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Eugene tries free electric vehicle service

Getting around downtown Eugene is now easier — and better for the environment.

Five-passenger electric vehicles are zipping shoppers and commuters through traffic for free. Yes, free.

RideZero operates the new EmGo service, which is a yearlong pilot project of Lane Transit District, Lane Council of Governments, Lane County and the city of Eugene.

“Pilot” is the key word. People must use the service — and retailers, restaurateurs and other businesses must promote it — if it is to succeed, grow and evolve. LTD and its partners are living up to the transit agency’s commitment to greener forms of transportation, but consumer use will determine the outcomes.

Oregonians love their cars. That means environmentally friendlier alternatives must be perceived as preferable because they cost less, save time or reduce stress. EmGo fills all those niches.

The on-demand service operates during the main workday hours — 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, connecting with the more than 70 EmGo stops in and near downtown. People can reserve a ride through the smartphone app, selecting both their pickup point and their destination. They also may hail an EmGo vehicle like a taxi.

With three doors on each side, the small-wheeled vehicles are distinctive, resembling elongated golf carts or tiny buses but with seatbelts and decent headroom. (Register-Guard reporters shot a nifty video on how the system works.)

The vehicles do not have air conditioning, which would draw too much power. They do have large windows that open, and heating for cold days, not to mention being a more pleasant way to traverse downtown than tilting umbrellas against winter rains. And with parking and traffic congestion often being a pain, they certainly provide a more pleasant alternative.

Americans seem unlikely to give up cars, but they are changing how they use cars. There has been a transition toward ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft, traditional taxis or car share programs such as Zipcar.

The benefits include convenience, affordability and accessibility, making timely transportation by car available to people who cannot afford a vehicle, choose not to own one or do not drive. The Columbia Gorge tourist town of Hood River is working toward a car share program with plug-in electric vehicles, a project that targets visitors and low-income residents.

In Eugene, LTD is not giving up its traditional transit service but rather is broadening its offerings in response to customer and community needs.

Like the Hood River project, EmGo may introduce riders to the practicality of electric vehicles. As we noted in an editorial recently, Oregon lags woefully in reaching the statewide goal of having 50,000 EVs on the road by 2020. Oregon also trails California and Washington in the percentage of new cars sold that are EVs, with Washington and several other states making tremendous leaps over the past year.

We can be proud that LTD and its EmGo partners are showing statewide and national leadership. But what matters most is that downtown workers and shoppers can enjoy EmGo on a daily basis, benefiting the environment and the economy. So leave your car at home or at a parking garage and ride EmGo.

Yes, it’s free.