Making the Desert a Little Greener
Alternative ways of getting around Albuquerque
By Thomas Gilchrist
A 2000 study conducted by the Mid-Region Council of Governments found that 81 percent of Albuquerque commuters drive alone. You can witness it yourself—just walk out to any busy street and count the number of vehicles you see with only one person riding in them. Or make it easier by just counting the number of vehicles with more than one person.
Even worse, people generally aren’t driving small, efficient cars that get more than 30 mpg. Instead, trucks, SUVs and big vans and cars that get around 15 mpg that use older, dirtier technologies are the transportation mode of choice. There is a better way to get around, with technologies that are easier on the environment, and Albuquerque city government agrees.
In March 2006, Mayor Martin Chavez signed an executive order proclaiming that all new vehicles purchased by the city must use alternative-fuels such as biodiesel and compressed natural gas (CNG). Ninety-six of the 148 city buses in Albuquerque now run off CNG or an electric-diesel hybrid combination, and it's easy to combine biking and taking the bus to get to wherever you need to go within the city. Also, the New Mexico Rail Runner is expanding, soon adding Santa Fe as a destination, and there are controversial talks for building a “modern streetcar” by the fall of 2009.
But in the meantime, if your schedule/workplace doesn't allow you to take advantage of public transportation, demanding instead that you use a personal vehicle, there are still a number of options for getting around without burdening your conscience. America's "green car" market is expanding, and here's a slice of what it's offering up.
The Smart Fortwo
Smaller is better! That cute little car from Europe is finally coming to the U.S. The "urban alternative" that resembles a Star Wars droid on four wheels uses its inline three-cylinder engine to achieve over 40 mpg. For $99, you can put yourself down on a list to reserve a Smart when they arrive this fall at Garcia Motors, but you’ll have to be patient—the waitlist is already at a year and a half. Go tosmartusa.com for more info.
The Veggie Diesel
Although diesels never caught on in the U.S. like they did in Europe, I suggest you drive your old VW to McDonald’s and ask for all their old vegetable oil. This differs from Biodiesel in that you’d be filling up your car from fuels stored at home instead of at a pump, and you actually don’t need to modify the veggie oil at all. While it will wear down your engine over time, a simple conversion can make it seem like you’re still filling up at the pump, while in reality you’re filling up at the nearest Lotaburger! Visit journeytoforever.org/
If your car/truck is a Flex Fuel Vehicle, it means that it can run on either regular gas or E85 ethanol, which is 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gas. Check your car manual to see if your vehicle can run on E85, and odds are it can. While ethanol burns much cleaner than gas, you do sacrifice 20 to 30 percent of your fuel economy because less energy can be derived from E85. It is made from corn and is often produced in the U.S.--a major factor in the battle to become oil-independent from foreign sources. Check out fueleconomy.gov for more info.
In hybrid cars, an electric battery combines with a gas engine, resulting in much-improved efficiency. You’ll actually get better mileage in the city because when you run at slow speeds or accelerate without flooring it, you’re just using the battery. Plus, when you idle, your gas engine shuts off, and every time you break, you recharge the battery. There are a variety of models available to the public, most notably the Toyota Prius with an EPA-estimated 46 combined mpg, and the Ford Escape Hybrid for trucks, rated at 30 mpg. But be careful about using the A/C; when theEPAretooled their fuel-efficiency tests for 2008--running the air conditioner, driving fast and accelerating hard—it greatly reduced efficiency ratings for hybrids, dropping the 2007 Prius estimates of 55 mpg down to its current rating. Want to know the best part about driving this kind of car around town? Albuquerque offers free parking for all hybrid drivers.
Mercedes-Benz BLUETEC Technology
So you’re a corporate big-shot, huh? But you still don’t want to hurt the environment? You might want to try “Clean Diesel.” Mercedes uses chemistry to turn harmful nitrogen oxide into harmless nitrogen and water, and there’s a filter that captures soot particles. The whole process greatly reduces the harmful chemicals released into the air that are responsible for making diesel so much more efficient than gas—and you don’t loose any power. The result is 0-60 in 6.6 seconds, and 32 mpg on the highway. The catch? The E320 BLUETEC will run you over 52 large.
Starting to doubt your mileage?
Fueleconomy.govis a great website that will tell you everything about ‘new’ technologies and is a great resource listing for all production car EPA mileage ratings with the new-for-2008 system.
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