In 2011, assemblyman Das Williams purchased his Chevy Volt and became one of the first locals to start driving electric. A politician with a strong environmental ethic, he was driven by a desire to live by those values in his daily life, starting first by minimizing his use of gasoline.
Last year his wife Jonnie made a similar decision and leased a Fiat 500 electric. Now, the two balance their use of both vehicles — using the Fiat 500e for short trips, while taking advantage of the Volt’s gasoline range extender for longer trips. So far, it’s working. In a typical six-week period this year, they drove around 1,500 miles and only consumed five gallons of gas.
It’s not hard for either of them to rattle off things they like about the electric vehicles, besides the reduced fuel consumption. For Das, it’s how the EVs use domestic electricity rather than foreign oil, and how the Volt was built in America using union labor. For Jonnie, who first got the Fiat 500e when she was living in the Bay Area, it was the ability to use the carpool lanes, which cut her daily commute time from 75 to 30 minutes. (EVs qualify for clean air stickers allowing solo drivers to use the restricted lanes. With the recent opening of the new carpool lanes from Mussel Shoals to Carpinteria, local EV drivers will now be able to enjoy this perk, too.) And both of them quickly learned to appreciate their EVs as great rides — comfortable, stylish, and fun to drive. “I love how zippy the Fiat 500e is,” Jonnie says. “It has plenty of punch getting on the freeway.”
While both cars are relatively compact, that hasn’t stopped the couple from using them on their many outdoor adventures. They’ve hauled two stand-up paddle boards, kayaks, and surfboards in the Volt, using soft racks. Das even fit his 10-foot stand-up paddle board inside the Volt, although he did put a red flag on the end as it stuck out of the hatchback. Then there was the time that Das thought about borrowing a friend’s truck when he needed to pick up over 1,000 pounds of wood laminate flooring from Home Depot, but realized he could make two easy trips in the Volt – which meant less coordinating and less fuel.
That’s not to say they haven’t encountered some barriers to driving electric.
Their biggest complaint is range limitation, especially for those trips between Santa Barbara and Sacramento. And while they could just burn more gas in the Volt thanks to its gasoline option, they’ve decided they prefer charging along the way and staying in electric mode as much as possible. “We’ve slowed down and learned to love the journey,” Das says. ”Often we’ll take the opportunity to charge up at our favorite beaches and restaurants, and even spend the night and charge up while visiting my brother in Paso Robles.”
Still, with the fast growing charging network — including more high speed fast chargers that can fill an EV in 20 minutes — driving an EV on longer trips is getting easier and easier. Locally, the two know where all the charging stations are on their usual routes and patronize the businesses with charging close by. The stations that Das uses the most are near his office in downtown Ventura and at all the local surf spots like C-Street.
Today, the couple is proud to be a part of the green economy that Das has supported during his time on the Santa Barbara City Council and in the State Assembly.. As an assemblyman, he played an important role in the passage of California’s own ambitious renewable energy standards that require the state to generate 33% of its energy from renewable resources by 2020.
For others thinking about choosing EVs, the couple is quick to remind them “if you have less than a 90 mile commute, an EV is a no brainer financially and environmentally.” For themselves, they can’t imagine going back to a car fueled only by gasoline. Thanks to the growing green economy in the state, they don’t have to.