The State of Washington’s fleet operations department currently manages a fleet of about 2,600 units, primarily passenger vehicles. Almost 52 percent of its fleet consists of hybrids, making it the largest hybrid state government fleet in the nation. By transitioning to hybrids, Washington’s new Department of Enterprise Services (DES), previously known as General Administration, is successfully meeting its goals to reduce petroleum use, cut costs, and shrink its carbon footprint.
Fleet’s petroleum use is down about 26 percent since 2005. Fleet manager for the Washington DES, Bryan Bazard, broke down the savings this way: “In fiscal-year 2011, the fleet drove more than 23.6 million miles; the average fleet vehicle fuel economy was 25 mpg. Averaging cost per gallon of gasoline at $3.50, we spent more than $3.3 million on fuel. When fleet fuel economy averaged 20.3 mpg as it did in 2005, we would have spent more than $4 million, or an additional $767,000.”
Bazard added that the change reflected a larger shift within the state.
“In 1995, the Washington fleet started transitioning to higher efficiency, bi-fuel vehicles and fuels, such as E-85; however, the fuel infrastructure for E-85 was lacking, resulting in limited use. So, we transitioned to vehicles with better overall fuel economy, specifically hybrid,” Bazard said.
According to Bazard, the underlying reason for the move was economic. “Hybrids replaced full-size SUVs, then smaller gasoline-powered SUVs and took the place of conventionally powered station wagons,” he said.
Washington DES does not receive funding from the state legislature. Instead, it is funded through the rates it charges user agencies for goods and services. In the case of vehicles, DES has transitioned to a model where it owns all fleet vehicles and leases them back to user agencies at rates based on the total cost of ownership. Bazard noted the state’s cost of a hybrid sedan is now less than the state’s cost of a conventional gasoline-powered sedan (see table, Fleet Vehicle Long-Term Rental Rates).
Lease rates are calculated based on identified administrative costs, depreciation, fuel, maintenance, and interest charges.
In terms of performance and reliability, Bazard said the hybrid experience has been successful as well. “We’ve had great results with the Toyota Prius that fleet slates for replacement at intervals of about 115,000 miles, although we have run some of them up to 160,000 miles without issues,” Bazard said.
He noted only one hybrid required a battery replacement; it was a domestic brand and the failure occurred within a month of purchase and was fully warranted by the manufacturer.
As for battery disposal, Bazard said spent batteries would be sent back to OEM dealers. The only other concern relates to the degradation of the chassis on a limited number of domestic hybrids and had nothing to do with the hybrid systems. He also said the Prius has been significantly cheaper to maintain compared to conventional vehicles.
“They almost never need brakes, due to the regenerative braking system that assists the conventional brakes, leaving tires and oil changes as the primary maintenance expenses,” Bazard noted.
New Technology Reduces Maintenance Expenses
While fuel expense and tire costs take the largest bites out of fleet operating cost budgets, on conventional vehicles, routine brake system repairs account for a significant portion of routine maintenance costs.
Bazard has witnessed how maintenance and repair costs can skyrocket on the gasoline-powered sedans, which previously were the dominant vehicle type in fleet when they hit 100,000 miles, resulting in setting the replacement mileage threshold.
Switching to new technology can create challenges for fleet maintenance and repair shops and require rebalancing parts inventories for fleets with in-house shops.
Bazard said Washington has experienced an easy transition in that regard. He recommended factory training for hybrid maintenance and repair. The DES fleet outsources about 70 percent of its major vehicle maintenance with a support team of three technicians in its sole in-house repair shop.
He said that having a Toyota factory school positioned in nearby Portland, Ore., made tech training easy. Some hybrid OEM training has been provided free of charge by the manufacturers, others have associated costs.
“The network of vendors who perform the majority of the work on our fleet vehicles have had no trouble handling our hybrid maintenance and repair needs,” Bazard commented.
