Stories

An electric private hire experience

Apr 23, 2020

Services: Intyalheme

Elec­tric vehi­cles (EVs) have got a fierce­ly loy­al and steadi­ly grow­ing fan base in the heart of Australia. 

Res­i­dents and vis­i­tors to Alice Springs can now access the Tes­la expe­ri­ence through Wheelie’s Pri­vate Hire’.

Col­in Daw­son is in the dri­ving seat. 

Col­in Wheel­ie’ Daw­son with his Tes­la, pri­or to chang­ing the num­ber plate to HIRE EV’.

It’s Wheelie’s Pri­vate Hire because I’m actu­al­ly in a wheel­chair,” said Col­in, explain­ing he had been in a wheel­chair since find­ing him­self in the wrong place at the wrong time” on a motor­bike at the age of 18

I’m the first per­son in a wheel­chair ever in the North­ern Ter­ri­to­ry to have a com­mer­cial driver’s licence,” he said. 

It was a chal­lenge to gain the med­ical approval, despite a clean record of pri­vate dri­ving over the pre­vi­ous two decades. A doc­tor was uncon­vinced cus­tomers would feel safe in the hands of some­one with paraplegia. 

I stormed out of the surgery, col­lect­ed 200 sig­na­tures stat­ing oth­er­wise, and pre­sent­ed them to the doc­tor,” said Colin. 

Peo­ple with a dis­abil­i­ty are often looked down upon. I’ve got a chip on my shoul­der and I like to prove them wrong!”

Col­in, more fre­quent­ly referred to as Wheel­ie’, bought his ex-demo Tes­la Mod­el S 75D in Novem­ber, prompt­ing a huge amount of inter­est in the Alice Springs community. 

He clocked up 170 jobs in Decem­ber, and 260 in Jan­u­ary, match­ing that fig­ure in Feb­ru­ary. The busi­ness has tak­en a hit dur­ing the coro­n­avirus cri­sis, but it’s still tick­ing along. 

Under reg­u­lar cir­cum­stances, most of the jobs are with­in the town area of Alice Springs, with some peo­ple hir­ing Wheelie’s ser­vices pure­ly for the joy of rid­ing in a Tesla. 

You get tourists Snapchat­ting about it on the way to the air­port,” he said. 

Col­in uses portable hand con­trols to oper­ate the ped­als, which are trans­fer­able to any auto­mat­ic vehi­cle. Pas­sen­ger lug­gage is stored in the bon­net, which can be opened auto­mat­i­cal­ly. A wheel­chair sits in the boot, in case he needs to get out and about. A charg­ing cable is also in the boot, so he can pow­er up at any of the hand­ful of charg­ing loca­tions in Alice Springs. 

Stor­age room is plen­ti­ful because the bat­tery is locat­ed in the floor of the vehi­cle, and cus­tomers are par­tic­u­lar­ly tak­en with the daz­zling white leather interior.

Once you dri­ve an elec­tric car you don’t want to dri­ve a com­bus­tion car. It’s so smooth, so slick, so nice to dri­ve,” said Colin. 

To the unini­ti­at­ed, the expe­ri­ence behind the wheel is a lit­tle dif­fer­ent in an elec­tric vehicle. 

As soon as you stop accel­er­at­ing, the motor goes into reverse and it brakes itself auto­mat­i­cal­ly,” he said. 

When you first start dri­ving it, it’s quite a shock. But when you get used to it, it’s quite beau­ti­ful because the car slows down all by itself. You only need to touch the brakes if you need to come to a com­plete stop.” 

Wheel­ie is a well-known name in Alice Springs, through his long-term involve­ment in the taxi indus­try. He still owns a taxi, which pro­vides an inter­est­ing price comparison. 

The Tes­la costs about $20 per day, or $120 per week to run. By com­par­i­son, the taxi sits at an aver­age week­ly fuel cost of about $1300.

As for charg­ing, Col­in had a charg­ing point hard-wired into his garage, and he charges overnight with a cou­ple of top ups in town dur­ing the day. 

He is already look­ing to upgrade his per­son­al charg­er, and believes a pub­lic Tes­la super­charg­er would be one way for Alice Springs to stay ahead of the curve in its sup­port for EVs. 

There are already five Tes­las in town, and that says it all,” said Col­in, when asked about his pre­dic­tions for growth in the adop­tion of EVs locally. 

The num­ber of EVs in town is some­where between two and three times the num­ber of Tes­las. Col­in believes more acces­si­ble local infor­ma­tion would help grow people’s con­fi­dence to invest, and tourists’ con­fi­dence to bring their EVs to Cen­tral Aus­tralia. He’d like to see a local charg­ing hub devel­oped, where EV dri­vers can con­gre­gate and com­pare notes over coffee. 

When it comes to ser­vic­ing, there is pret­ty much no such thing. The brakes last for up to 100,000km, and the main bat­tery has a lifes­pan of more than 500,000km with a war­ran­ty of eight years. Prob­lems are resolved through soft­ware upgrades, and gen­er­al main­te­nance like clean­ing air con­di­tion­ing fil­ters can be car­ried out with­out par­tic­u­lar expertise. 

When Wheelie’s Pri­vate Hire is between book­ings, Col­in demon­strat­ed how he can recline the seat and use the con­trol pan­el as an enter­tain­ment centre. 

It is com­fort­able. When I want to, I can just sit there with shades on the win­dow and watch Net­flix,” he said. 

What an office to sit in all day.”

Wheel­ie’s pri­vate hire Tes­la charg­ing up, ready to daz­zle the res­i­dents of Alice Springs, while pro­vid­ing a prac­ti­cal and com­fort­able trans­port option.

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