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Mike Suarez: Tesla must clean waterlogged HyperLINK vehicles after it rains

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) proudly unveiled its sleek new Tesla Model X SUV’s at a news conference last week at the University of South Florida.

While the futuristic-styled vehicles were a hit with many, the design led one Tampa City Council member to wonder: “What happens when it rains?”

The cars, equipped with articulating rear doors, have become a central part of HART’s HyperLINK first-mile, last-mile service now available in the University area.

One of its vehicles’ more original features (Tesla calls them “falcon wing” doors) use dual hinges and sensors to reduce opening and closing arcs in tight spaces, allowing freer access to the rear seats.

Despite most of the audience viewing the unveiling expressed an almost awe-like declaration, Councilman Mike Suarez, who also works in insurance, saw something else entirely — a potential problem, especially when rainstorms hit the region.

“Those things are going to be filled with water the minute they get opened up,” Suarez said Monday at HART’s monthly board meeting. “It’s going to get soaked because it’s front door and back door opening up at the same time essentially. If there’s any cost in cleaning those, make sure that Tesla are the ones who are going to clean them.”

Acknowledging that the electric vehicles are indeed “sexy,” Suarez couldn’t get over the potential adverse effects the rear door feature could present in Tampa at one point this year.

“I will tell you, mildew will set in under there, it will stink and our customers will complain, and that is not what we want,” Suarez told fellow board members. “It will rain and it will rain at some point. There is going to be cost associated with that vehicle.”

HART CEO Katharine Eagan held back a response.

“That’s what happens when you buy a car that was invented by someone in California, where it doesn’t rain very much,” quipped Suarez, referring to how Tesla’s are manufactured in Fremont, California.

While Suarez may have a point that the Golden State had suffered from the driest four-year precipitation rates on record from 2012 to 2015, the situation changed substantially after a wicked run of storms this past winter.

California Governor Jerry Brown recently declared an end to the drought state of emergency in all but four counties.

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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