79.6 F
Cruz Bay
Thursday, February 2, 2023


Sept. 8, 2001 – Architect Doug White has ratcheted up his effort to register his $12,000 GEM electric car with the Motor Vehicles Bureau by circulating a petition addressed to Gov. Charles W. Turnbull.
"I want to bring attention to the problem," he said.
He calls his campaign "Free EV-1." He says EV-1 stands for "electric vehicle No. 1," because if he is ever successful, it will be the first one registered in the Virgin Islands.
The petition asks the governor to "please help 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."
Signatures to the petition were being collected at the St. Thomas-St. John Chamber of Commerce Business Expo on Friday and Saturday at the University of the Virgin Islands Sports and Fitness Center, where White had the car on display so people could see it and learn about how it operates. He also was planning to put copies of the petition in public-access places around St. Thomas, where his office and residence are, and on St. John, where he spends a fair amount of time working.
White has been trying for a year and a half to register the vehicle, with no success. He drove it for a while with the Puerto Rico dealer plates, but when he got a ticket for driving an unregistered vehicle, he had to give it up.
The Motor Vehicles Bureau director, Lawrence Olive, was not in his office Friday. He has said previously that White cannot register the GEM vehicle because it does not meet the requirements for motor vehicles to be operated on the roads.
However, GEM sales and marketing director Mike Clevenger said that in 1998 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration created a new classification of "Low Speed Vehicles" and established safety guidelines for them, guidelines which the GEM vehicle meets. These include operation on the roads at a minimum speed of 20 mph and a maximum of 25 mph.
"It's the first new class of vehicles in 67 years," Clevenger said.
He said some states were at first reluctant to register the vehicles but most have slowly been coming around. In some cases, legislatures passed laws making the registration of such vehicles legal, he said, and today the cars are legal in 38 states and Puerto Rico on streets where the speed limit is 35 mph or less.
And, Clevenger said, he expects the remaining 12 states to make them legal by the end of the year. "It's a no-brainer," he said.
The top legal speed on any road or highway in the Virgin Islands, except for Queen Mary Highway on St. Croix, is 35 mph.
In White's opinion, electric cars are perfect for use in the territory. With a home on St. Thomas's East End, he used his GEM car mainly to drive to and from the Red Hook ferry dock. He also took it on the barge to St. John, where he used it for jaunts around Cruz Bay. "I replaced about 80 percent of the driving in my SUV with this car," he said.
White, who runs the car off solar panels screwed to the roof, said he gets about five miles per hour of sunshine.
Calling the denial of vehicle registration absurd, he said he wishes he didn't have to make such an effort to get the GEM car legally recognized. However, he hopes that once the Motor Vehicles Bureau sees the light, other people in the Virgin Islands will buy similar cars.
The GEM is manufactured by Global Electric Motors, a division of Daimler/Chrysler. White said Ford Motor Co. plans to come out with a similar car that goes a little faster than the 21 mph he can reach. He said if the government continues to refuse to let him register the car, he plans to take the issue to court.
A precedent for registration of non-traditional mini-cars was set on St. John some years ago. Retired teacher Doris Jadan regularly drives her gas-driven golf cart around Cruz Bay. While she initially had no trouble registering the vehicle — as a motorcycle — back in 1979, police officials in the early 1990s gave her trouble.
After Jadan gathered 700 signatures on a petition asking that she be allowed once again to register the vehicle, police relented.

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.