean Cities Funding for FY 2018

The President recently signed the FY 2018 omnibus appropriations bill, which funds the government for the remainder of the current fiscal year.  The bill increases funding for two key programs that support alternative fuels and vehicles: the Department of Energy (DOE) Clean Cities program and the U.S. EPA Diesel Emissions Reduction Grants. The FY 2018 omnibus bill includes $37.8 million for deployment through the DOE Clean Cities program, a $3.8 million increase over last year’s funding. The Clean Cities program provides critical technical and financial support for the nation’s nearly 90 Clean Cities coalitions, which are leading the charge in promoting clean transportation solutions in communities across the country.
“This is a tremendous victory for Transportation Energy Partners (TEP) and our many partners in the clean transportation industry,” remarked TEP President Sam Spofforth. “It clearly shows the continuing bipartisan support in Congress for clean energy programs.”
Now the focus shifts to funding for Fiscal Year 2019. The Trump Administration’s FY 2019 budget requests a 72 percent cut to the DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and elimination of the Clean Cities program. As usual, it will ultimately be up to Congress to determine funding levels and the fate of these important programs for next year.

Alternative Fueling Station Locator Overhaul Boasts Improved User Interface

March 19, 2018

It’s official—The Alternative Fuels Data Center (AFDC) Station Locator has undergone a major makeover. Constant improvement is at the site’s core, which is why the U.S. Department of Energy’s Vehicle Technology Office is always striving to make the AFDC’s tools easier to use and the data more accessible. The updated Station Locator offers new features and an improved user interface built on the same reliable, comprehensive, and fuel-neutral data that our partners have come to trust.

Some of the notable new features include a sleek look and feel, simplifying the user experience, as well as a bigger map populated with consistent circle icons for each station location and updated colors representing each fuel type. Users will also notice a larger and more detailed view of specific station information.

On the Station Locator home page, there are now two tabs at the top of the map: Find Public Stations and Analyze and Download Data.

The Find Public Stations tab allows users to search for public stations at a specific location, with the option to search for all fuels or just one. The total number of stations that fit the search criteria can be found in the upper right.

The search defaults to public stations and the following fuel-specific criteria:

  • Level 2 and DC fast charging electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE)
  • Propane stations with vehicle-specific fueling services (i.e., “primary” stations)
  • Hydrogen stations with full public access (i.e., “retail” stations)

The Map a Route feature, also available on the Find Public Station tab, shows specified fuel types available along a route between two locations. It also displays search results on the right, sorted by distance from the search location.

The Analyze and Download Data tab allows users to refine their search using filters, broken out into three categories: Location, Fuel, and Station.

To search by Location, users can enter a state or a specific address and limit results within a certain mile radius. To search by Fuel, users can filter by a single fuel or multiple fuel types, and conduct fuel-specific searches, including the following:

  • Compressed Natural Gas (CNG): fill type, vehicle accessibility, and fill pressure
  • Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG): vehicle accessibility
  • EVSE: charging levels, connector types, and networks
  • Ethanol (E85): stations that also offer mid-level ethanol blends
  • Propane: stations with limited vehicle-specific fueling capabilities (i.e., “secondary” stations)
  • Hydrogen: stations with limited public access (i.e., “nonretail” stations)

The Station options allow users to filter for public and/or private stations, planned stations, and by owner type and payment methods. All results display on the right, including counts, filters, and options to download the results or see the results on a map.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) collects and confirms alternative fueling station data through a number of industry sources. To submit a new station for inclusion in the Station Locator, visit the online webform. For multiple station additions or updates, email technicalresponse@icf.com.

The new Station Locator still includes an embed functionality so users can include the tool within their own websites. If you already have the Station Locator embedded on your website, replacing the code with the new version of the embed code is recommended.

Continue to monitor the U.S. Station Locator for new features, including an alternative fuel corridor planning tool.

Lone Star Clean Fuels Alliance presents at TCAWG VW Settlement Workshop

The Texas Clean Air Working Group’s (TCAWG) VW Mitigation Settlement Trust workshop was held in Austin on January 17th as a forum to highlight the merits of available technologies meeting the Trust requirements for NOx reductions.  Presenters included:  TCEQ, Environmental Defense Fund, NGVAmerica and Alamo Area Clean Cities.  As part of the workshop, Lone Star Clean Fuels Alliance gave a slide presentation on the wide range of vehicle technologies meeting the Settlement’s eligibility requirements.  See the presentation here.
Attendees were given the opportunity to provide their input on how the funds should be allocated directly to TCEQ Commissioner, John Niermann and TCEQ staff who were in the audience.
Please provide YOUR input on how the funds should be allocated by submitting comments by email to:  VWsettle@tceq.texas.gov.

