Three basics of electric vehicles are undisputed: they save money, time, and carbon emissions. While they present a simple, straightforward solution, government fleet managers should first research, road test, and vet them for the best possible fleet performance.
In the last few years, available makes and models have increased while costs have declined. This means the more a fleet manager can follow a detailed acquisition plan, the more likely it will yield a long-term value for a fleet.
“EVs are the way to go,” says Mark Stevens, fleet manager for the City of Sacramento, Calif. “They are definitely a cost-saving measure. You get great buy-in.” Stevens advises fleet managers to analyze all projected costs for EVs. If you can prove on paper how they save money, then it’s easier to create and adopt an environmental sustainability plan, he adds.
For Stevens, the decision to purchase EVs was quite clear: the city mandated it based on its sustainability policy. It requires half of all city vehicles to be alternative fuel, and 75% of all light-duty fleet vehicles must be zero emission.
The city started buying its EVs in bulk in 2018, replacing its internal combustion engine (ICE) light-duty vehicles with EVs. It now has 110 EVs, mostly Bolts and a few Zero motorcycles, and older Toyota Prius models in the mix. The EVs are commonly used by employees for code enforcement, engineering inspections, parking enforcement, meter reading, and administrative functions. About 2.5% of the city’s entire 2,400 vehicle municipal fleet is now electric.
“When we started moving forward on EVs in 2018, it was all about operations and what vehicles could provide the longest range,” Stevens says. The Chevrolet Bolt has a 235 mile-plus range. “It was a no brainer with comfort and range anxiety, so we jumped on board. The electric Prius only had a 90- to 100-mile range. Until the Chevrolet Bolt arrived, there was not another full time EV we could pursue.”
ICE vehicles average about 24 cents per mile to operate, compared to 7.5 cents per mile for the Bolt. Based on the purchase price, after a three-year payback period, the vehicles can yield a net positive savings. “We realize costs climb when warranties expire, but the EVs still provide tremendous savings over gas-powered vehicles,” Stevens says.
Stevens advises fleet managers to calculate the lower operating costs along with indirect cost savings, such as more uptime for EVs, no oil changes, no emissions inspections as with gasoline-power vehicles, and longer maintenance intervals. Charging the vehicles on solar energy offsets some of the electrical charging costs, he adds.
When deciding how to purchase electric vehicles, you have to consider the price, estimated lifespan, preliminary maintenance analysis on labor and parts, estimated energy/fuel costs, and total cost of ownership, including the resale value of the vehicle at the end of its life-cycle, says Kevin Niranjan, supervisor of the automotive engineers in the Central Automotive Division (CAD) of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ). The authority has about 8,000 employees who operate the bridges, tunnels, bus terminals airports, PATH rail system, and seaports in the region.
CAD, which started using electric vehicles in 2018, runs 36 40-foot Proterra EV airport shuttle buses at the JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark international airports, with 12 buses assigned to each. It has more than 130 light duty EVs in service, including Chevrolet Bolts, Chrysler Pacifica plug-in hybrids, Hyundai Sonata plug-in hybrids, and Ford Fusion plug-in hybrids. The authority expects to have more than 220 by next year. About 20% of CAD’s light duty fleet is now electric or hybrid. The EVs are used mostly by office staff, field staff, engineers, operations personnel, and bridge painters.
The agency is pushing toward converting over 600 vehicles by 2023, about half of its light-duty fleet. So far, the fleet has saved more than 700,000 kg of greenhouse gas emissions. The EVs help fulfill the agency’s drive to meet greenhouse gas reduction targets outlined in their commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement: 35% by 2025 and 80% by 2050.
Niranjan says the purchase process also relies on some basic questions: what are your goals for buying an EV? Reducing emissions? Service time? Costs? What type of operation are you running? What will be the usage of the vehicle, its mileage, types of trips? Where will it be housed? What about charging infrastructure, grant availability, and utility support with payments?
Depending on the agency or municipality, labor rates and contracts for parts and fueling will vary. A fleet manager also wants to look at whether the agency can tap federal or state EV incentives to reduce the purchase costs of the vehicles, which all factor into total cost of ownership (TCO).
Based on historical data, the EVs save 80 gallons per month per vehicle, says James Hineson, the general maintenance supervisor for CAD. The division estimates it will save about $1,500 to $2,500 in maintenance costs per vehicle in the first five years. During the last two years, the authority’s 54 Chevrolet Bolts have saved about 708,000 kilograms of greenhouse gas emissions, which is equal to letting 18,164 trees grow over 10 years.
