With a major campaign to clean up air quality in Essex underway, the ‘A Greener Essex’ message is being carried around the county on the signwritten sides of two of the cleanest vehicles on the road - Toyota Prius T-Spirits. The 1.5 litre VVT-i five-door petrol-electric hybrid cars are now part of the Essex County Council pool-vehicle fleet, based at County Hall in Chelmsford. They are available for use by staff-members unable to use public transport or to walk or cycle to work, and for any work-related journeys during the day.
The council has more than 1000 cars in its fleet and is increasingly pursuing an environmentally friendly transport policy. "Road transport is responsible for 26 per cent of all UK carbon dioxide emissions and almost 50 per cent of certain smog-forming pollutants, and it is estimated that up to 24,000 people die prematurely in the UK every year as a result of poor air quality," says Graham Tombs, Essex County Council's Head of Waste, Recycling and the Environment.
At present the pool car fleet consists mostly of Fords, and includes 17 LPG-powered vehicles. "We plan to see how successful the cars are before considering whether to invest in more Prius," says Mark Wilson, the council's Environment Policy Planner. "The cars form an important part of our 'A Greener Essex' programme, focusing on sustainable transport. The wider programme addresses how we use and manage natural resources in the County of Essex now and in the future."
The Prius are supplied on a three-year lease agreement through local dealership Toyota Chelmsford, and the council hopes to achieve annual fuel savings of more than £900 on each one, based on a comparison with a comparable conventional five-door hatchback and on achieving official consumption figures over 18,000 miles per annum.
The Toyota Prius produces only 104g/km CO2 emissions compared to an average 165g/km from a comparably sized non-hybrid car, making it the most eco-friendly mass-produced car to drive.
"We chose the Toyota Prius over other hybrid technology cars because of its practicality combined with fuel efficiency," says Mr Wilson. "General feedback is that once staff are familiar with starting the Prius they have found it very easy to drive. "People are particularly impressed by the fact that the engine cuts out when sitting in traffic rather than idling and continuing to pollute the environment. Comments are that they are spacious and able to fit four adults comfortably."Published 15 April 2005