Specific strategic actions can be taken to simultaneously achieve the goals of fleet reduction and greening of the fleet. Many fleets have already taken action. These proposed actions present several methods of achieving the goals and require the consideration of a fleet-specific makeup, current infrastructure, and fuel type availability.
These methods are certainly not the only options available. However, based on my own experience with the City of Oceanside, Calif., they are the best methods presently available to achieve these goals, with the least negative impact on the operations of fleet customers.
Greening the Fleet
"Greening the fleet" is a term rapidly being overworked. The basic definition of greening is altering the make-up of any particular fleet of vehicles to reduce emissions and fuel use. Greening is accomplished by employing clean — or cleaner — more fuel-efficient methods to power vehicles.
Greening can be more broadly defined to include reducing use of all fossil fuel products, not just those used for powering engines. Advantages of altering a fleet with more fuel-efficient vehicles include a lowered dependence on foreign oil and political correctness.
Greening is not restricted to vehicle power sources, but should also include altering operations and product selections to achieve less dependence on nonrenewable resources and minimize any environmental impact from fleet operations.
Recycle, Reuse, and Reduce
Some key words to remember are recycle, reuse, and reduce. Fleets in general have long been leaders in employing these terms, and the story would be incomplete if measures currently in use to lessen the impact of fleet operations on the environment were not pointed out.
Recycling. Recycling doesn’t end when bottles, cans, or paper are diverted from landfills. The recycled material must be reused in order to complete the cycle. Our fleet recycles all waste oil and purchases re-refined oil in every grade available. We recycle waste antifreeze and purchase recycled antifreeze in bulk.
Instead of sending off 60 gallons of dirty cleaning solvent and buying a new supply each month, we redistill the same mineral spirits each night to provide our staff with clean solvent on a continual basis. Each technician’s bay contains a recycle container for cardboard packaging of air and oil filters, as well as parts that arrive in cardboard packages.
Aerosol cans have been almost completely replaced by providing handheld pressure vessels to all technicians. Many hazardous petroleum-based chemicals have been replaced by citrus-based cleaners as well. Windshield washer solvent formerly purchased in gallon plastic bottles has been replaced by bulk concentrate mixed onsite, eliminating several hundred empty plastic bottles each year.
Reuse. Many electronic products such as power supply units, siren controllers, and fuel management computer modules are reused for several vehicles, helping reduce the ever-growing stream of electronic waste.
Batteries (not just automotive) are sent to recycling facilities and tires with usable tread are resold through a third-party arrangement.
Floors are washed with a small electric-powered sweeper that collects the wastewater, which is disposed in a clarifier prior to entering the sanitary sewer. This same clarifier captures wastewater produced by vehicle washing. In this way, fleet protects creeks, streams, and ground water from contamination either directly from dirty water or indirectly from run-off rainwater over dirty areas.
Reduce. All these practices reduce our contribution to the waste stream, our negative impact on air or water quality, or our use of petroleum products. We are doing a lot to protect our environment, but we can do more and we will continue to improve as opportunities present themselves.
An emerging market of bio-lubricants is developing alongside the biofuels everyone is hearing so much about. We can and will employ these new products as they develop and become proven alternatives to traditional products.
Several alternative-fuel vehicles (AFVs) have been incorporated into the fleet over the last few years. As technology advances, AFVs can be employed further as they fit our customers’ businesses.
At the present level of technology, all AFVs have certain shortcomings that place limitations on their use. Electric cars have serious range and weight limitations. CNG adds weight that makes it impractical on small vehicles. Hybrids have range, cost, service, and operational limitations. Biodiesel (obviously limited to diesel engines) may be inconsistent in mixture and/or base product, and is not regulated for quality. Additionally, the effects of biodiesel on 2007 engines or engines that have been retrofitted with particulate traps is presently unknown due to little research.
Flex-fuel vehicles are readily available at reasonable prices, but in California, as well as other states, no approved storage or delivery system is available for the fuel. This leaves all AFVs available today substandard to any of the readily available vehicles powered by traditional fossil fuels.
Nonetheless, the goals to reduce emissions and dependence on foreign oil can be met. AFVs have a role in that effort, but are by no means the only available option. By choosing to purchase AFVs where their use is matched to their limitations, these vehicles can be employed successfully without requiring customers to alter the ways they do business.
