DANVILLE, VA -  The City of Danville is giving hybrid vehicles a test drive with the purchase of a 2008 Toyota Prius, according to www.godanriver.com.

For about a month the car could be spotted with a “Hybrid Test Car” sign on it, but it has been given a paint job to match other city vehicles. Several departments were given a chance to try it out, but it is now in its permanent home at the City Print Shop.

The Print Shop is responsible for all of the city’s printing needs, but it also takes care of mail sorting and delivery as well as purchasing and distributing general office supplies.

Steve McBride, the manager of the Print Shop, said he was very happy to have a hybrid assigned to his department.

He said he felt the car is a good fit for the Print Shop, since a lot of it’s traveling is done in the city. The car can be spotted picking up the city’s mail at the post office, taking it back to the Print Shop’s sorting area and then delivering it to City Hall and other satellite offices around the city.

“It spends about 2 1/2 hours in stop-and-go traffic in the morning and then goes back and forth to City Hall in the afternoon,” McBride said, adding that it is a much more economical vehicle to run than the utility vans the department has had in the past. Since the rear seats fold down, it has plenty of room for the cargo the department moves around," McBride said.

Hybrids typically cost more than gas-only vehicles, but McBride said that saving in gasoline over the life of the car should balance that out.

“You may end up spending just as much, but these are much better for the environment,” he said. “It serves our purpose and helps us do our part in conserving energy and reducing emissions.”

Barry Doebert, administration division manager of the Public Works Department, said the city is always looking for ways to save money and decided to give hybrids a try.

“It’s a good car and gets 50 mpg in city driving, where it runs mostly on electric,” Doebert said.

The car will automatically switch over to the gas-powered engine if the vehicle needs more power for acceleration or to operate air-conditioning and switch back to electric when the extra boost is no longer needed. It will also switch over to gas if the battery runs low and needs recharging, which takes place while the engine is running on gasoline; the car does not have to be plugged in to anything for recharging to take place.

Asked if the city plans to purchase more hybrids, Doebert said the city will be evaluating this vehicle to see if it would be a good fit for all departments.

Finance director Barbara Dameron said the city decided to purchase the vehicle when gas prices were so high last fall and will wait to see how costs on the first car work out before deciding to purchase others.

“The city gets pretty good deals on pricing, but they are most costly up front,” Dameron said. “We’ll have to see how that balances with saved gasoline.”