If you’ve lived in Nelson for any amount of time, chances are you’ve glimpsed the flamboyant orange electric-assisted tricycle that Kootenay resident David Beringer uses to deliver bread.
“It’s really hard on cars to go short distances, and it creates a lot of pollution. Any mechanic will tell you it qualifies as severe use,” said Beringer, who purchased the vehicle in May 2013. “This was a way to get an electric vehicle, get some exercise and also lower my carbon footprint.”
Beringer said purchasing the electric-assisted tricycle was the fulfillment of a multi-year ambition.
“People love it. It’s funny-looking like a VW van or a VW bug. It’s friendly, and not intimidating but not wimpy either. I mean, I’m not usually an outgoing kid guy but when the kids at South Nelson School see me going by they run over to the fence and go crazy waving.”
The ELF—which stands for Electric Light Fun—was invented by Organic Transit in Durham, North Carolina and is part of a push to move away from automobile culture.
“Rob Cotter invented it. He was in the business of customizing expensive luxury cars and at some point he realized ‘I’m building $300,000 cars then driving by suburbs where nobody can even afford a regular car.’”
Cotter left the business to pursue human-powered transportation technologies, eventually throwing a successful Kickstarter campaign. Beringer was one of the first Canadian customers to take one of the vehicles home.
Beringer had his first environmental awakening over the course of a few months in the early summer of 1986.
He was living in southern Germany, on the border of Switzerland, and was dreaming of a career exporting German products to Canada when he heard the news of Chernobyl’s nuclear meltdown.
“I began listening to news reports on German and Swiss radio. They reported on crops that were exposed to the radiation cloud that covered significant parts of Europe, including where I was living,” he told the Star.
As he watched the fallout, with the German, Swiss and Austrian governments scrambling to figure out whether or not their soil had been contaminated and if it needed to be discarded in special radioactive waste facilities, he realized none of them had the answers.
“I quickly became aware that governments did not have the answer to serious environmental issues,” he said. That’s when he decided he had to take matters into his own hands.
His wife, Valerie Sanderson, shares his passion. Having moved from Calgary, she said the Kootenays are the perfect place to explore developing a healthier lifestyle.
“Growing up in Calgary I got involved in the environmental movement through forestry issues. We were always going to protests and saying ‘no’ to things. I saw a lot of things to say ‘no’ to. But then to come here and build a lifestyle is much more satisfying. It’s way better to be doing something that you can embrace and other people can embrace.”
That’s why she focuses on keeping her food local, storing it in a root cellar on her property and going back to traditional ways of life.
“Think about how someone would’ve done something 100 years ago and it’s valid, it works, it got us here. We should question why we’re always running and driving around, always needing to be somewhere else. Look around you and see what you can do with what’s here.”
The future of electric transportation
Beringer owns two businesses with Sanderson—Soups in Season and the Uphill Bakery. He said the ELF has helped both move towards a sustainable future.
“I deliver bread to two or three stores in Nelson. It’s a round trip of about 2 kilometres, five days a week, 13 blocks down the hill to Baker and then back up again. It’s the perfect application for an electric vehicle,” he said.
He previously had tried to purchase a Tuk Tuk, which are now made in the U.S. and street-legal in all 50 states, only to learn they’re not yet legal in Canada.
“They told me ‘you could be the first person to go through the Transport Canada rigamarole’ and get it federally inspected’ but I didn’t have the time or the money for that.”
Beringer and Sanderson are passionate about promoting a greener lifestyle.
“What we would like to see is other people being inspired to make the changes that they can in their lives to live using less fossil fuels…Climate change is a crisis,” he said. “And we want to be part of the solution.”
Beringer thinks Nelson should be proactive about reducing car use and moving towards green transportation options.
“We need to see an end of automobile culture. If you look at the cost of urban design, communities are paying a fortune for roads and parking lots—these are the hidden subsidies of the car. We’re paying a lot for road infrastructure.”
He said spending that much is short-sighted.
“In my opinion, the less cars the better.”