Stop Your City From Buying Polluting, Climate Destroying Vehicles
Help Electrify Your City’s Fleet
We’re in a climate crisis. The IPCC tells us that if we don’t make enormous carbon emission reductions now, within 10 years we could set off chain reactions and feedback loops which could imperil all life on the planet.
Gasoline and diesel are the biggest source of carbon emissions, at 29% of the US carbon footprint, 41% for California, 55% for San Mateo County, and 47% for Washington State. Passenger cars and trucks cause most of the carbon pollution.
Cities must lead and model the transition from fossil fuels. Electrifying public vehicles is a top priority. With their predictable use patterns and opportunities to install EV charging on site, cities can electrify many of their vehicles, and save money in the process.
Some cities are already making the transition (see stories here) but too many are not. Despite the climate crisis, many cities, counties, and other jurisdictions are stuck in old polluting ways, buying new gasoline powered vehicles that are going to still be spewing carbon and toxic emissions for years to come. If we are taking the climate emergency seriously, we can’t allow our tax dollars to purchase polluting vehicles when better alternatives are available. It is up to citizens to speak up to ensure that their cities are not investing unnecessarily in polluting vehicles.
A new citizen’s movement is emerging among the 38,000 municipal fleets in the U.S. to stop the purchase of gas vehicles.
You can make a big difference to the planet just by making your voice heard on this issue.
How Citizens Can Advance City Fleet Electrification
Long-Term Fix: Get your city to pass an “EV First” ordinance or Green Fleet Procurement Policy
A growing number of cities and the state of Washington have passed green vehicle procurement policies (see specific examples here and here). San Francisco has committed to electrify its non-emergency fleet sedans by 2022 and its remaining diesel transit buses by 2035. All cities, and especially those that have declared a climate emergency, should pass an ordinance like Sacramento’s requiring that all city fleet vehicle purchases be zero emissions or electric vehicles unless there is no feasible zero emissions option. Speak with the sustainability staff and/or mayor and city council about passing an “EV First” ordinance or green vehicle procurement policy, or at least establishing a practice of prioritizing zero emissions vehicles.
Until a policy or practice is established and enforced, help ensure that no new gasoline-powered vehicles are purchased unnecessarily, by taking these steps:
1. Get informed: Find out what’s going on in your city. Individuals on city staff and in government will make key decisions about electrifying the city fleet, usually during the budgeting process or when a large number of vehicles is being replaced. Each city is different, so it’s important to understand the players and the concerns in your city.
City Fleet Manager: Often getting the city fleet manager on board with city fleet electrification is critical, as s/he decides which vehicle options to offer department heads for their new purchases, and has the power to limit the options to electric vehicles only. Ask the fleet manager about the current vehicle inventory and any consideration or plans to replace retiring vehicles with electric ones in upcoming years. (If you can’t get prompt answers, you have a legal right to obtain them in most states via a State Freedom of Information Act request.) The fleet manager may also make determinations about “right-sizing” the fleet (getting rid of vehicles that are under-utilized), which may help fund the purchase of electric vehicles.
City Finance Director: The finance director is likely the staff member who would direct a fleet electrification assessment — compiling data on the total cost of vehicle ownership, identifying new fleet compositions and establishing a long-term program for replacing gas with electric vehicles. Ask if an assessment has been done (if not, the local electric utility may be willing to fund it). The finance director may explore public-private partnerships to reduce costs — such as having a utility or charging company install/own/operate the charging infrastructure. The finance director may also determine how to bucket various costs of fleet electrification for budget purposes — such as whether to take charging infrastructure costs into account when making the decision to purchase electric vehicles, and whether to allocate the cost of electric vehicle fuel to the city’s electricity costs or its vehicle fueling costs.
Sustainability Director: This person can make the case for fleet electrification in terms of environmental benefits and progress towards the city’s climate action plan goals.
Elected City Leaders: Find out if the mayor or any city council members are ready to champion strong climate action, and meet with them about options for electrifying the city fleet.
