Our Transportation is Literally Killing Us – Can Battery Electric Vehicles be a Better Solution?

By Bryan Tillman, Director of Operations, Green Wheels

If smoking in restaurants and bars has been banned because its effects are bad for human health, shouldn’t large “smoking” vehicles also be banned in densely populated city centers for the same reasons?  Certain cities in the European Union are considering just that – by 2050, many cities may allow only zero-emissions vehicles to travel into their city cores1


(shown above are Chicago’s Zero-Emissions Limousine Service and a Zero-Emissions Urban Delivery Truck)

For example, according to the Chicago Climate Action Plan, 21% of the green house gas emissions in Chicago come from transportation while 70% come from buildings and other energy use, and the remaining 9% comes from other uses5.  One key contrast between emissions that come from buildings and those that come from vehicle is the difference between point source and non-point source emissions.  Vehicle emissions are point source because they are released directly from the vehicle in some of the densest parts in the state, precisely within Chicago city limits, resulting in more people being affected. Building emissions and other energy use emissions are non-point source because although the energy is being consumed in the city, it is often derived from a power plant that may be located miles (even hundreds of miles) away, outside of the city core. Therefore, while it is important to increase building energy efficiency and incorporate renewable energy into these buildings, it is equally important if not more importation to reduce emissions created by vehicles with a particular emphasis on the densest part of the city.

According to the 2010 United States Census Bureau, there were 231.1 people per square mile in Illinois while there are 11,841.8 people per square mile in Chicago, indicating a 5,124% increased density in Chicago over Illinois as a whole 6.  From a human health perspective, reducing emissions in Chicago will have an impact that is exponentially greater than reducing emissions in other parts of the state.  This would most definitely hold true for New York State and the island of Manhattan and other cities as well.

It is always better to take preventative measures to avoid getting ill than to take a reactive stance as this can be the most cost effective solution while saving considerable discomfort for individuals and also saving lives.  Shifting from vehicles with internal combustion engines (which burn fossil fuels and emit pollution into the air from their tail pipe) to vehicles with zero emissions in city centers is one very proactive way to reduce pollution and the illnesses that are associated with this pollution.

The operation of BEVs is ideal in city centers because they will almost always produce less pollution than their internal combustion counterparts. Even though much of the electricity on the grid currently comes from burning fossil fuels, electricity can be produced in various ways including renewable sources such as solar photovoltaic systems.  By purchasing renewable electricity to power BEVs, emissions caused by the operation of these vehicles are minimal.  Also, despite the fact that many vehicles will charge off the current power grid, there is a trend towards cleaner electricity production practices and the electricity produced through the burning of fossil fuels is often non-point source, again, reducing pollution in densely populated areas.  Finally and most importantly, as mentioned above, BEVs have zero tail pipe emissions, which reduces harmful point source pollution.

Investing in BEV infrastructure rather than other fueling infrastructures is a smart allocation of resources, as it will hedge against risks associated with price volatility.  Once an investment in BEV infrastructure has been made, the vehicles can charge no matter which electricity generation option is most viable at the time.  Other options such as compressed natural gas do not have the ability to diversify their fuel source resulting in a high level of risk exposure associated with fuel price fluctuations and obsolete infrastructure.  It should also be noted that many BEVs are charged at night when there is excess capacity available on the grid, resulting in even greater reduction in environmental impacts.  In the future, when BEVs reach the end of their useful life, the batteries will be an asset and have the opportunity to be repurposed as energy storage.  These repurposed batteries can be used for demand management and help to make clean, renewable power like solar photovoltaic even more feasible resulting in reduced pollution and a  positive impact on human health.

BEVs can help to make a huge impact on human health and understating how to optimize impact is critical.  The greatest impact will be derived from vehicles driving the most miles in the densest parts of the country.   A typical commercial driver (e.g. Taxi, Limousine, or Ride Share driver) will incur 4 to 5 times as many miles as an individual driver per year (70,000 miles per year versus 15,000 miles per year) and most of these miles will be in densely populated city centers7!