View our Powepoint presentation.

Austin Plans Self-driving Vehicle Role

December 26th, 2017

Original article

At a news conference in the spring, Austin Mayor Steve Adler made a bold statement about the city’s future in innovative technology — specifically, its future in the automotive industry.“Austin,” Adler said, “should be to automated vehicles what Detroit was to the last century of automakers.”

For years, high-tech and automotive companies have sped toward a future where autonomous vehicles dominate the market, promising market-ready vehicles within the next decade.

In the same time, the city of Austin has been working toward becoming a key player in this technology sector. The city has made headway with the aid of local research institutions, private sector interest, partnerships, and now, a recently published mobility report.

City leaders in October released the 141-page report, titled the “Smart Mobility Roadmap,” to discusses the vision for Austin’s transportation future and the role self-driving vehicle tech will have in it.

“Many are wondering how and when autonomous vehicles and services will make an impact for the Austin community and how to hasten the benefits to the people,” the report says, while also highlighting the progress of shared and electric vehicle mobility projects in the city.

The Austin Transportation Department’s first goal is to coordinate outreach programs with other public and private organizations within the city, according to the report.

In roughly two years, the city aims to hire an officer to oversee autonomous vehicle initiatives and develop a master plan for the use of autonomous and electric vehicles in Austin. In two to four years, the city envisions creating programs to help train people for new jobs that will emerge with the evolution of driverless vehicles.

The roadmap, in many ways, is “a call to action, if you will, for local transportation entities,” city of Austin transportation director Robert Spillar said. “These things are on our doorstep, and we need to get in and get ahead of it.”

 

‘A historic role’ 

Austin’s role in the industry took a significant step forward in 2015, when Google chose the city to complete what the company says was the world’s first-ever fully self-driving trip without a driver presence.

Alphabet, the parent company of Google and one of the front-runners of this innovation, recently saw its autonomous vehicle project, now named Waymo, surpass 4 million self-driving miles on public roads in 23 U.S. cities. In the next several months, the company said, it plans to launch a public driverless service in Phoenix.

“Austin continues to play a historic role in advancing self-driving technology and in the progress we’re making at Waymo,” Waymo spokeswoman Haley Morris said. “Austin helped us teach our cars new skills like how to navigate horizontal traffic lights and two lane traffic circles — both of which are common in Austin. We were so inspired by Austin traffic that we even built a mock-up of one of the traffic circles at our test facility to make sure our cars could navigate them safely under all kinds of scenarios.”

In January, the U.S. Department of Transportation chose Texas as one of 10 designated regions across the country to test connected and automated vehicle technology.

As part of that initiative, the University of Texas’ Center for Transportation Research has been using sensor and connectivity technology provided by Austin-based National Instruments to test automated vehicle tech in Austin.

Using three vehicles, the center has focused on how autonomous vehicles could communicate with each other, as well as traffic structures, in order to provide a more seamless traffic system, according to Chandra Bhat, the center’s director. Bhat said the center is sharing its findings with the Texas Department of Transportation.

Additionally, chip-making companies that have a large presence in Austin, such as Intel, have also been researching and developing communication tech for autonomous cars. Intel, which says it employs more than 2,300 people in Austin and Plano, as well as roughly 100 interns from UT, has worked with Waymo to develop autonomous vehicles. It’s unclear if any of Intel’s research or development of autonomous vehicle tech took place in Austin. The company did not respond to requests for comment.

NXP Semiconductors, another tech company with a significant Austin presence, also recently announced that it would partner with Baidu Inc. to provide semiconductor products for the self-driving auto industry. NXP Semiconductors has about 5,000 workers in Central Texas, mainly from its 2015 purchase of Austin-based Freescale Semiconductor. (In October 2016, San Diego-based chipmaker Qualcomm announced it planned to purchase NXP, but that deal still has not yet been completed.)

