81.7 F
Charlotte Amalie
Monday, May 20, 2024


Dec. 4, 2001 – Fed up with the refusal of the Motor Vehicles Bureau to let him register his solar-powered GEM electric car, St. Thomas resident Doug White plans a "Protest Push" on Saturday on St. John.
Participants will gather at 10 a.m. at the Creek to help him bring attention to his plight by pushing his 1,200-pound car around Cruz Bay. After wending his way through the streets under people power, White will exhibit the car in Cruz Bay Park for the rest of the day.
He'll have a petition for sympathizers to sign. It asks Gov. Charles W. Turnbull to "bring the Virgin Islands into the 21st century by instructing the director of Motor Vehicles to allow zero emission, environmentally friendly electric cars to be driven in the Virgin Islands."
White has customized his electric car by installing solar panels on the roof, to utilize a natural source of power to recharge the vehicle's batteries.
"The government is totally unresponsive to us and to the environment," White said Tuesday. He has been trying for more than a year and a half to convince the Motor Vehicles Bureau to let him register the car. He had begun circulating his petition in early September, but the events of Sept. 11 sidelined his efforts.
Now, he's back trying to get his car "street legal." He had been driving it unregistered in the Red Hook area where he lives and on St. John, where he does business, but he stopped doing so after a police officer gave him a ticket.
St. John resident Jeannie Williamson is organizing the "Push Protest." She said she got involved to help reduce dependency on oil and other petroleum products. "I was motivated by Sept. 11," she said, referring to the fact that much of the nation's oil comes from the Middle East, which is viewed as a terrorist stronghold.
Lawrence Olive, the Motor Vehicles Bureau director, said it would take an act of the Legislature to allow electric cars on the road. "They are not roadworthy," he said.
Such cars are legal now in 37 states and Puerto Rico. GEM sales director Mike Clevenger said he expects them to be legal in all 50 states by the end of the year.
In 1998, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration established a low-speed vehicle classification and set up safety standards. Clevenger said the GEM car meets those standards, which include a minimum speed of 20 mph and a maximum of 25 mph. The speed limit on many of the territory's roads is 25 mph or under.
Olive, however, said the cars are intended to be used in "gated communities," not on public roads. He acknowledged that they might be suitable for use in small, flat locales in the Virgin Islands such as Cruz Bay, but he said that if they were allowed there, they would have to be allowed on all islands. "They would cause congestion going up hills, and eventually they would have to get on the main arteries," he said.
White said the car is intended for neighborhood use, not for travel on high-speed roads. "This car is so good for the Virgin Islands," he said.
According to Olive, another problem is that the territory would lose federal highway funds if the cars were permitted on the public roads.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Keeping our community informed is our top priority.
If you have a news tip to share, please call or text us at 340-228-8784.

Support local + independent journalism in the U.S. Virgin Islands

Unlike many news organizations, we haven't put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as accessible as we can. Our independent journalism costs time, money and hard work to keep you informed, but we do it because we believe that it matters. We know that informed communities are empowered ones. If you appreciate our reporting and want to help make our future more secure, please consider donating.