According to Bazard, selling agencies on hybrids was pretty easy; some basic information sharing facilitated the successful change. For example, it was necessary to orient drivers to the simple differences in vehicle starting procedures with hybrids, such as using a key fob or button in lieu of an ignition key.
Operating a successful and cost-effective fleet program is dependent on appropriate vehicle replacement cycles.
Washington has been successful in cycling fleet vehicles out when maintenance costs begin to climb, in part, due to the use of certificates of participation at interest rates of around 2.6 percent. The hybrid fleet consists of the Toyota Prius and Camry, Ford Escape and Fusion, and Honda models.
Agencies that initially resisted the DES recently adopted the vehicle leasing business model; however, since the consolidation occurred, they are enjoying the benefits of centralized replacement planning and newer, more fuel-efficient vehicles, something that replacement planning at the big picture level enables.
DES currently oversees many of the State’s vehicles, including social and health services agencies, Dept. of Health, Labor and Industries, and Fish and Wildlife, and it will embark on an even more expansive consolidation soon. In the near future, the Departments of Agriculture, Military Affairs, Ecology, Veterans Affairs, and Corrections will all fall under the new DES umbrella.
Biofuel Use Growing in State Fleet
Washington fleet has employed other methods to curb its petroleum appetite, including more widespread use of biofuels. The Washington Dept. of Transportation has about 126 fueling sites, which utilize B-20 during summer months and B-10 in the winter. This has resulted in further reductions of petroleum for the State’s fleet.
Last year, 337,000 gallons of petroleum were replaced by B-100. The B-100 was used to create blends ranging from B-5 to B-20. Overall, Bazard said biodiesel represented 12 percent of the fuel used in fleet’s diesel vehicles.
Fleet vehicles are not the only method Washington is using to reduce its petroleum consumption. In 2011, Washington used more than 335,000 gallons of biodiesel in the State’s ferries.
On its climate change website, the State’s Ecology Department summarizes its position this way: “The State is taking a comprehensive approach in developing and implementing a practical and coordinated set of policies and solutions to meet the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions adopted into law in 2008, and to unleash innovation, investment, and job creation. A broad coalition of leaders, stakeholders, and the public are offering their thoughts and ideas as the State leads the way on reducing GHG emissions, growing the clean energy economy, and reducing our reliance on imported fuels.”
Since Washington has a considerable amount of hydro power, Bazard said the major GHG producer is transportation (vehicles, boats, and aircraft). He considers biodiesel preferable to regular petroleum diesel because it produces lower harmful emissions and is more sustainable. Domestic energy sources, such as diesel made from agricultural products (such as soybeans) reduce U.S. dependence on foreign fuels.
DES has been able to push a hybrid-vehicle-type agenda with the help of Governor Christine Gregoire’s Executive Order (EO) 05-01, effective in 2005, and through supportive fleet policies and goal setting. Fleet is mandated to convert to all biofuels, including E-85, biodiesel, or electricity by 2015.
The Washington state legislature also established progressive requirements for not just fleet but state government to reduce GHG emissions and its carbon footprint.
Becoming a Model for Other Fleets
As any fleet manager, public or private, will tell you, the support and buy-in of leadership is a necessity to ensure reduction philosophies are carried out and goals met. Fleet cost-cutting, petroleum reduction, and targeting emissions reductions go hand-in-hand. The approach utilized in Washington reaches well beyond individual fleets and involves many aspects of government operations across multiple agencies.
The State fleet serves as a model for private and municipal fleets leading the way with its reduction plans and goals.
Washington’s initiative has “teeth” and the backing of state leadership as substantiated by state leadership in executive order and law. Specifically, some of the actions that the Governor’s EO 05-09 requires state agencies to include:
● Continue to work with six other Western states and four Canadian provinces in the Western Climate Initiative to develop a regional emissions reduction program design.
● Advise the federal government and Washington’s congressional delegation on designing a national program that reflects State priorities.
● Work with companies that emit 25,000 metric tons or more each year to develop emissions reduction strategies.
