Editor's Note: The following is a guest post from Rod Keller, CEO of AYRO.
With COVID-19 shutdowns decreasing vehicle activity and emissions in many cities, municipal governments from London to Los Angeles are looking to make some of these changes permanent.
A "green" recovery agenda released by the C40 Global Mayors COVID-19 Recovery Task Force includes the objective to "reclaim our streets" and shift to more sustainable transportation solutions, like electrified transportation, that support residents’ desires for clean, carbon-neutral urban environments. As is often the case, universities offer a model for how government and business leaders can innovate to meet specific needs and prioritize sustainability.
Across the U.S., university campuses have embodied principals of sustainability in deploying electrified transportation to great success. A report from Frontier Group and Environment America has even compiled a ranking of electric vehicle (EV) use on campuses, to find a number of universities are nearing 100% electric campus-owned vehicle fleets.
Looking at universities as hubs of urban innovation can help in the transition to a new, better "normal" post-coronavirus. Urban visionary Jane Jacobs said it best in her 1958 book, "The Death and Life of Great American Cities": "The best way to plan for [cities] is to see how people use it today; to look for its strengths and to exploit and reinforce them. There is no logic that can be superimposed on the city; people make it, and it is to them, not buildings, that we must fit our plans."
Smart cities are not hyper-connected, glass-and-chrome scenes of a constructed future. Rather, smart cities, much like university campuses, are built for and inspired by people and constructed with their demands in mind.
How university microdistribution models can work for cities
As microcosms of urban life, higher education institutions have adopted distribution models to fit their size. Microdistribution, wherein highly centralized storage and distribution centers are replaced by smaller, decentralized distribution centers carrying goods to the point of delivery and consumption, is commonplace on university campuses to reduce vehicle miles traveled.
The model serves needs ranging from food distribution, as more schools rely on catering and delivery to safely feed students, to goods transportation across campuses. Many universities including Penn State, one of the most populous universities in the country, have adopted compact, low-speed EV fleets specifically designed to provide these services while meeting ambitious sustainability goals.
Purpose-built EVs that move people and goods around car-free areas of college campuses will be key for smart cities prioritizing efficiency, emissions reductions, and logistical convenience.
Campus EVs can travel where most internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles cannot, like inside warehouses, stadiums, staging centers, or in some dedicated pedestrian pathways. They're street legal for road travel and are highly maneuverable, easy to park and provide much lower annual operating costs than a fuel powered counterpart.
In leveraging microdistribution as a key use-case for these vehicles, as is seen in universities that distribute goods to specific clusters of education or apartment buildings, shorter distances can help alleviate range anxiety and increase overall supply chain efficiency.
Microdistribution also offers city-specific benefits: With an electric engine, light-duty vehicles are exempt from evening delivery restrictions in many residential areas, while low-speeds enable delivery in typically car-free zones. When combined with benefits that can lead to a dramatic reduction in noise and heat generation in these often contained or defined spaces, EVs provide a compelling, carbon-neutral alternative to ICE vehicles.
Specialty EVs provide the performance you'd expect from larger ICE vehicles with more tailored applications, making them suitable for both campus and city environments. As an example, light-duty EVs can still hold a half-ton load capacity and full-size enclosed van boxes, despite their sustainable tilt.
Urban planning and the future of transportation
As urban residents and businesses adopt new, innovative ways to move goods and services, there's a clear need for light-duty, last-mile transportation that's zero-emissions, agile and sustainable.
The benefits of fleet electrification are taking hold, the long-term cost savings are impossible to ignore. A fleet of electric vehicles are up to 50% less costly to maintain compared to gas-powered counterparts, when factoring in fuel and maintenance. In the context of a "new normal," these benefits compound. For example, it is easier to achieve equity across neighborhoods with clean transportation that leads to less congestion and pollution in the long run.
By looking to universities as micro-examples of smart cities, governments can mirror the microdistribution model on a larger scale to incorporate EV fleets and glean insights into what the cities of tomorrow may look like: an urban environment that is built around prioritizing sustainability and people’s everyday needs.