VILNIUS, Lithuania – Gintautas, a successful businessmen working in the heart of Vilnius, had gotten used to the Lithuanian capital’s endless traffic jams. Repeatedly checking his wristwatch and sipping morning coffee in the car, he generally leaves from home 30 minutes early, so as to reach the office in time. But one morning, he saw a car zipping past just next to him – on the right side, in the lane that was supposed to be for public transport only. “He’s breaking the rules, I thought. And then I realised – the car makes no noise,” remembered Gintautas. “It was an electric car, and the new regulations allow them to use these lanes. I suddenly saw this as an opportunity for me too.”
In Lithuania, entire lanes are reserved for electric cars, according to law. These are nearly always free: At the moment, according to the data published, out of Lithuania’s just over 2 million vehicles, a grand total of 12 are electric, and the lanes are occupied by public transport. The number of electromobiles is likely to increase every year, especially when new solutions (like the one that attracted Gintautas and will only require him to buy “Mercedes Benz Smart Fortwo” and invest the same amount of money into making it run green) and benefits are being offered – unluckily enough, the situation does not change much.
Of course, no one expected these lanes to go empty. Before the official laws that enabled electromobiles to use designated lanes as part of the traffic system reconstruction project, everyone was talking about the incentives that could make the potential buyer invest in an electromobile. But after the lanes were implemented, it became clear that people are still quite sceptical of electromobility, and brighter times may not lay ahead: “For a country like Lithuania with so many old cars, it is highly unlikely that the citizens will suddenly change their behaviour and start buying electromobiles, even if expenses are not that high,” explained Šarūnas Šutavičius, hearty promoter of this green transport. “Cost is not everything – attitude is.”
For one, the stereotype that electric cars are expensive remains. It is widely known that a new electromobile costs around 35 thousand euros – for the same amount of money, the buyer could easily afford two new A-class Mercedes Benz with internal combustion engines. But there are other innovations that would help you to save a lot of money – two Lithuanians just presented their new mechanism that would transform a simple “Mercedes Benz Smart Fortwo” into an electromobile. “We have had a dream to offer a possibility like this since the creation of the company in 2010, but only now have we managed to find enough money and finally start the project”, said Šarūnas Šutavičius, one of the creators of this retrofitted electromobile and the founder of the company “Elektromotus”. “What we have now is the possibility to be one of the first drivers that can have their “Smart car” transformed for less than 13 thousand euros. Paying this, the owner of the car could forget about the ever increasing prices of fuel and major car repairs.”
Even if it is obvious that price is no longer an obstacle for the increasing usage of electromobiles, the numbers are unlikely to increase any time soon. As Šarūnas Šutavičius stresses, “There has to be a culture for electromobiles, as well as full infrastructure.” Unfortunately, neither of these exists in Lithuania. Even if more and more people become interested in the possibility to use electromobiles as a way of commuting, they cannot drive without electricity. “It is still a huge problem that a lot of people live in old soviet buildings without any private parking lots; therefore, charging stations cannot be built privately. As long as the country or city do not offer help for these people, the number of electromobiles cannot possibly increase largely”, Šarūnas Šutavičius said.
If the government cannot offer at least a basic charging infrastructure, drivers will not consider buying electromobiles. “According to the calculations, it would cost less than 145 thousand euros to build one hundred charging stations. Of course, these will not be profitable – the electricity should be offered for free as current electromobiles would not use much of it. Anyway, compared to other projects that are being financed, this is by no ways a significant investment.” At the moment, Lithuania has seven charging stations. All of them are concentrated in the biggest cities – Vilnius and Kaunas, restricting the possible usage of electromobiles.
It seems that even the policy makers and interest groups cannot find common ground, when it comes to electromobility. As the Ministry of Transport and Communication declares, their main goals are to incentivize the usage of electromobiles and ensure full infrastructure, as well as offer additional benefits such as free parking or the establishment of additional electromobile-only lanes.
The Institute of Green Policy remains quite skeptic: “It looks much more like the public relations campaigns of different companies or their investors, without any particular value added. We do not understand the necessity of possibilities of retrofitted ‘Smart cars’ and these new regulations, new lanes – the government has to do something about the traffic problems that already exist, not create new ones by reducing the number of lanes.”