The impact on human health is certainly a compelling reason for cities to focus on electrifying the Taxi, Limousine, and Ride Sharing fleets.  In addition, there are other reasons cities should consider focusing on these fleets.  People take their cars everywhere and even an individual with a 5-mile commute to and from work may have range anxiety since they may occasionally drive to an area that lacks the charge station infrastructure.  On the other hand, ninety-nine percent of rides provided by Taxi, Limousine, and Ride Sharing Drivers are 12 miles or under7.    This results in a more focused charge station “ecosystem” that will be used more consistently than a charge station infrastructure intended to be used by personal vehicles.  Since the driver will rarely go too far with a passenger, having a robust charge station infrastructure in and around the city core will prove to be a logical investment due to high utilization rates.

Electrifying a Taxi, Limousine, or Ride Share fleet has a very strong potential to help expand the overall BEV market.  Each time a passenger gets into one of these vehicles, he/she will become more comfortable with BEVs and potentially more likely to choose a BEV over an internal combustion engine vehicle in the future.  If each vehicle has 20 riders each day, the result would be thousands of “impressions” per vehicle, per year.


For health reasons and the human-life liabilities alone, city leaders should implement “zero-emission” zones in densely populated areas of every city where high-utility transport and services are offered (such as what London has done).  Previous GM Chairman Bob Lutz said, “We electrified the wrong end of the business (referring to the consumer Volt).  Electrification makes the most sense with vehicles that normally use a lot of fuel.”   Micheal Austin, Vice President of BYD Motor’s, stated, “Bob Lutz was right, but with a twist — those applications that should be electrified first are the HIGH-utility vehicles.  Big or small, Buses or eTaxis — vehicles that operate two shifts up to 24-hour per day.”8

1.  European Commission, “White Paper – Roadmap to a single European Transport Area – Towards a Competitive and Resource Efficient Transport System”. 03/28/2011. Last Accessed 02/25/2015.
2.  EV Tech, “2,000 Dead in Madrid” 02/14,/2015, Last Accessed 02/25/2015. http://myelectriccar.com.au/2000-dead-madrid/
3.  Wargo, John. Wargo, Linda. Alderman, Nancy. “The Harmful Effects of Vehicle Exhaust” 2006.  Last Accessed 02/25/2015.  http://www.ehhi.org/reports/exhaust/exhaust06.pdf
4.  Frueh, Sara. Burnette Alison. “National Academies – Report Examines Hidden Health and Environmental Costs of Energy Production and Consumption in U.S.”  10/19/2009.  Last Visited 02/25/2015.  http://www8.nationalacademies.org/onpinews/newsitem.aspx?RecordID=12794
5.  Johnston, Sadhu. Simons, Adele. “Chicago Climate Action Plan” 09/01/2008. Last Visited 02/25/2015.  http://www.chicagoclimateaction.org/filebin/pdf/finalreport/CCAPREPORTFINALv2.pdf
6.  United States Census Bureau.  “State and County Quick Facts – Chicago, Illinois”.  Last Visited 02/25/2015.  http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/17/1714000.html
7. Schaller Consulting.  “Taxi Cab Fact Book”. 2006.  Last Visited 02/25/2015. ttp://www.nyc.gov/html/tlc/downloads/pdf/2014_taxicab_fact_book.pdf
8.  Cole, Jay. “High-Utility Fleet EVs – BYD” 01/25/2015. Last Visited 02/25/2015.


Bryan Tillman is the Director of Operations at Green Wheels USA and his current work is focused on expanding the electric vehicle market and the needed infrastructure to support these vehicles.  He takes a systems approach ensuring the deployment of strategies that have a strong financial feasibility and the greatest reductions in environmental impacts.  Prior to Green Wheels, Bryan worked as the Sustainability Director for the City of Highland Park leading the City’s sustainability efforts. He was awarded Honorable Mention in the 2013 United States Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Awards for his work leading the North Shore Electric Vehicle Initiative. Bryan holds a Master of Science degree in Environmental Management and Sustainability as well as a Master of Business Administration degree in Marketing Management from Illinois Institute of Technology Stuart School of Business. He is a high achiever, graduated with top honors (Beta Gamma Sigma) from both programs and has returned as an adjunct professor to share his knowledge and experience with students at the university.

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