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Plugging in Florida



For the most part, Floridians have had to stand on the side of the road, hands in pockets, as EVs raced off to the golden land of opportunity, California -- despite the fact that Florida's climate is just as conducive to EVs as California's, and the flat terrain here is perfect for vehicles that, for the most part, don't like hills much.

But EVs are trickling in to the Sunshine State, with a small push from the Juno Beach-based Florida Power & Light.

"We want to take leadership in this area," says Bob Suggs, FP&L's manager of electric vehicle programs. FP&L is the only utility in the country to operate its own in-house EV service center, which works on fleet cars for both FP&L and Broward County. The utility also indoctrinates the young by sponsoring the Orlando-based Electric Vehicle International Challenge, which hosted hordes of high school and college students Dec. 12-14 with pop-riveted EVs built in shop class.

Orlando will host its first EVs as part of a deal recently struck between General Motors and Walt Disney World that already is delivering factory-built electric Chevy S-10 pickups to the mouse's kingdom to be used behind the scenes as runabout and maintenance vehicles. Dick Thompson, of GM's Advanced Technology Vehicles, says the S-10 is perfect for such "nowhere to nowhere" duty, because the distances involved won't tax its 50-mile range.

Reporters at EVS-14 were ferried around in brightly painted electric buses that, starting Jan. 31, will debut as Electrowave, an electric shuttle serving Miami Beach's Art Deco district. "Electrowave will be free, fun and run throughout the day and night," says Judy Evans, of the Miami Beach Transportation Management Association. The seven 22-foot buses were made by Advanced Vehicle Systems of Chattanooga, which operates its own very successful electric shuttle.

Far from just a demonstration project, the Tennessee shuttle is a vital part of Chattanooga's downtown redevelopment. Commuters are encouraged to leave their cars in parking garages on the outskirts of town, then take the shuttle in. City officials say it moves a third of the ridership at a tenth the cost of the city's regular, diesel-belching service.

Officials of Central Florida's Lynx transportation system considered an electric shuttle when planning the new downtown Lymmo service, which is meant to serve the same function as the Chattanooga shuttle. At that time three years ago, however, the available technology did not meet Lynx's standards, said Rob Gregg, Lynx's assistant executive director.

Instead, Lynx opted to deploy a fleet of vehicles powered by compressed natural gas -- an alternative fuel that is "virtually non-polluting, as opposed to the diesel" -- that remains the industry standard, said Gregg. (Compressed natural gas also powered the Free Bee shuttle that preceded Lymmo.) Because the new vehicles have a 12-year life, he said, no conversions to an electric fleet are likely to be considered before then.

And diesel rather than electricity still runs the I-Ride Trolley, begun last fall and operated by the International Drive Mass Transit District.

Elsewhere, electric vehicles have been tried and abandoned; in Denver, for example, the maintenance and duration of required electrical charges contributed to make the fleet vehicles less feasible and they were replaced, said Gregg. "We, of course, don't have any plans for electric buses," he said. But "we are staying tuned to the latest technology improvements."