'E-Cruzers' Offer Free Rides in Southeast at Lunchtime and During Nats Games

By Dan Zak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 19, 2009

The Nats are practically extinct. The ballpark district is a wasteland of arrested development. And the electric carts buzz around this primeval commercial ecosystem as if they're at the top of the food chain.

They dart from the barren Anacostia riverfront to the fertile terrain of nearby Capitol Hill, where they scoop up drunk baseball fans from the Ugly Mug and Molly Malone's. They sneak down an alley to Seventh Street SE, under the thump-thumping overpass of I-295, onto the gentle slope of M Street. Toward the sunset these carts go, past the walled-off Navy Yard and into the back roads of the Yards, D.C.'s newest planned neighborhood, which is still weedy lots and hollow remnants of ship-building plants.

The street-legal vehicles look like golf cart limousines. They seat six comfortably, run on a batch of eight-volt batteries and burn 2 cents of electricity per mile.

On weekdays at lunchtime and for all home baseball games, the fleet glides past whiny street sweepers and belching motorcycles. They move suits during the day and jerseys at night. The ride is free; bars and restaurants subsidize the enterprise.

"We're like transportation cockroaches," says driver John Hartnett, 57, a native Washingtonian, idling in a cart just beyond Nationals property. "When the masses show up, we swarm."

"We know every pothole, every manhole cover, every back alley and light sequence here," says Russell Rankin as he guides a 55-inch-wide Global Electric Motorcar between traffic and a line of parked cars on Eighth Street. He's the entrepreneur who, at no charge to any of his patrons, is bringing a little rolling cheer to a stepchild patch of the District. Now his fleet of GEMs -- or "e-cruzers," as he's branded them -- is the link in Ward 6 between a nascent neighborhood and the rest of civilization, between urban present and urban future.

Or, as Rankin puts it: "We're helping the infrastructure without them having to build it right away."

* * *

Granted, people could just walk.

Remember walking?

You could walk it in 20 minutes, if you wanted to go from the stadium to the restaurants and bars of Barracks Row along Eighth Street SE. So why not hoof it? Or take the $1 Circulator bus?

"Because you feel much, much cooler if you can order your ride," says Martin Boson. He lives in Fairfax, and he works at 100 M St. SE. He had lunch at the Banana Cafe on Eighth Street, and now he's enjoying the back-seat ride back to his office on a warm June afternoon.

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