Grand St. goes electric, adds car-charging stations


By Aline Reynolds

Many New Yorkers avoid owning or renting cars, since it is often considered more of a hassle than an advantage. But that may change soon as electric vehicles begin to creep into the mass consumer market.

In mid-March, the Seward Park Co-op, on Grand St. in the Lower East Side, installed four electric charging stations and an electric car rental service for its residents and local community members. Seward Park Co-op is one of the largest free-market co-ops in Manhattan, with parking space for nearly 450 cars. Now it has become one the first private co-ops in the city to opt into the Charge Point America Program. The national initiative’s goal is to set up some 5,000 electric vehicle (EV) charging stations, thanks to a $15 million grant from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Currently, there are more than 40 Charge Point America EV charging stations within 30 miles of Midtown Manhattan, according to Hertz, the rental car company supplying the vehicles for the Lower East Side program.

“EV’s have all the advantages of having a car, without the headaches of gas, insurance and parking,” said Michael Tumminia, former president and current board member of Seward Park Co-op. Tumminia, along with fellow board members, spearheaded what is known as the co-op’s “Plugged-In Initiative.”

Like other Seward Park Co-op residents who are aware of the program, Tumminia and his wife are considering purchasing a 2011 Nissan LEAF as their next vehicle.

“It’s cheaper than a gas-operating car, I have a place to charge it, and I don’t have the impact on the environment,” he said.

Hertz is now offering the Nissan LEAF, an all-electric vehicle, for the first time in New York State as a rental car at Seward Park Co-op.

The vehicle, which will be priced at $25,000 after federal tax savings, will be available for purchase toward the end of this year.

“A lot of people think of electric vehicles as being small and like a golf cart,” said Marie Crowley, electric vehicle project manager at Connect By Hertz, a car-sharing program also based at Seward Park Co-op that stands as a competitor to the popular Zipcar program.

“But today’s EV’s are real vehicles,” she said. “Like any other gas vehicle, they’ve got a lot of power behind them, and they’ve got a lot of room,” minus the obnoxious roar of the gas engines found in standard gas-fueled vehicles.

This reporter got to test drive a Nissan LEAF on Wednesday. With a simple swipe of a card at the one of Seward Park Co-op’s electric charging stations, the car — after having been charged for about eight hours — was ready to roll and fully loaded with energy.

Another device, known by EV experts as a radio-frequency identification card (abbreviated as R.F.I.D.), starts the “engine” when the driver taps it against a small, black box that sits atop the dashboard.

Then, off you go — and totally noiselessly and completely carbon-fuel-emission free, unlike a traditional combustion engine.

Other nearby charging stations are listed in a real-time “smart grid” directory, linked to the nationwide Charge Point America program, which is available on a digitalized screen in the car.

EV users have three options of charging their cars. Level 1, measured at 110 volts, which takes between 15 and 20 hours, can be done via a standard three-prong outlet in one’s home. Levels 2 (measured at 220 to 240 volts) and Level 3 (more than 400 volts) are done at charging stations like the ones at Seward Park Co-op, and take between 5 and 8 hours, and between 15 and 20 minutes, respectively.

The time ranges exist, Crowley explained, because of the differences in the size of the cars’ batteries.

An electric car such as the Nissan LEAF has the fuel capacity equivalent of about 5 gallons of gas, but are far less costly to re-energize than traditional gas-guzzlers.

“General Electric said that, if you plugged in your electric vehicle and charged it at Level 1 for 24 hours a day, seven days a week, it would cost you about $200 for one year,” said Crowley.

A gas-engine car driver using about one full tank per week spends more than $200 per month on gas.

“I think it’s a wonderful idea — very progressive,” said Honey Federman, 82, a Seward Park Co-op resident for 15 years. The initiative, she said, could help lessen New Yorkers’ dependence on oil.

“It’s a great idea, and we hope that it grows and takes off,” said Dominic Pisciotta, chairperson of Community Board 3 and a resident of the pioneering co-op. The car-charging station, plus the car-sharing program, he said, “are really going to help reduce congestion in the city.”

Pisciotta said he would consider purchasing an EV car once his 2005 Volkswagen Passat dies.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a chief advocate of the “Plugged-In Initiative” and also a Grand St. co-op resident, called it an “incredibly worthy” and “exciting” venture.

“By opening this electric charging station and electric car rental hub,” Silver said, “Seward Park Co-operative has put our Lower East Side community on the leading edge of our vitally important effort to make renewable and sustainable energy a viable option for New Yorkers.”

The time has come, Silver added, that the nation develop mainstream, clean alternatives to gasoline.

“In a city with high asthma rates and heavy pollution from car exhaust, encouraging people to use electric cars will not only let us breathe easier — it could literally save lives,” he stressed.

Seward Park Co-op, in conjunction with C.B. 3, will host a May 6 event at the co-op’s outdoor parking area on Clinton St. to officially unveil the neighborhood’s first EV charging stations. In the meantime, the board’s Transportation Committee will introduce the “Plugged-In Initiative” to its members at its April 13 committee meeting, as well as distribute fliers and e-mail community members to spread the word.

The Lower East Side LEAF is available for rental use (rates are hourly and affordable) to the public through Connect By Hertz’s car-sharing program. Information and rates are available at www.connectbyhertz.com.