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Communique items for Friday, Sept. 30


What does UCCS have in common with such celebrities as Cameron Diaz, Leonardo DiCaprio and Robin Williams?

All are proud owners of a Prius – one of the hybrid gas/electric vehicle offerings from car manufacturer Toyota.

Now that gas prices are hovering around $3 a gallon, the purchase of a Prius seems rather insightful. But the acquisition was a long time coming.

Susan Szpyrka, director, Public Safety and Auxiliary Services, says that prior to March the university could not own its own vehicles. Instead, vehicles were leased through the state fleet. And the Prius was not on the list of approved vehicles.

The university’s change to enterprise status brought the ability to title and select its own cars. Still, it took another five months before the car was acquired as many dealerships have waiting lists for the increasingly popular hybrid models.

The hybrid represents the campus’ commitment to sustainability. The Prius represents Szpyrka’s research. She looked to some campus hybrid experts – Kathy and Skip Mundy, Jim Mattoon, Daryl Prigmore and Judith Rice-Jones – for advice on which model to select.

So far, the car is living up to its environmental expectations.

Szpyrka says it gets about 60 miles to the gallon in the city and 50 on highways. In contrast to most cars, the Prius does better in the city because its electric motor is used more frequently in stop-and-go driving.

But what you’re probably wondering is: what’s it like to drive?

 “It’s very, very different,” Jackie Gore, communications and records supervisor, Public Safety, said.

Gore recently drove the Prius to Pueblo for two days when she attended a conference there.

“You don’t even need a key to start it,” she said.

Instead of a key, there’s a black box that you must have with you before the car will start with the push of a button.

“It’s really, really quiet. You can’t hear the engine,” Gore said.

In some ways it’s no different than any other vehicle. Gore had no trouble cruising along the highway at the posted speed limit of 75 miles per hour. She was impressed with the amount of room on the inside, given the car’s petite appearance on the outside.

And if you expect a typical stripped-down motor pool vehicle, you’re in for a surprise.  There’s a CD player and even some easy-listening CDs in the car. Szpyrka says the music helps prevent fatigue and stress behind the wheel.

If you need a car from the motor pool, Szpyrka warns the Prius is a popular option.

 “If you want it, you better call 262-3528, it’s really getting booked,” she said.