At the South By Southwest conference this past March, Capital Metro tested an autonomous shuttle at UT with international transportation company RATP Dev. About the same time, Audi representatives also test-drove a vehicle with autonomous capabilities in Austin.

Three months later, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a law allowing autonomous vehicle testing throughout the state, a statute that didn’t technically need to exist since there was no law forbidding the testing but that represented to industry stakeholders that Texas is open to the technology. Under the law, the state defines self-driving vehicles as those that can perform the duties of a car without any human intervention or supervision. Self-driving vehicles must comply with traffic rules, have recording devices installed and be registered and insured just like any other car, with companies being liable for any traffic violations or vehicle crashes.

In August, the city of Austin approved a two-year pilot program to test autonomous delivery robots, and the city is also piloting a system that allows vehicles and traffic structures to communicate with each other.

“We have all of the right ingredients here in terms of research, manufacturers and the city of Austin itself that are all looking forward to how these things can work,” Bhat said. “There are many players like National Instruments doing a lot of work in this area.”

 

‘A disruptive technology’ 

As legacy automakers such as General Motors and high-tech companies such as Alphabet, Tesla, Uber and Lyft progress toward bringing autonomous vehicles to the market, Austin transportation officials are also exploring possible partnerships, Spillar said.

Officials say autonomous vehicles could provide solutions to greenhouse gas emissions, congestion and traffic-related deaths while providing accessibility to disabled and other underserved groups. But Austin also has its reputation to think about.

“Austin touts itself as the Silicon Valley of Texas, and an important part of that environment is showing (companies) that they are on the leading edge of thinking about this,” said Nathan Shipley, an automotive industry analyst with New York-based research firm The NPD Group. “We are going to see a complete change of the mobility model, and cities will have to own those things, so adapting projects to this model is important for cities to think about. Dense, urban tech cities like Austin are where these technologies are going to be adopted the quickest.”

Through Bloomberg L.P.’s philanthropic branch, Austin has partnered with 10 cities — Los Angeles, Paris and London among them — to figure out how autonomous vehicle tech could help major metropolitan areas, and Austin plans to continue autonomous shuttle testing with the aid of research organization Rocky Mountain Institute.At the same time, the city’s report acknowledges the challenges that come with this innovation. Automation usually brings concerns of job losses, and there is also worry about the tech advancing problems like affordability and congestion. Some industry experts say full automation of vehicles will only truly be beneficial if it is paired with ride-sharing.

“A disruptive technology by its nature is disruptive,” Spillar said. “But I don’t know that it’s a one-for-one job loss. Think about an automated bus may not need a driver, but you may need a conductor to help passengers, etc. If we don’t plan for that, it will be super disruptive.”

As part of its roadmap, the city of Austin is considering possible incentives to encourage the acceptance of autonomous vehicles. Incentives could include free parking for autonomous or electric vehicles, or increased integration of electric vehicle charging stations, Spillar said.

There is much left to figure out, including how Austin can fund some of its goals. The city lost out on a $50 million U.S. Department of Transportation grant that was awarded in 2016 to Columbus, Ohio, for the funding of futuristic city projects. Officials said they will explore funding options as the roadmap moves forward.

Autonomous vehicle stakeholders are also still measuring how the evolving tech can impact everyday commuters and services such as ride-hailing, Shipley said.

Even with the progress in recent years, some experts say widespread use is still a generation away.

Business consulting firm Boston Consulting Group, for example, used historical data of earlier tech like cruise control to predict in a 2015 report that it will take 15 to 20 years for fully-autonomous vehicles to reach a global market penetration-rate of 25 percent.

“This tech has changed the landscape for the entire industry,” Shipley said. “Car companies are turning themselves into tech companies. It’s exciting to think about, but … we don’t see overall consumer willingness to adopt this technology. That’s the biggest challenge for (stakeholders), is getting consumers on board. There’s fear of the unknown and trust issues of autonomous cars.”

Still, the technology is already disrupting the market, Spillar said. And not much will stop that.

“This technology is coming. These things are going to happen regardless,” he said. “So, it’s not just about ‘should we be involved in it?’ But ‘can we help shape it?’ That way, we end up with a better condition than we have today.”

Top photo: Capital Metro test and operation engineer Vasilis Karavidas performs a demonstration of an autonomous shuttle at the University of Texas during the South By Southwest conference in 2017. (James Gregg/American-Statesman)

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