||SUN PHOTO/LAURIE KROSNEY
Al Morgan and his wife, Teddy, both use the GEM to get to and from golf games at Key Royale and to and from Publix.
By Laurie Krosney
sun staff writer
With gasoline hovering just over $3 a gallon, and some pundits predicting a rise to $4 or more by mid-summer, some Island residents are finding alternative ways to get around.
Electric cars are becoming a not-uncommon sight as people are increasingly turning to them as a way of getting around.
"They aren’t for everyone," said Tom Stockebrand, who built and drives an electric truck. "I don’t think you could use an electric vehicle as your only transportation, because you can’t get very far off the Island. They’re good for a second vehicle."
Stockebrand, who says he’s a mechanical engineer by education and an electrical engineer by trade, built his first electric vehicle when he lived in the West.
"This is my second electric truck," he said. "Florida is actually a very good place to use electric, because it’s so flat."
Stockebrand said he doesn’t have the range to go to Tampa, but he’s made it to Stickney Point Road in Sarasota and back to his home in Holmes Beach.
"Of course if you’re running out of juice, you start to go slower and slower, and people behind you get more and more annoyed, but you have a range of about 60 miles on a charge," he said.
Stockebrand estimates he spends about 5-cents a mile in his electric truck. There’s no gasoline to buy. That’s the cost of keeping the batteries charged.
Joan Stockebrand, Tom’s wife, has a Prius, which is a combination electric/gas car.
"Hers costs about 5.5-cents a mile, but mine doesn’t have any emissions," Stockebrand said.
Other Island residents, particularly golfers, have started using the GEM, which is a combination electric car and golf cart made by Chrysler.
"They are street legal vehicles, (SLVs)" said Al Morgan, of Anna Maria. "In Anna Maria, you have to use SLV’s. Regular golf carts aren’t legal."
Anna Maria’s chief law enforcement officer, Manatee County Sheriff's Sgt. John Kenney agreed.
"Your vehicle has to be street-legal," he said. "That means you have to have brakes, brake lights, turn signals, rearview and side view mirrors, headlights, a tag and insurance and you have to have a valid driver’s license."
Morgan has all those things on his GEM.
"The tag is less than an automobile tag," he said. "The insurance is nominal."
New GEMS run between $7,500 and $10,000 fully loaded.
Chrysler Dealers in St. Petersburg, Sarasota and Tampa are the closest outlets to the Island.
Morgan and his wife, Teddy, both use the GEM to get to and from golf games at Key Royale and to and from Publix.
"We like to go out to dinner and to spots around the Island in it," Teddy said.
Russ Olson, of Holmes Beach, loves his GEM as well.
"It’s easy to get in and out of," he said. "You can’t beat the mileage."
Olson, who grew up on a farm and spent years in politics, finally retiring after being lieutenant governor of the state of Wisconsin, said the GEM is not without drawbacks.
"When it’s cold, it’s pretty darned cold to ride in, and it’s not the greatest when it rains," he said. "You can’t go over 25 mph, so people behind you get irritated and think you’re a nuisance."
Olson said that other than that, he loves his GEM.
"I go to the beach, to Publix, out at night, and to the golf club at Key Royale." He said.
Olson also stressed that people would be best served to use the SLV’s as a second car.
"It’s a natural for getting around the Island, but you couldn’t go anywhere else," he said.
Olson said that he got his GEM as his part to help curb this nation’s reliance on fossil fuels.
"We all have to do something to stop this dependence on foreign fuels," he said. "This is my part."
Both Olson and Morgan said they could go two or three days on a charge, or roughly six or seven miles.
Then they simply plug the front of their cars into a regular power source for a recharge.
Another option for getting around the Island is a street legal golf cart — one that can be ordered or adapted to be comply with the requirements Kenney described.
"We sell a lot of carts to folks out on the Island," said Greg Wakeman, who owns The Golf Cart Mart along with his partner, Michael Arkin. "They’re a great fit for Anna Maria. They don’t cost much to operate and they can take you anywhere on the Island you want to go."
Wakeman said his shop can order new carts that come in as street legal vehicles, or they can retrofit any cart you already own.
"A new SLV comes in at about $7,500," Wakeman said.
"Of course, you can order a lot of different options, including air conditioning or a fan for cooling," Arkin added.
The Mart also deals in used vehicles, which can be retrofitted to be street legal.
Batteries need to be changed out every five-to-seven years and will run from $500 to $700, depending on the quality, Wakeman said. "And we’ll pick up and deliver to the Island without any extra charge," he said.
Stockebrand said he thinks the GEMs and SLV’s are great, but he said they do not solve the problem of pollution by any means.
"You still have to hook yourself up and get juice from a coal-fired power plant or some other source of energy, so you’re still polluting, but you’re a heck of a lot better off than you’d be with gas," he said.
As for Stockebrand and his carbon footprint, he has plans to make it smaller almost immediately.
"I’ve just signed a contract to get solar panels on my house," he said. "There will be enough panels to keep my truck charged as well as run a portion of the load on the house."
Stockebrand said he’s looking for a bumper sticker that says, "Nuclear powered — from 93 million miles away."