Norton Takes a Test Drive Ahead of Surface Transportation Rewrite

Posted November 12, 2013 at 2:31pm

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., slipped behind the wheel of a sleek, new BMW i3 last week for a test drive in the name of congressional research.

Norton, the ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, gave the futuristic, orange four-seater a brief spin through downtown Washington to get a feel for electric drivetrain technology. The emission-free car runs on an electric motor powered by a lithium-ion, high-voltage battery.

“I thought I ought to be familiar with all existing forms of electric cars,” said Norton, who will host a series of listening sessions beginning Nov. 20, as the subcommittee begins to write a surface transportation authorization bill slated for next year. She said she has been talking with staff about ways to get more electric cars on the roads, such as encouraging manufacturing and offering incentives for car buyers.

Norton’s test drive, offered by a local BMW dealer, began at the Long View Gallery at 1234 Ninth St. NW. From the driver’s seat (made of 100 percent recycled fibers, according to marketing materials), she wondered where she could find a station to power up the car’s battery while on the go.

“Turns out there are electric spouts everywhere around D.C.,” Norton told CQ Roll Call. A screen displayed a map of charging stations in the region, including a nearby dock on K Street. She said her hometown seems well-equipped to handle electric cars right now.

The i3 can drive for up to 100 city miles without needing a recharge. “I’m a city driver, so that’s forever to me,” she quipped.

The 12-term delegate is no stranger to electric car technology. She currently leases a hybrid Ford Fusion and said she has “a hard time understanding what the appeal of gasoline-powered cars would be. … Certainly not more power.”

BMW says the i3 offers a nearly silent driving experience and the energy-efficient option of braking the car by simply lifting your foot from the accelerator pedal. Norton thoroughly enjoyed the ride and said she now feels “ready to graduate from hybrid to electric.”

Unfortunately for Norton, the i3 is only available overseas. The car won’t be released in the United States until spring 2014 and will sell for about $46,000.

In addition to electric cars, the committee will also be exploring autonomous driving technology.

Norton hasn’t had a chance to let self-driving technology take her for a spin, but Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., has firsthand experience.

He took a 30-mile ride in a driverless car in September to better understand how autonomous cars navigate the road. The committee will host a hearing, “How Autonomous Vehicles Will Shape the Future of Surface Transportation,” on Nov. 19.

Norton said she’s interested. “I haven’t quite tried that one yet,” she said.