Green Operations

D.C. Slims Down and Shapes Up

May 2009, Green Fleet Magazine - Feature

by Stephen Bennet

The District of Columbia fleet is slimming down, economizing, and working to reduce carbon output. It recently started removing 360 passenger vehicles from its fleet, the difference made up by a menu of alternative transportation choices, including:

• A citywide motor pool and a vehicle sharing program, both managed and
controlled via the Internet.
• Increased use of MetroRail and MetroBus systems.
• Mileage reimbursement.
• Taxicab vouchers.
• Vehicle stipends.

The idea is to reduce fleet size, not employee mobility, and promote alternative modes of moving about the city, said Ralph Burns, vehicle control officer in the city administrator’s office.

Changing Employee Mindset

“I have a car” — a mindset for many District employees who have had vehicles at their disposal for years — “will become a thing of the past,” said Burns.

Now District employees are asked to think of alternatives to driving, even if they have the option of a vehicle.

Burns asks his employees to “pretend you don’t even have a vehicle. Walk outside the building and look around. There’s the bus. The Metro system in D.C. is really robust. We have agencies using that system and more agencies moving toward it.”

The reduction plan is projected to yield net savings of more than $1 million per year, $6.6 million over five years, and a decrease in carbon output of more than 700 metric tons, said Greg Butler, senior managing consultant with Public Financial Management (PFM), a consulting company in Philadelphia that worked with the District on its fleet reduction plan.

The District is implementing the plan, removing nonessential vehicles gradually, with most expected gone by the end of April, although a few units will be kept until their leases expire in the summer. The reduction amounts to approximately 17 percent of the fleet’s passenger vehicles, or 8 percent of the entire fleet.

Making Change Happen

Preparation got underway in the spring of 2008, after the District of Columbia retained PFM.

“The main impetus for the fleet reduction initiative stemmed from the mayor and city administrator’s office looking for the best ways they could spend taxpayer dollars,” Butler said. The District’s goals: reduce the fleet size, save costs without diminishing service levels, and reduce the fleet’s carbon output.

According to Butler, PFM has a standard process it follows. In the District of Columbia, that process began with the creation of a steering committee, comprising District department managers and PFM personnel.

The group analyzes passenger vehicle use to determine how many could be culled without compromising service.

The effort focused on passenger vehicles because “we strongly suspected that’s where we could see some of the greatest savings,” Butler said. Alternatives to passenger vehicles include public transit, readily available in the city.

The consultants interviewed District staff over a four- to six-week period to pinpoint how passenger vehicles were used and combined that information with mileage on each vehicle to reach a “reduction target” for each agency.

Among the agencies involved in the project were the Department of Public Works, Office of Property Management, and Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs.

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