Tuesday, July 29, 2008

We must stand in the way of any progress whatsoever!

So, about this ZENN business.

If you haven't been paying attention, ZENN is a car company headquartered in Toronto with an assembly plant in Quebec. They take French-made microcar bodies sans powertrain and install batteries and an electric motor. Presto, electric car suitable for doing most of the work that people actually do with a car: dropping off the kids, picking up the groceries, etc.

So, great, right? Not so fast. The Federal government, which handles road safety certification in Canada, went out of its way to specifically declare that low-speed vehicles -- of which ZENN's car is one -- were not suitable for "open roads", that is roads open to the public, or what the rest of us call "roads".

Now, that's not the end of it. The Provinces own the roads and highways in this country, so they get the final say on what cars get driven on them. Which is why Quebec and BC have brought in various laws allowing the ZENN car to be driven on their roads.

But not Ontario. Ontario's government, unlike the governments of two provinces and 48 states, has decided that fidelity to Ottawa's regulators trumps environmental sense, industrial policy, or common sense for that matter. Listen to Jim Bradley, Minister of Transportation:
The main concern is safety features, said Bradley: Low-speed electric vehicles meet only a handful of the 40 safety standards required by Transport Canada, and Ontario wants to determine exactly what safety features may be required on the nearly silent vehicles.

"I want to see low-speed electric vehicles on the roads," Bradley said in an interview. "We want to make sure it's done so safely."
This is, to put it precisely, premium-grade bullshit. The 40 safety features that Bradley says the ZENN lacks apply to highway-capable vehicles. The ZENN lacks them because, like any decently-engineered vehicle, it doesn't contain things that it will never, ever need. And some of the safety features Transport Canada requires for highway safety are positively dangerous at low speeds, like air bags.

But of course, this is getting much deeper in to the weeds than we need to: nobody with any sense would ever take a ZENN on the highways, and anyone who did should quite rightly be punished for endangering themselves and others. For city streets themselves, we should only note that the roads are shared by bicycles, scooters, and motorcycles, all things that offer far less safety to their passengers than the ZENN would.

So it's clear that "safety" in this case is being used as a red herring by the McGuinty government to keep a perfectly sensible vehicle off the roads. (And really, if it's safe enough for the streets of Quebec, isn't that enough?)

Yesterday, Bradley was re-announcing a 2-year old program that Ontario began, testing the ZENN on closed roads in parks and nature preserves. Today on CBC, there's word of bringing in an independent expert to tell us what any idiot could figure out with 30 seconds and a piece of paper: this car has been ready for Ontario's roads for years now.

Of course, this independent expert isn't going to break any new ground, he's just going to give the Liberals political cover for changing their dumbass policy that should never have seen the light of day in the first place.

Props to John Tory for raising the profile of ZENN right up to the Provincial legislature, and proving once more that even when Howard Hampton's NDP are given a gift-wrapped issue with a bow and everything, they still manage to be left behind. Christ, Jack Layton was up front on this issue, but at the Provincial level it took a Tory.


Catelli said...

How do we allow motorcycles and scooters if safety is such a concern? (Bicycles is an excellent point, motorcycles show that even at high speeds the "Safety issues" are unevenly applied.)

You're right its bureaucratic bull-shit nonsense. Either someone, somewhere is concerned that the public will hold the government accountable the first time someone dies in a Zenn, or they are slavishly tied to due process, even when it is insane.

Or both.

Anonymous said...

ZENN is a car company headquartered in Toronto

I think I'm missing something here. You have a company that's based in a province, and the government of that province is not working hand in glove with them? That's so outside my area of experience that I'm kind of taken aback by it. Suffice it to say I can't imagine that happening around here in the US.

Well, unless there was a BIGGER company or companies who didn't like it. Like, say, a group of major auto manufacturers who had plants in the same state and who wanted to throw up as many barriers to entry as possible to a new competitor. Especially if said plants had union labor (because that would make it "bipartisan" opposition). And especially if the new startup company didn't have actual facilities in the state, but instead in a neighboring state.

But then Ontario wouldn't be a place where, say, "seven of the world's largest vehicle manufacturers operate 14 plants" or anything like that, so I'm sure the above is just my cynicism at work...


John Tory said...

I just read this entry about ZENN cars. The more that Ontarians know about these cars and discuss them, the more pressure there is on the Liberals to move the project forward. At a time when Ontario’s economy is weak and fragile, the McGuinty government should be inspiring innovators and entrepreneurs, not bogging them down with bureaucracy.

Thanks again for supporting these innovative and environmentally friendly vehicles.

All the best,
John Tory
Leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party