Household Travel Patterns Suggest Electric Vehicles Could Be Practical for Many Trips in Region

Nov 12, 2012

At 7.7 miles, the average length of a one-way trip by car in the Washington region is well within the range of a typical electric vehicle on a single battery charge, according to a recent Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments report assessing the region's readiness for more widespread use of electric vehicles.

The report used survey data on household travel patterns collected by the Transportation Planning Board to evaluate the practicality of electric vehicles for the average consumer and to gauge potential future demand.

The survey data showed that the average total number of miles traveled by car each day by households in the region's core jurisdictions -- the District of Columbia, Arlington County, and the City of Alexandria -- is also well within the range of a typical electric vehicle on a single charge: around 13 miles a day in the District, and just over 20 miles a day in Arlington and Alexandria.

In Montgomery, Fairfax, and Prince George's Counties -- which are larger and have more auto-oriented development patterns -- households average around 35 miles of travel each day by car, while in Loudoun, Prince William, Frederick, and Charles Counties, average daily travel by car ranges between 50 and 66 miles.

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Two models of electric-only vehicles were already for sale and readily available to consumers in the region at the time the report was published: the Nissan LEAF, with a 72-mile range on one charge, and the Mitsubishi i, with a range of 62 miles. Another, the Ford Focus Electric, with a range of 76 miles, became available in August 2012.

Three hybrid-electric models -- which use various combinations of gasoline and battery-stored electricity for power -- are available: the Chevrolet Volt, with an all-electric range of 35 miles, the Toyota Prius Plug-in with a range of 15 miles, and the Fisker Karma with a range of 50 miles.

As of June 2012, about 500 electric vehicles were registered in the region, according to information collected from the state departments of motor vehicles.

The Council of Governments report says that electric vehicles may be most appropriate for those living just outside the urban core of the region, where average daily auto travel is within the single-charge range of most of the models currently available and where more residents have access to private garages or parking spaces where parked cars can charge overnight.

At-home charging using existing 120-volt outlets provide two to five miles of range per hour of charging. Using 240-volt outlets, which is expected to become the predominant residential charging method, can provide 10 to 20 miles of range per hour of charging.

Electric vehicles may also be more suitable as the second car in two-car households, the report advises, due to their limited ability to make the occasional longer trips that exceed the average travel figures cited in the report.

In the core jurisdictions, where residents more often belong to one-car and zero-car households and have more limited private parking as well as greater access to transportation alternatives like transit, bicycling, and walking, the greatest potential for electric vehicles may be as part of car-sharing fleets like ZipCar, car2go, Hertz-on-Demand, and others.

For the region's outer jurisdictions, charging stations at key destinations, like workplaces and shopping and dining outlets, will be essential since longer trips and more overall driving will require more frequent recharging.

So far, 133 public charging stations with 332 electric vehicle chargers dot the region, most of them located along major highways or in areas of greater residential and commercial development known as activity clusters.

Most of the stations, like those for at-home use, can provide about 10 to 20 miles of range per hour of charging. Chargers capable of delivering a full charge in 30 minutes or less have been developed but so far have not been deployed on a large scale due to high costs.

Though electric vehicles are still few in number in the Washington region, the household travel pattern information collected by the Transportation Planning Board suggests that electric vehicles, despite their limited range compared with gasoline-powered vehicles, could be practical for many of the vehicle trips currently made throughout the region.

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