Officials Praise Hybrid Cars

Prius sees duty with housing inspector in Lawrence, Kansas.

Published: 17-Jan-2003

class=Byline>By
Kansan staff writer

What would Jesus drive?

That question has been a hot topic of conversation since a national group of religious environmentalists started a publicity campaign a few months ago to promote environment-friendly cars.

Chances are if he worked as a housing inspector for the City of Lawrence, Jesus would be driving a Toyota Prius.

That´s what zoning enforcement officer Brian Jimenez found himself driving last spring when the department of neighborhood resources acquired the electric-gas hybrid cars because of their cost and efficiency. As a former police officer, Jimenez was accustomed to the roomy and responsive Crown Victorias used as police cruisers.

“I didn´t really know what to think when I saw this car but it´s turned out great,” Jimenez said of the compact Prius.

“They get around fine and pick up speed just like a regular car. It does take bumps in the road pretty hard, but I think that´s just because it´s small.”

Indeed, with only a 10-gallon gas tank, the Prius´ electric and gas-powered motors couldn´t handle much more car. But what the Toyota lacks in size and stature, it easily makes up for in efficiency.

The car runs by sharing power between an electric motor, a gas-powered engine and a nickel-metal battery, according to Toyota, the car´s manufacturer. At a stop, the gas engine will shut off completely, but, like a golf cart, depressing the accelerator engages the engine again. Each 10-gallon gas tank can carry the car around town for more than 450 miles. Jimenez estimates that he has filled up around 15 times since he began using the car for housing inspections last March.

Those numbers are exactly what city manager Mike Wildgen and city garage manager Steve Stewart were looking for when they began shopping for a hybrid car more than a year ago.

“We need to be real environmentally conscious here anyway. We are so close to Kansas City and there are several areas of concern up there,” Stewart said.

The hybrid cars have turned out to help more than the environment. With each one costing about $20,000 through a Toyota-offered subsidy program, and doubling the fuel efficiency of other city vehicles, the benefits are starting to show up on the city´s strapped books, too.

“I´m sure it´s already made an impact in the fuel budget for building inspection since they´ve got two of the cars,” Stewart said. “I don´t know whether they will realize that until next year when they´ve had a chance to compare numbers. Of course everything we can do to save on the fuel budget helps now. “

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