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[whitespace] Electric vehicles popular with city employees

Cupertino--Don't be surprised if Cupertino city employees or councilmembers are seen zipping along the streets in an electric vehicle.

Since fall, the city has amassed a fleet of vehicles through grants awarded by the Valley Transportation Authority. Cupertino currently has four electric cars with the possibility of adding a fifth in the near future.

Two of the vehicles are kept at City Hall for use as a pool car. The other two are assigned to individuals who work at the city's service center.

Since the first vehicle arrived in the fall, they have become the pool car of choice.

"[The electric vehicles] are the first ones to go," said Bert Viskovich, director of Public Works. "We have some of the gas powered ones, and boy, the electric ones go fast. They are novel at this point and are a neat thing to drive. It's very quiet and has good power."

Instead of purchasing the vehicles, Toyota Rav 4's, the city acquired them on a three-year lease.

If the city had purchased the cars, each vehicle would have been in the neighborhood of $42,000, Viskovich said. Cupertino is leasing the cars for close to $17,000 each.

"[With the grant money] we would have been able to buy one car, but we got two cars for the same price," Viskovich said.

The city chose to lease the vehicles because the car battery is expensive and they were unsure of when it would need to be replaced.

"We don't know enough to take the risk," Viskovich said. "In three years they might have more reliable batteries. They think a battery can go 100,000 miles before being replaced. A battery would be in excess of the value of the car."

A car can be driven for about 80 miles when full and it takes about eight hours to charge a battery.

Since the Valley Transit Authority made the grants available, the county and 12 of the 15 cities in the Santa Clara County have participated in the program.

"Back in 1996, with the Bay Area kind of on the verge of attainment for clean air, it was decided [the grant] was a good thing to continue to enhance our air quality here," said Marcella Rensi, transportation planner with the Valley Transit Authority.

In addition to improving the air quality, the city is saving money since it costs less than $2 to charge the car. The grant covers the cost of the lease and maintenance is handled by Toyota.

When Cupertino applied for the grant, the city had the choice of selecting a natural gas vehicle or an electric one.

"I tend to feel when we were presented certain things, some of the [natural] gas emissions almost equaled some of the new vehicles coming out in the showroom," Viskovich said. "Electric was really zero emissions. I don't think you weren't making a big step with natural gas as with electric."
Michelle Ku

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