Is city up for e-car influx?

Imagine San Francisco with no gas stations, with nearly all its residents driving electric cars, plug-in hybrids or riding public transit. Imagine thousands of charging stations lining The City’s streets like parking meters — just plug in, pay, and your car is fully powered by morning.

In a city where few residents have dedicated parking spots — and hardly any options for plugging in an electric car — ideas for an all-inclusive e-vehicle infrastructure in San Francisco seem both extravagant and far-fetched.

But Mayor Gavin Newsom, who has been on a personal crusade to make The City the greenest on Earth, recently raced the process along by calling on technology companies, car manufacturers and even local utilities to offer suggestions on how to reach the lofty goal — and compete for future city projects.

“Electric cars are going to flood the market in the next couple of years, with the Chevy Volt, Prius plug-ins, Teslas and others in the works,” Newsom said last week. “We need to make sure that The City is ready to support these vehicles. … We refuse to wait.”

But the idea faces steep challenges.

Bob Hayden, a representative with the Department of the Environment’s clean-vehicle program, said the plan’s biggest hurdle is that city folk aren’t as lucky as suburbanites when it comes to parking options. Not everyone has a garage where they can charge a car overnight, he said.

Another challenge is avoiding brownouts from overloading the power grid. The City is looking at so-called smart charge systems that would encourage residents to charge their cars overnight or face steep bills during peak hours, Hayden said.

Newsom, however, is not alone in envisioning a city full of electric cars. PG&E recently said they are preparing for a surge in e-vehicle purchases. New technology, company officials said, is being planned that allows the company to control when a plugged-in electric vehicle starts and stops charging.

Though the electric-car infrastructure plan is in its infancy and the timeline of the project is unclear, officials point to The City’s air-friendly municipal fleet as to whether such a lofty plan is possible.

More than half of San Francisco’s public-transit vehicles are zero-emission. The City currently has 6,300 electric vehicles, including cable cars, light-rail vehicles and the historic downtown F-line. The City also has the nation’s largest fleet of plug-in hybrids — three.

The City has already installed charging stations for electric vehicles in several of its public parking garages — including the Civic Center’s underground lot — and in its municipal garages, officials said.

Luckily, Bay Area residents are already catching on to the green wheels fad, said Vandana Bali, manager of The City’s Clean Vehicles and Alternative Fuels program.

“We aren’t an SUV culture anymore,” Bali said.

maldax@sfexaminer.com

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