Murray, KY – Dickie Turner is the Assistant Director of Transportation at Murray State University. He and I are getting into a GEM eL low speed electric vehicle. It resembles a golf cart in some ways, in other ways a small pick up truck. There is a Murray State logo on both doors and a large bed with plenty of space for carry on. At first glance, these small vehicles may not seem powerful, but in fact, they can do many things a normal gas powered vehicle can do.
This truck is just one of many initiatives the University has taken to "green" up the campus and community. Turner says bio diesel has been in use on campus for a few years and a cardboard recycling center and new glass pulvarizer are some of the other green investments. But back to the gadget at hand.
"It has a seven horse power motor that is powered by eight 12-volt batteries. Right here in front of the vehicle, it plugs in. Just a regular extension cord, nothing special about it."
The trucks run up to 25 miles per hour and on a full battery charge, can travel up to 40 miles. The vehicles also offer a small heating and cooling system. At first, the feeling is odd when we start to pull away from the transportations department. There are no engine vibrations, sounds or exhaust fumes.
Turner has worked at MSU for six years now. In that time, he, along with his coworkers, have helped the campus move forward with environmentally friendly transportation. This is their first big step towards changing the way Murray State's facilities management department does business.
"Well, it was a joint decision. Vehicles like this have been out for a few years, however, we needed something on the campus that would allow us to get up on sidewalks, to get a little closer to the buildings, without the noise that a regular truck has, or without the exhaust admissions that a regular trucks has. And this vehicle will do it in those situations."
Even though these new vehicles are small, they have a surprising amount of power. After a six to eight hour charge, they can run the entire day and hold up to 1200 pounds of weight in the truck.
While cruising across campus in this truck with a bubble like top, we come upon a marching band practicing in several different groups outside. We nonchalantly rolled past their rehearsal without disturbing a soul...or solo.
"So you notice, here we are going up hill and we're gaining speed so, it's pretty good. It's quiet. There are no exhaust fumes that you have to worry about so it's people friendly."
The vehicles come from the company GEM, which is a Chrysler corporation. They cost a little over 14,000 dollars a piece. Murray State's transportation department is provided with an operational fleet account by the university that allows the replacement of older vehicles each year. Not only are the vehicles safer, they are saving the university money.
"According to the statistics put out by the company and research we did here, it cost about two cents a mile to operate these vehicles. The electric vehicles compared to the gas engine vehicles, we cut down on maintenance because maintenance is virtually nothing on these vehicles, we cut down on fuel consumptions, and the insurance on these trucks are quite a bit cheaper then what a regular pick up truck is, so we see savings in multiple areas."
And just because these vehicles are smaller doesn't mean they can't operate like any other vehicle on the road.
"These are licensed. They're insured. Any road that has a speed limit of 35 miles per hour or under, these are street legal. So that's a good feature to run little errands around campus, and it saves using a truck and burning fuel."
The truck ride was pleasant, but Turner says the benefits of the new vehicle are causing drivers to take extra precautions.
"You know, these are silent. Hardly any noise at all do they make. We want people to watch out for us as well as we're watching out for students and pedestrians and other people on campus."
With this new step towards a cleaner campus, the transportation department at MSU hopes there are more green opportunities to come their way.
For WKMS, I'm Caleb Campbell.