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Cities Can Leverage Greater EV Adoption With Their Fleets

Cities like New York and Columbus, Ohio, have made significant headway in converting their fleets to electric vehicles, helping to push along the industry toward electrifying more than just cars and trucks.

The Los Angeles Police Department is experimenting with Tesla squad cars, while other cities are making their own headway in the conversion to all-electric fleets.
(Flickr/Eric Garcetti)
The largest municipal fleet in the country is on the march to transition to electric vehicles, helping to move the EV market beyond just passenger cars and trucks.

The city of New York operates more than 30,000 vehicles and more than 11,000 school buses. Some 2,800 of those vehicles are already EVs, and the city is on course to transition all of its school buses to electric.

“Fleets are in a position to implement policy, to coordinate strategy and to influence,” said Keith Kerman, chief fleet officer and deputy commissioner for the New York City Department of Citywide Administrative Services, during the City of Tomorrow Symposium earlier this summer. City of Tomorrow, which is organized by Ford Motor Company, brings together thought leaders to explore public policy, design and economic forces affecting modern mobility.

New York City plans to have a completely electric fleet by 2040, said Kerman. This transition has the potential to stretch across a number of different vehicles. The city operates 160 different types of vehicles, which even include 300 agriculture tractors. Nearly all of the city’s 600 ambulance vehicles are now plug-in hybrids.

“The good news is, we’re seeing incredible progress,” Kerman added.

“We have our first [electric] garbage truck. Our first electric [street] sweeper,” he added.

Watch for an electric police car announcement to come later this year. “So, we’re gonna push the fold,” Kerman continued.

Other smaller cities like Columbus, Ohio, are also aggressively moving forward on fleet conversions, operating several hundred EVs as part of its public fleet. To acquire them, Columbus structured a lease program that would allow the city to take advantage of about 50 percent of federal tax credits, said fleet administrator Kelly Reagan.

“We weren’t able to capture all of the tax credit, but we were able to save hundreds of thousands of dollars on the purchase and the acquisition of these electric vehicles, and bring our overall costs down,” said Reagan in some of his comments on the City of Tomorrow panel.

“You’ve got to think outside the box and think about doing things differently, and presenting it to finance differently, and presenting it to the administration differently,” he added.

Fleets are also leading the way in advancing charging technology. New York City has about 1,000 charging ports. But more importantly, the city just installed 100 fast chargers, said Kerman, to quickly get EVs back in rotation. And then there are the solar carport projects, which are essentially sun-powered car-charging devices that can be moved from one location to another.

The city is also exploring wireless charging; and another plan which would have robots switch out batteries from vehicles.

“We think electrification is gonna be a huge part of the future,” Kerman remarked.

The switch to an EV fleet has to come from the upper reaches of the administration, said Reagan, and then be executed by departments like his.

“Just because you’re introducing an alternative fuel, and the mayor’s office says, ‘I want this done,’ doesn’t mean you’re gonna get it done,” said Reagan. “You have to teach people because there’s all kinds of apprehension. There’s all kinds of myths.”

In addition, mechanics need to be trained, so training programs at local universities and trade schools need to be developed.

“The administration doesn’t really want to know from us in fleet how to make the sausage,” Reagan quipped. “We make the sausage… and then we show them the sausage that’s ready to go on the grill [because] it can get pretty messy making the sausage.”
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.
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