● Work with businesses and interested stakeholders to develop recommendations on emission benchmarks by industry to make sure 2020 reduction targets are met.
● Work with DNR to develop a forestry offset program and other financial incentives for the forestry and the forest products industry.
● Evaluate a low-carbon fuel standard or alternative requirements to reduce carbon emissions from the transportation sector.
● Join with WSDOT, other West Coast states, and the private sector to make alternative fuels, including electricity for plug-in vehicles, available along the West Coast highway and adjoining metropolitan centers.
● Working with the larger regional transportation councils, develop regional transportation plans that will increase transit options, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
● Address the impacts of climate change, including rising sea levels and the risks to water supplies.
In addition, the Washington State Legislature mandated as follows:
■ “All state agencies shall meet the statewide greenhouse gas emission limits established in RCW 70.235.020 to achieve the following, using the estimates and strategy established in subsections (2) and (3) of this section:
(1) By July 1, 2020, reduce emissions by 15 percent from 2005 emissions levels.
(2) By 2035, reduce emissions to 36 percent below 2005 levels.
(3) By 2050, reduce emissions to the greater reduction of 57.5-percent below 2005 levels or 70-percent below the expected state government emissions that year.
■ By October 1 of each even-numbered year beginning in 2012, each state agency shall report to the department the actions taken to meet the emission reduction targets under the strategy for the preceding fiscal biennium. The department may authorize the department of general administration to report on behalf of any state agency having fewer than 500 full-time equivalent employees at any time during the reporting period. The department shall cooperate with the department of general administration and the department of community, trade, and economic development to develop consolidated reporting methodologies that incorporate emission reduction actions taken across all or substantially all state agencies.
■ All state agencies shall cooperate in providing information to the department; the department of general administration; and the department of community, trade, and economic development for the purposes of this section.
Washington’s approach to cost, petroleum, and emissions reductions is multi-faceted.
In addition to planning and goal setting, agencies are required to report metrics to chart progress periodically for accountability. As part of the work relating to the State Agency Climate Leadership Act, Washington has taken a look at its progress via a survey of state government agencies.
A summary of those responses provides insight into some additional successful strategies employed by fleets today to cut fuel consumption.
Other components of Washington’s Blueprint for Fleet Fuel Consumption Reduction — Survey Results Summary include:
● 86 percent of agencies responding have cut the use of gasoline.
● 66 percent disposed of vehicles 10 years old or more.
● 67 percent are purchasing more fuel-efficient vehicle types.
● 64 percent have purchased hybrids.
● 21 percent have purchased plug-in electrics.
● 64 percent are buying smaller vehicles.
● 65 percent have internal policies discouraging SUVs and large passenger vehicles.
● 70 percent encourage better preventive maintenance on vehicles.
● 56 percent had their own internal fuel efficiency policies.
● 27 percent of agencies responding limit idling.
● 33 percent have reduced their fleet size.
● 91 percent have taken action to reduce costs, fuel consumed, and greenhouse gas emissions.
In addition, the majority of fleets surveyed had business trip reduction policies, invested in video conferencing technology, and encouraged carpools. About 60 percent of agencies responding invested in or promoted the use of video conferencing systems for travel avoidance with more than 85 percent of the agencies responding having attended conferences via webinar and encouraged ridesharing and van pooling.
A majority, about 89 percent of those responding to the survey had increased permissions for employees to telecommute and telework.
While government agencies are taking a leadership role in finding ways to reduce fuel consumption for work tasks, Washington’s efforts don’t stop there. For example a number of agencies worked to locate work sites that government employees could walk, rideshare, or bike to.
Coupled with a comprehensive approach to providing fuel-efficient and hybrid vehicles for agencies to carry out work missions, Washington has succeeded in cutting fuel costs, reducing fuel consumed, and benefitting the environment for its citizens.
About the Author
Barbara Bonansinga has worked in fleet management with the State of Illinois for more than 25 years. She can be reached at [email protected]