Community Watch goes green to save

Billy Easton, of the Village of Calumet Grove, is a Community Watch Patrol supervisor who drives one of the seven Toyota RAV4 Hybrids in the Community Watch’s fleet of vehicles.

Community Watch covers an area that is 70 square miles and growing each year. Now they’re covering The Villages more efficiently and, in the process, helping the environment. When Community Watch changed over its fleet of vehicles this year, it leased seven Toyota RAV4 hybrid SUVs, the most fuel efficient vehicle Community Watch has used for patrol duties, according to data from fueleconomy.gov, the official U.S. government source for fuel economy information.  The new vehicles, which hit the road in October, are mainly being used by patrol supervisors, but they are also being used to patrol areas south of Lake Sumter Landing and near Spanish Springs. This was part of a communitywide effort championed by Richard Baier, district manager of Village Community Development Districts, said Assistant District Manager Kenny Blocker.

“One of the challenges from the district manager was to look at our operations and find areas where we can be more efficient and environmentally friendly,” Blocker said.

The hybrids will use less gas, and the resulting savings are substantial.

Prior to switching to the RAV4s, Community Watch used 2018 Ford Escapes, a similarly sized SUV, for patrol supervisors. In city driving, the Escape gets fuel economy numbers of 23 miles per gallon. The RAV4, however, consumes one gallon for every 41 miles traveled in the city.

Community Watch Operations Manager Jef Holland estimates that each patrol vehicle travels 245 miles per day. The average price of gas for 2019 in The Villages was $2.44 per gallon, according to a Daily Sun review of golf cart-accessible convenience stores in The Villages.

That means it would cost $5,321.88 per year to fuel a RAV4, about $4,000 less than an Escape.

The remaining 20 vehicles in Community Watch’s fleet are 2019 Ford Rangers, which get 21 miles per gallon in the city and cost an average of $10,390.33 in gas per year. The organization is testing the RAV4s, Community Watch Commander Nehemiah Wolfe said, and are considering replacing some of the Rangers with the hybrids. Each Ranger replaced this way would save the District an estimated $5,000 in fuel each year.

In 2019, Community Watch expanded their patrols to include the Villages of Marsh Bend, Linden and Monarch Grove. As development begins across Florida’s Turnpike, Wolfe said they’ll add another patrol zone. Holland estimated that all Community Watch drivers combined already travel 1.3 million miles per year and that number will only continue to grow. The RAV4s can cover that distance for $60,000 less than the Rangers.

“Any time we can save some money for the District and the residents, that’s a good thing for us,” Holland said.

The annual lease price for the RAV4s is higher than for similar nonhybrid vehicles, Blocker said, but he also said they more than make up the difference in fuel savings.

Toyota has been in the hybrid vehicle market for some time now and have a reputation for reliability, he said, which makes the RAV4s more valuable when they trade them in as well.

The vehicles also are a hit with the Community Watch patrol drivers.

“The drivers like them,” Holland said. “They’re comfortable. They’re meeting their needs”

“They don’t have to make as many trips to the gas station,” Wolfe said, smiling.

“It’s just a smaller vehicle, more maneuverable,” Holland said. “Our drivers are our residents. They’re aware that this is good for the community, good for the District and good for them.”

They’re also good for the planet.

“We are all good stewards,” Blocker said. “Part of being a good steward is not only looking after the community, but also looking after the environment.”

Holland said it’s just the right thing to do.

“If we can protect the environment, that’s always a good thing,” Holland said. “We’ve only got one planet. We want to do what’s right all the way around.”

Wolfe said Community Watch can’t replace all of their fleet with the RAV4s because they do need pickup trucks for some of their duties, like clearing debris from roadways, but he does foresee a future in which they are making more patrols using hybrids.