Similar levels of fuel use and emission reductions expected by shifting to AFVs can be accomplished by setting rigorous standards requiring the purchase of only highly fuel-efficient vehicles and eliminating high fuel-consuming vehicles, either immediately by large capital outlays and disposal of many "still good" vehicles or economically through attrition.
One proactive and readily employed plan is to apply all available options where they are appropriate. In our organization, electric vehicles can be employed at staged areas where they will not exceed their range and will have sufficient recharge time, such as parking enforcement, beach maintenance, and pool car use. CNG could be employed in the fleet of street sweepers and probably several other larger vehicles. Hybrids could serve the needs of building inspectors and most code enforcement operations, and flex-fuel patrol cars offer an opportunity to have vehicles in place when California Air Resources Board (CARB) eventually approves a fuel delivery system. Used flex-fuel pickups and intermediate sedans can also be employed and purchased at a reduced cost from Enterprise Rent-A-Car, which has committed to purchasing large quantities of flex-fuel vehicles.
The remaining standard fuel-type vehicles could be downsized where appropriate. Smaller compact pickups could replace most full-size trucks. Smaller V-8s could be required for all but the hardest-use full-size pickups. Compact cars can be substituted for many intermediate or full-size sedans where appropriate.
Examining Fleet Reductions
Defining fleet reductions seems simple enough on the surface. However, upon deeper examination, the actual goal becomes a bit vague. Fleet reduction could mean fewer vehicles, less gross tonnage, a reduction in cost associated to vehicles, or any combination. Our organization’s goal, as defined by the deputy public works director, is to "reduce our reliance on foreign oil and allow us to do our small part in keeping the environment clean. Plus, it helps reduce our fuel budget. Ideally, I would like to see a 10-percent reduction to our nonessential on-street fleet."
Ten percent of "on-street" vehicles in our fleet can be estimated initially as 44 vehicles. This figure is calculated by eliminating attachments, trailers, construction, turf, and electric equipment from the total fleet size of 506 to arrive at our on-street fleet of 436 units. The remaining question is which vehicles are essential to operations and which 44 are not? To determine essential vehicles and arrive at a potential candidate list, some assumptions must be made.
The first assumption is that any vehicle singular in purpose and quantity is needed to fulfill the specific task for which it was built. Identifying these units and confirming their continued need reduces the number of candidates to 412. The same conditions apply to vehicles that total more than one unit in a specific class. However, all units are scheduled and none show up as low use, such as street sweepers, sewer rodders, aerials, bookmobiles, large service trucks, and vactors. Eliminating these three classes reduces the candidate list to 395.
A further assumption is that certain units are essential, regardless of quantity, and should rightfully be removed as candidates for disposal. Easily-identified vehicles in this category are patrol units, ambulances, and fire suppression equipment. Elimination of these units reduces the eligible list of nonessential vehicles to 293, and the target reduction to achieve 10 percent to 29 vehicles.
A third assumption considering the desired results is the disposal of vehicles categorized as having poor fuel economy and/or high emission levels. To state the positive, we would not dispose of low emission-producing fuel-efficient vehicles. This includes several classes such as compact and intermediate sedans and compact pickups.
Eliminating vehicles from the mix reduces the candidate level to 174. Passenger vans should also be considered as fuel efficient since they qualify as multiple passenger transport.
There are seven of these vehicles in the fleet, and eliminating those leaves 167. These are potentially nonessential, non-fuel-efficient vehicles that produce emissions and thus the base number for the 10 percent reduction.
The chart on page 25 indicates the number of each vehicle type that should be disposed if a 10-percent reduction was evenly applied to the remaining vehicles.
While the proposed reductions are possible, obviously some problems arise, such as how to eliminate a fraction of a vehicle and whose vehicle will be eliminated.
Follow This Strategy
Implementing a strategy similar to the one proposed provides a basic plan for any fleet to consider proper size, use, and source of power for each vehicle in use or planned for purchase. Over a period determined acceptable, an entire fleet can be examined and updated to meet desired fuel economy and emission standards without unscheduled replacements of vehicles or exceptional capital outlays.
By following this strategy until a superior plan is formulated, the question of what is being done to address emissions, dependence on foreign oil, global warming, fuel price instability, and other environmental impacts is easily answered with a well-thought-out course of action. Remember to make sense and employ what is available and dependable in your area so you don’t get caught dedicated to one fuel source with a chance of interruption that could park your fleet.