The City of Durham, N.C., first bought its EVs in 2012, opting for 10 Nissan Leaf models which had a range then of 70 miles. Durham’s EV fleet now consists of four 2012 Nissan Leafs, three 2020 Chevrolet Bolts, three Greenworks Lithium Z zero-turn mowers, and an electric push mower. It also uses electric power as a part of its anti-idle strategy. The city has a Viatec Smart PTO on its newest bucket truck. The battery device powers the PTO instead of idling the diesel engine; and it also uses a Harrison hPower idle reduction system on its fire equipment.
“As a lesson learned, the Nissan Leafs were not well received by the users and therefore not driven as expected,” says Joe Clark, fleet management director for the City of Durham. “We are now doing a better job of educating users and placing EVs in departments that will help us make a difference.”
Clark says fleet managers first should make sure city employees will use them. “You don’t get a vehicle just so you can check a box. You actually want it driven and have miles put on it.”
The city bought its first Chevrolet Bolts this past summer. It plans to buy more EVs as they get larger and pick-up truck models become more mainstream, Clark says.
Durham is taking a phased approach toward EVs and alternative fuel vehicles. The city also needs a reliable, strong electric police vehicle to come into the market. “Until we get a solution for police vehicles, we’re not making any big difference,” Clark says. “Hopefully, there’ll be a car that rivals the Tesla for police work. We would then be able to eliminate gasoline. When the hybrids lifecycle out, we should have a charging infrastructure and vehicles that can catch up. The price point should be better.”
The best way to determine whether EVs are viable, in addition to range, is whether a fleet has enough demand for daily use, says Chris Means, assistant director of property management/fleet for the City of Fort Worth, Texas. The more EVs in a fleet, the more data they can produce to compare with the energy savings and results from vehicles that draw on other fuel sources.
Lowering Maintenance Costs
Overall, maintenance costs will decline since a fleet department spends less time repairing vehicles and does not have to warehouse as many spare parts, Hineson says. CAD still needs time to accrue accurate maintenance cost-savings data for their EVs, since internal combustion engines tend not to need repair work until later in their life cycles.
Hineson also advises that weather conditions, especially extreme cold, can limit the performance of EVs, so buyers should plan and get models with the right battery sizes and capacities.
He recommends fleet managers equip their vehicles with telematics, as CAD did in early 2019. The accumulated detailed data can help managers make real time decisions on EV usage, performance, and weather-related conditions. “You have data that makes the users feel secure,” he says.
Agencies should also factor in battery and electric capacity when adding any equipment, such as radios, electronic devices, and lighting, that will draw upon the battery power. “All agencies should make sure they have certified and qualified vehicle upfitters to do installations,” Hineson says.
Once the City of Durham fleet department compiles enough data on its Bolts, they will be able to compare fuel and maintenance costs with those of internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles. “My hope is we place these vehicles in the right place so we can get some good, hard data out of them and manage future purchases and determine what to look for,” Clark says.
As EVs become more mainstream, more suppliers will make parts for them, he adds. Although EVs require far less maintenance than ICE vehicles, they still need batteries, tires, brakes, and other parts for normal wear and tear. “There’s a misconception that there is nothing to break,” Clark says.
Charging Station Challenges
One core rule emerges about buying electric vehicles: don’t get them until you’ve put a complete electrical charging infrastructure timeline in place. Buying and installing chargers can take longer than buying the vehicle and having it delivered. In building a charging network, fleet staff should determine exact locations at which buildings and the power needs to support it in tandem with everyone else involved with the process.
In choosing EVs, fleet managers should determine the number of charging stations that will be available and the level of the chargers, Hineson says. “Know the charge times per vehicle so you can allocate charging, incorporate future growth, and determine end goals. Are you making proper investments and are you getting smart chargers to save time throughout the process?”
Vehicle operators also should plan routes based on vehicle range, charge times, and types of charging stations, Hineson says. The infrastructure can include mobile and/or solar powered charger units for vehicles driven to temporary construction or work sites or to rented real estate. The authority, for example, has two mobile chargers in Jersey City and Staten Island.
The Bolts offer more range than new users expect and can regenerate some battery power through braking, Hineson says. The authority runs 160 charging ports across its facilities. Since acquiring the EVs, the fleet department has found EV drivers have enough range among their destinations and charging stations, Hineson says, even if a vehicle’s range drops to 50 miles.
Public fleet EV buyers also should make sure new EVs arrive at the same time charging stations open, so neither the stations nor vehicles sit idle, Hineson says. That requires departments and stakeholders to work together on timelines.
