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June 22, 2006

UW Motor Pool looking at electric cars, alternative fuels as part of energy saving strategy

News and Information

At about lunchtime last Tuesday, the parking lot of the UW Motor Pool was lined with several attractive vehicles, gleaming with showroom polish but a bit smaller than most you see on the street.

Milling about were curious people slamming doors, inspecting motors and taking short — and surprisingly quiet — test drives.

The occasion was the Electric Vehicle Demonstration 2006, a few mid-day hours of automotive show and tell and alternative car talk, where UW employees got to try out some environmentally friendly new models for possible use on campus.

As visitors tried steering wheels and talked of horsepower and road worthiness, sales representatives from the electric car manufacturers mingled, eager to offer information. David Carr, the appropriately named manager of the motor pool, also was on hand to explain and discuss the use of electric cars and how they might someday become part of life at the UW.

“These cost about a penny to a penny and a half a mile,” Carr said of the electric vehicles. “You put $3 worth of electricity in this car and it’ll go 300 miles. You put $3 of gas in a car and you get what? Thirty miles?” The electric models on display are not freeway-capable, he noted, but would work fine for trips around campus.

But to Carr, the electric vehicle promotion was just part of a larger project, which he calls a Clean Fleet Initiative, that reaches out in several directions, including UCAR, a new twist on the old way of getting around with help from the Motor Pool.

“Whatever works best is what I want to promote,” he said. “We’re looking at many facets to try and move people around.” And, he added bluntly, “One of the goals is to get rid of cars. There are too many around here.”

One of the answers to that, ironically, was to buy a few more cars. But they are fuel-saving Toyota Prius hybrids, and they represent a new option for getting around with Motor Pool-owned transportation called UCAR.

UCAR: Carr described UCAR as “like bringing the Motor Pool to you.” Motor Pool has always been available, on 25th Ave. NE, for UW employees and faculty needing part-time transportation. But now a number of gas-saving Prius models will be made available in the Central Plaza Garage that can be reserved online at any time day or night.

UCAR is beginning with a pilot program this summer and expects to be ready for campuswide use come fall. Carr said it’s possible that later, electric models may be added to the UCAR system for campus use.

UCAR, Carr said, is likely to be comparative with or cheaper than Flexcar, the similar program already offering cars campuswide (and indeed citywide) for personal use. Carr said he thinks the two programs can cohabit the campus well. “Using Flexcar for personal use is a natural extension,” he said.

Cleaner fuels: Another part of what Carr sees as the Clean Fleet Initiative is the use, whenever possible, of alternative fuels for campus vehicles. “The big picture is emission-reduction,” he said. Carr said the Motor Pool already has converted to the much cleaner-burning ultra-low diesel fuel for its trucks and buses on campus. Carr said the cleaner fuel will be necessary for the coming generations of diesel vehicles, with lower emissions and fewer particulates.

If the switch to low-sulfur diesel works smoothly, Carr said, adding biodiesel to campus fuel options may be next. If the low-sulfur diesel works well, he said, and no maintenance problems arise, the department will start using a 5 percent biodiesel blend called B5. A richer mix of biodiesel, B20, could be used later, he said.

All agencies of the State of Washington, by executive order, must be using B20 by Sept. 1, 2009, but such orders do not formally include the UW. Still, Carr said, the UW usually meets such standards voluntarily.

Among those shopping through the cars last Tuesday was Rick Cheney, director of Facilities Services, Maintenance and Alterations, who was scouting out possible models that might work on campus. Cheney said he favored two models, the Global Electric Motor car, which is backed by the trustworthy name of Daimler-Chrysler, and the Canadian-made Might-E Truck.

Carr said the UW also is purchasing two Ford Escapes, the motor manufacturer’s hybrid sports utility vehicle, for use in campus parking enforcement. Currently, UW Police use Ford Escorts for that work.

Carr noted that no single change or reform will clean the environment in and of itself; rather, it’s the combination of taking all the options available, and always being on the lookout for the next thing.

And some day, that could even be hydrogen-fueled cars — although it may not be any day soon. Carr is willing to wait. “I’m always open to new techology and can’t wait to see what the future has in store for us.”

For more information about the UW Motor Pool and its work, visit online at http://www.washington.edu/admin/motorpool/.