A consortium of organizations involved in California’s Bay Area wants people to discover electric cars.

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and a consortium of electric vehicle organizations launched May 14 a new electric vehicle awareness campaign: “Experience Electric — The Better Ride.”

The regional initiative is designed to spur electric vehicle adoption by offering thousands of free test drives at dozens of public venues and workplaces throughout the nine-county Bay Area.

Beginning with the first public test drive on Saturday, May 17 at the Marina Green in San Francisco and continuing for the next several months, the Experience Electric campaign will feature the latest electric vehicles (EVs) from a variety of manufacturers, including Tesla, BMW, FIAT, Ford, General Motors, KIA Motors and Nissan, said the MTC.

“Increasing the use of EVs is a great way to help the Bay Area improve air quality and meet its state targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” said Orinda City Councilmember and MTC Chair Amy Rein Worth. “It’s one thing to say that drivers can fuel an EV for only about 20 percent of the cost of a gasoline-powered car, or that EVs can cut the typical driver’s operating and maintenance costs by $1,200 a year. But these are just numbers until people experience for themselves how much fun to drive these cars are. Add in other benefits like access to freeway carpool lanes, and when you put it all together, EVs really are the coolest option on the road today.”

The campaign’s goal is to accelerate EV adoption through purchase, leasing and car-sharing programs.

“There are more all-electric vehicles in the Bay Area than any other region in the state,” added Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, who also serves as an MTC Commissioner and Air District Director, and co-chairs the Bay Area EV Strategic Council. “The Bay Area accounts for about 20 percent of California’s population but 40 percent of the state’s EVs. We want to build on this leadership and make the Bay Area the EV capital of the nation. The way to do it is to get drivers to actually experience an EV in a fun, zero-pressure setting.”

Noting that the Bay Area EV Strategic Council aims to boost the number of EVs in the region to 100,000 or more, Bates added: “we’re confident consumers will go electric when they actually try the vehicles and hear from friends who have tried them. EVs offer a fabulously smooth ride and are wonderfully quiet – in addition to the terrific fuel savings and environmental benefits.”

The MTC added that on the California power grid, EVs are more than 75 percent cleaner than the average gasoline-powered vehicle after counting emissions from power plants. For drivers who have solar-generated power at home or other “green” power options, driving an EV can be nearly carbon-free.

The MTC, in partnership with the Air District, said it led the development of the Experience Electric strategy in collaboration with the Bay Area EV Strategic Council. MTC then selected the California Center for Sustainable Energy, Plug In America and Charge Across Town to conduct the year-long media and consumer campaign, which aims to make extensive use of social media and word-of-mouth marketing as well as traditional advertising and media relations.

In addition to the May 17 event in San Francisco, the Experience Electric campaign will conduct similar ride-and-drive opportunities throughout the Bay Area.