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Electric Car Options: The Future is (Almost) Here

EV sharing services, charging stations keep commuters away from gas pumps. But options are limited so far in Oak Park.

There are plenty of positives to cruising around in an all-electric vehicle, and what they lack in horsepower they make for in green cachet.

But here in Oak Park, we've entered a hurry-up-and-wait phase. The Chicago area's two biggest car sharing services have added electric vehicles to their fleets, but none of those cars have made their way into Oak Park. And the future of one local electric car rental service is suddenly uncertain.

To take advantage of the benefits of electric cars, of course, you need to keep their batteries charged. And the charging infrastructure just isn't in place yet. (Currently, Oak Park has one electric vehicle charging station, a scarcely used device located at , 811 Madison St.)

But big things are on the horizon.

Grants from Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO), the Chicago Area Clean Cities Partnership, and the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation will bring solar-powered charging stations to 18 Chicagoland locations, including three in Oak Park. Those will be located at Jewel-Osco, 438 W. Madison St, , 123 Madison St. and a village-owned lot in the 1100 block of North Boulevard.

We called around to find out what your best options are for using electric vehicles around town. Here's what we found:

iGo Car Sharing: The Chicago-based nonprofit added 36 all-electric vehicles to its fleet last year, but none are available in Oak Park. Once the solar charging stations are complete — an iGo spokeswoman estimated the projects would be done before June 30 — some of the service's EVs should arrive in Oak Park.

Zipcar: Like iGo, Zipcar recently added 20 EVs to its Chicago fleet, but none are available at the company's Oak Park locations. A spokeswoman tells Patch "we know that our Oak Park members are very environmentally conscious, and our program in Oak Park is doing very well, so it’s certainly an area with potential for EVs."

Greenline Wheels: The South Marion Street business has in the past rented out two electric cars, a four-seat version and a six-seater. But employees there said they're "not sure" they'll be renting the vehicles again this summer. They plan to continue to rent electric bicycles.

So, yeah. The future isn't exactly here yet. But if you really, really can't wait to convert to driving an EV, you do have one more option — buy one.

Major manufacturers like Chevy and Nissan are rolling out EVs to their fleets. Residents of Bloomington-Normal are in the middle of a huge experiment that aims to absorb electric vehicles into everyday life.

According to IDOT, there are about 200 registered all-electric vehicles on Illinois roads. Glenn Hunter has the only one in Oak Park. As such, he's taking advantage of the two-year free parking perk.

His car and the debut of the Walgreeen's charging station made local headlines in last year, so I asked Hunter if there's been much interest in electric cars since then.

"None," he said. "It's a big change for people. People resist change until the pain of changing is less than the pain of staying the same."

As for his car, a low-speed model similar to what he sells for the Missouri-based Electric Car Company, Hunter said it works just fine. It's got about 2,500 miles on it, and is holding steady in terms of battery life and driving range. The car is better suited, he said, for tooling around small areas like a municipality or college campus.

"If you're in a confined area and want to get around for about four cents a gallon, it's a great option," he said.

Janet Barnstable March 27, 2012 at 01:47 PM
We just purchased a Mitsubishi iMiev - all electric car. While I no longer commute daily to Oak Park from Addison, my iMiev would have done the job nicely. We 'could' install a level 2 charger in our garage, but chose to use only a level 1, which is a normal 120v, household power line! Drives well in traffic. It's a perfect vehicle for retired people who basically tool around their local communities and delight in bypassing gas stations with ever rising prices.
Casey Cora (Editor) March 27, 2012 at 02:21 PM
Thanks for the comment, Janet. It seems like every time gas prices rise, there's a renewed interest in alternative fuels. But just as soon as gas prices dip, the interest in EVs drops with it. Maybe that will change as EVs creep into the mainstream. Also, I'll bet it feels *great* cruising by those gas stations!
Maria Onesto Moran March 28, 2012 at 08:11 PM
Wow, this is fantastic! I'm wondering if Green Home Experts can use an electric car for delivery service?
Casey Cora (Editor) March 28, 2012 at 11:42 PM
I suppose that depends on what you're hauling. If I'm not mistaken, most of these cars are relatively small. Another option, maybe, would be cargo bikes. Here's a ridiculously thorough blog post about 'em: http://chicargobike.blogspot.com/p/about-cargobikes.html

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