The latest perk of being on the King County Council? An electric-gas hybrid to drive around. The council this week approved an ordinance that allows one of its members to test out a Toyota Prius as a way to promote low-emission technology and fossil fuel alternatives to the general public-- a lead-by-example sort of deal. But members don't only get to drive the car to county events and official business, they get to take it home and use it as their own, a rare benefit. As with most government entities, King County has strict take-home policies for county-owned vehicles. But the council agreed unanimously that this "demonstration project" is worth rewriting the rules.
Says the ordinance: "Incidental personal benefit or convenience from such a public use does not constitute personal use."
Council member Larry Phillips, the first green guinea pig, says it makes sense that he gets to drive the car all the time. "Otherwise nobody talks about it. That's the point." Phillips traded his Ford Explorer for the Prius about two months ago. He says he's only filled up once since. "I get about 49 to 50 miles per gallon. It's really quite remarkable," he says. The car's a converted hybrid, which means it has a battery pack and runs on electricity unless you exceed 35 miles per hour. Philips says it performs great around town, though he concedes it's not a perfect car for highway driving, particularly since that means you're burning gas anyway.
The other hassle factor? "You have to plug it in and remember to unplug it," Phillips says, adding that he's yet to drive away still tethered, but he admits that he's gotten in and shut the door a couple times before realizing he was still plugged in. "I carry an extension cord with me at all times," he says.
In addition to raising awareness, the hope is that council members, in exchange for driving the car, will be able to make recommendations for future county purchases of energy-efficient vehicles. It's all part of something called the Green Fleet Initiative that County Executive Ron Sims kicked off this fall.
Phillips gets the Prius for less than a year. He says council member Larry Gossett is likely next in line-- "He's been champing at the bit"-- and that council member Reagan Dunn has also expressed interest in the council's latest benefit.