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BAY AREA CITY MAY INTRODUCE ELECTRIC CARS FOR SHORT TRIPS

SHARE BAY AREA CITY MAY INTRODUCE ELECTRIC CARS FOR SHORT TRIPS

A small but potentially historic step toward the electrification of U.S. cars has been taken here.

If plans work out, an Emeryville-bound Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) rider who got off at the BART station in Oakland would soon be able to rent a tiny electric car for $3 or $4 a day.The boxy, two-seat vehicles would be ideal for daytime local commutes, such as trips to work or the supermarket, say the plan's backers from the city of Emeryville, BART and University of California-Berkeley.

Highway trips would be out, however: The car's batteries aren't up to the strain.

The vehicles, two of which were demonstrated last week, are "perfect for an urbanized area where you have relatively short trips and a lot of stop-and-go traffic," said Professor Robert Cervero of the Berkeley campus's department of city and regional planning.

The Emeryville City Council approve the project a few weeks ago, but it's uncertain when and if it will become a reality. Officials are discussing details with Emeryville firms in hopes of encouraging them to help finance the project.

The vehicle, called a "Kewet," is made in Denmark. It's sold in the United States for $15,000 by a 3-year-old Southern California firm, Green Motorworks Inc. of North Hollywood.

Up to 100 vehicles would be available for daytime rentals at the MacArthur station within 18 months, says Michael Bernick, vice president of the BART board.

Advocates say the so-called "all-electric commute" could lead to:

- Increased BART ridership by people who don't like feeling "stranded" at a BART station a few miles from their ultimate destination.

- Diminished use of gas-powered automobiles, whose emissions have long stained the Golden State's skies.

The state of California has mandated that, by the year 1998, 2 percent of all new vehicles sold in the state must produce "zero emissions." By 2003, 10 percent of new vehicles would produce no emissions.