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Car Expo: Driven to Alternatives:

Electric motor bikes, a solar-powered Prius, hybrid cars, LNG buses, electric cars, Segways, monorails and bottles of biodiesel fuel were some of the innovations on display at Santa Monica’s first Alternative Car and Transportation Expo, held December 9 and 10 at Barker Hangar at Santa Monica Airport.

The event was kick-started on December 8 with a car rally originating at Santa Monica Pier, in which cars from event participants drove from the Pier to the event site. The Big Blue Bus also provided free shuttles to and from the more traditional auto show in downtown Los Angeles.

Inside Barker Hangar, visitors strolled from booth to booth, looking at cars on display and receiving information on alternative forms of transit and fuel. One could  get a handout with a diagram of how an electric car works, sign up with Southern California Biodiesel Users Group, collect information on places to buy alternative fuels or chat with the Southern California Transit Advocates, whose executive secretary, Dana Gabbard, is pushing for a state ballot initiative for a “bullet train” to serve California.

The Expo also offered continuous panels and lectures. John Frala, an associate professor at Rio Hondo College, explained the eight basic alternative fuels in his lecture “Alt Fuels 101.” A later panel, “Comparing Alternative Fuel Technologies,” hosted by soon-to-be-former Assemblywoman Fran Pavley, featured advocates of each type of alternative energy.  These included battery power, hybrid technology (a traditional internal combustion engine powered by electricity), hydrogen, ethanol (made from corn), methanol (made from wood), fuel cell energy, biodiesel (made from leftover animal or vegetable fat), CNG (compressed natural gas) and propane (LNG), which propels Santa Monica’s Big Blue Buses.

Ed Begley, Jr., a passionate advocate of alternative transportation and environmentalism, introduced keynote speaker Terry Tamminen, author of Lives Per Gallon: The Cost of Our Oil Addiction.  Without pulling punches, Tamminen spoke of how the oil industry has created a society that is dependent on fossil fuels, a dependency perpetuated by politics (the largest campaign donations come from oil companies). His harrowing stories of oil industry denial included such comments from executives as: “Temporary loss of lung function is not really a health effect.”

“How do you define patriotism?” Tamminen asked the audience. “Nothing would be more patriotic than ending our use of petroleum within a lifetime.”

Not everything at the Expo was about cars. A presentation called “Where Are The Monorails” featured tantalizing video footage of a colorful monorail moving through Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Monorail advocates Dick Falkenbury and Brian C. Brooks presented a good case for promoting the building of monorails in the U.S., an idea that has so far met with little success because of political mishaps, industrial opposition and public skepticism about the “amusement park” image of monorails. Falkenbury, who led a grassroots campaign for monorails in Seattle, distributed informative printouts from www.monorails.org and emphasized the profit-turning potential of monorails: “The real money in transit is not in the fare – it’s in the cup of coffee you sell to the person waiting for the train.”

Out in the hangar’s parking lot, visitors were invited to take a tour of a parked Bug Blue Bus as well as a parked MTA bus, and to take rides on the Segway, a one-person vehicle rather like a stand-up, two-wheeled bicycle. This reporter tried it and found the steering somewhat tough. But the kids, tomorrow’s consumers, were gliding around the lot with the greatest of ease.

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