Friday, April 18, 2008

ZENN Questions

I've been following the saga of the ZENN car fairly closely, but I hadn't seen or heard anything since December when Transport Canada lumped the ZENN in the same category as a golf cart. I wasn't able to find anything more recent online, so I decided to try something radical and ask my MPP Ted Chudleigh to check into it for me.

I'll admit, I've been a little spoiled living in Halton, where we happen to have an unusually responsive federal Member of Parliament. I had no idea what to expect from his Provincial counterpart, but I was pleasantly surprised when Mr. Chudleigh got back to me within a week. Almost makes me wish I'd voted for the guy (almost).

Ted ('can I call you Ted?') said that he would forward my inquiry to the Ministry of Transportation, and so he did. I got their response in the mail today, via Susan Lo of the Safety Policy and Education Branch. Sadly, her response left a little to be desired, as it was largely a rehashing of information from their website and a reiteration of Transport Canada's feeble arguments about 'safety concerns'.

I have written the following response, and have forwarded a copy to Ted. I'll let you know if anything comes of it.

Dear Ms. Lo,

Thank you for responding to my query. Unfortunately, the information you provided is several months old and doesn’t address my question of what is happening right now regarding the ZENN car in Ontario.

Back in November, the Minister of Transportation was quoted as follows:

"Our government is certainly excited about the possibility of using low-speed cars with low emissions and a smaller environmental footprint," Bradley said in an interview.

"We certainly would like to see that happen as soon as possible, and I've asked MTO to work with ZENN and similar manufacturers to work through the safety issues. I'm optimistic we can work through them."

In that same article, he was also quoted as saying that Ontario would not be waiting for the pilot project in provincial parks to finish in 2011 before taking action on the ZENN. Is this still the case? If it is, what steps is he taking to facilitate the process?

As for safety standards, I find it bizarre that a fully enclosed, aluminum chassis vehicle that meets or exceeds FMVSS500 standards in the U.S. would be considered unsafe on 50 km/hr streets, while motorcycles are allowed on 400-series highways alongside transport trucks.

I am aware of Transport Canada's stated reasons for giving the ZENN the same safety approval rating as a golf cart. I can only assume that they are having trouble classifying it, since there has probably never been anything like it presented to them before. I don’t know if the solution is to change the rules for passenger vehicles to account for where and how fast they would be driven, or if it would be necessary to create a whole new class of low-speed vehicle, but they obviously need to start being a little more flexible in the face of new technology.

What I do not understand is why Ontario isn’t following British Columbia’s lead by creating its own legislation to allow ZENN cars on low speed-limit, neighbourhood roads - as they were intended.

If the Government of Ontario really is serious about addressing climate change, reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, improving public health, and supporting what could become a major all-Canadian manufacturing presence in this province, then please let me know exactly what steps are being taken to follow through on the Minister’s assurances about "working through the safety issues" and bring the ZENN to Ontario’s streets.

I look forward to your reply. Thank you.

- Jennifer Smith

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