The City of Sacramento relies on its own internal electrical charging infrastructure at secure government facilities. So far, the Level 2 chargers have proven adequate with vehicles sharing charging stations on alternate days. Most employees don’t travel more than 60 miles per day. “With the 230-mile range [Bolt], we’re able to stick with Level 2 chargers,” Stevens says.
The City of Durham fleet department charges its Bolts at its maintenance garage where it schedules them among two Level 2 charging stations that can each handle two vehicles at a time. One charge on an empty battery takes about 10 hours.
“There are a few chargers in the city, but they are first come, first served,” Clark says. “You don’t want to buy the cars and not have a place to charge them. You need to know what an EV is used for, how far it’s driven daily, and then (figure out) the chargers.”
Despite the typical hurdles in adapting to EVs, Clark believes the vehicles will increase in appeal and secure their future in government fleets.
The city is reviewing possible locations for more stations. “Our biggest plan now is to look at each facility, see what needs to be done, how much to budget, and when the work can be done.” In addition to setting up enough transformers and chargers, the infrastructure has many moving parts in the process. “You have to do a full assessment and these take time,” Clark says.
Located in oil and gas country, Fort Worth helps illustrate the remaining challenges many fleet managers face in finding enough charging stations. Means uses one electric vehicle, a six-year-old Ford Focus. While the city runs about 40 propane-fueled Ford F-150 pick-up trucks, forklifts, lawn equipment, and five gas-electric hybrids, it’s waiting to buy more EVs.
“The biggest piece for us is infrastructure charging,” Means says. The city leadership has a long-range plan for charging stations, but several questions remain. “It comes back to where do we put the stations? On city property? Through a third party? Will demand in the private sector match the public sector?”
EV Training Plans
Hineson advises fleet managers to train their technicians and mechanics for high-voltage maintenance before the EVs arrive into the fleets. “By doing so, maintenance is reduced dramatically. We have seven auto shops strategically placed in New York and New Jersey with 100 trained mechanics to work on equipment.
Some of the challenges Stevens has encountered involve the mindset of the users, some of whom may be used to larger vehicles.
“We met with different departments, explained sustainability plan, and showed a power point on the advantages of EVs,” he says. The department provided ride and drives with the Bolt and communicated with various city departments. “Our process with the operators went a long way in helping them accept the vehicles,” Stevens says. “You don’t buy a vehicle and throw it at them. You want them involved in process.”
After educating users, Stevens has so far not fielded one negative comment about the EVs not meeting the needs of employees or working out. “Once they knew about the 235-mile range, there was no range anxiety. Once they heard about the range, they said it would work great.”
CAD also employs a full-time supervisor to provide the latest training and safety precautions among driving employees to keep them safe on the road. An agency should provide specialized training for every EV or other model that it adds to its fleet.
In educating the workforce and countering skepticism, the authority sent teams of engineers to speak about the vehicles and allow employees to demo them, dispelling any range anxiety and fears of change, Niranjan says. “The end users could experience the vehicles so they were less hesitant when taking the vehicle. If you build trust with end-users and let them try out the vehicles, it goes a long way in pursuing sustainability efforts.”
Benefits & Rewards
Electrical vehicle investments also yield positive publicity, recognition and community good will for government sector fleets when done right.
Last month, the Port Authority’s fleet was named one of the top 25 sustainable fleets in the nation by Greenbiz, alongside companies like Amazon and FedEx.
In 2016 and 2019 the Port Authority placed 1st for the Government Green Fleets Award by The 100 Best. In 2017, 2018, and 2020 it also ranked in the top fleets.
The authority’s EVs have also been used to help educate students and schools and universities, while presenting future career opportunities with the Port Authority. It helps convey an image of quality and environmental responsibility that appeals to potential job applicants.
The City of Sacramento landed some favorable publicity in 2019 when its green fleet was ranked #1 Best Government Fleet and #1 Green Fleets among the 100 Best Fleets in the public sector by Tom C. Johnson. On June 16, Mark Stevens was named Public Sector Fleet Manager of the Year, an award sponsored by GovPlanet
The Durham city governments plans to use 80% renewable energy by 2030, be carbon neutral by 2040, and use 100% renewable energy by 2050.
“We remind employees that our leaders have adopted goals and are going in that direction,” Clark says. “We ask them to try to keep an open mind and be objective about it. They will get better with time like everything does. They will not go away.”
The City of Durham complements its EV program by recycling, adapting city buildings to solar panels, outfitting bucket trucks with battery powered PTO (power take-off), and installing battery powered generators on fire trucks so they don’t have to constantly rely on diesel engines.
“You have to go slow and get it right,” Clark says. “We have plan and will get there.”
Contrary to some biased views, EVs are “fun to drive. They have a lot of power.”