2. Provide resources: You can help accelerate city fleet electrification by providing resources to city staff and leadership. The Climate Mayors EV Purchasing Collaborative and Electrification Coalition EV Fleets Program are great places to start no matter where you live. For jurisdictions in California’s San Mateo County, technical assistance and a new Green Fleets Toolkit are available. Also check out the following:
The Economic Case for City Fleet Electrification: Point to resources on the economic benefits of city fleet electrification, such as this analysis showing fleet electrification in the 25 largest cities can save 37% on fueling costs (or 60% with well-managed charging), this report on the savings in Austin, and this one on New York City. This page gives an overview of the benefits of fleet electrification.
EV charging infrastructure: The city will need to install chargers to fuel the city fleet if it has not done so already.
FleetCarma reviews the Four Questions cities should ask when planning charging.
The City of Atlanta issued a detailed report on how it planned its city fleet charging.
Greenlots offers a complete charging infrastructure solution.
Incentives: Click here for a nationwide overview of incentives for green fleet purchases and charging infrastructure.
Vehicle Purchase/Lease Incentives:
General: The Climate Mayors EV Purchasing Collaborative aggregates local government EV purchases to obtain discounts.
California: Additional info is available at California’s Plug In Electric Vehicle Resource Center and the California Clean Vehicle Rebate Project.
Charging Infrastructure Incentives:
General: EV charging infrastructure incentives by state
Clean Vehicles Rebate: Overview of California EV charging incentives
PG&E’s “EV Fleet Program” offers incentives for medium and heavy duty vehicle charging infrastructure.
California Bay Area charging infrastructure grants
Specialized Vehicles: Passenger vehicles are the easiest to electrify, with many makes and models already available with up to 240 miles of range. However, electric options are emerging for other types of vehicles as well:
Police vehicles*: For police pursuit vehicles in particular, note:
Trucks, transit buses and school buses:
US PIRG issued a 2018 report on paying for electric transit and school buses.
School buses: These are usually procured by the school district, not the city. The school bus brand Thomas Built offers this guide, and additional resources from Clean Buses for Healthy Ninos are here.
California: The law already requires that all new transit buses be zero emissions by 2029. California’s Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Project (HVIP) offers discounts on large vehicles.
Parking enforcement vehicles: Specialized options include the Firefly and Go4EV. Some cities have opted instead to use electric scooters or bikes, or purchase used EVs such as Nissan Leafs, which are available in many parts of California for well under $10,000.
3. Monitor Upcoming City Council Meeting Agendas: To be sure the City is not about to commit to many years of owning a new gasoline-powered vehicle, check the agenda for upcoming city council meetings for vehicle purchase agenda items. Smaller dollar purchases may not require city council approval, so you’ll need to catch them by finding out purchasing plans from the fleet manager or city council. But larger purchases often require city council approval, and thus will show up on the agenda.
4. If a gasoline vehicle purchase is planned, SPEAK UP: If you learn of a plan for the city to purchase gasoline vehicles where there is an electric option available, and can’t otherwise head it off at the pass by meeting with sustainability staff and the fleet manager, it’s time to get citizens to advocate for:
getting electric vehicles instead; or
postponing the purchase, if the particular type of vehicle is expected to hit the market within the next year or two in electric (like pickup trucks); or
making only a short-term commitment to a gasoline powered vehicle until an electric one is available, if there’s no electric version on the horizon.
Once you’ve determined the appropriate action, here’s what to do:
a. Email as many city residents as you can, asking them to email the city council. Your email should:
Explain the situation: Keep your email short by providing background via a link to a Google Doc. The link can be to the detailed email that you’re sending to City Council.
Put a clear call to action in the subject line (e.g., “Action needed by 10 am on June __: write City Council opposing purchase of 4 gasoline passenger vehicles.”)
Bold, enlarge and highlight the email address you want citizens to write to. Usually this will be the email address for the entire city council, or council members’ individual email addresses if there is no one email address that goes to all of them.
Include a very short sample email (example above) that citizens can copy and paste, or modify if they like. In general, citizens will take actions if they only require a few minutes.
Send your email to yourself, and blind copy (BCC) the recipients to preserve their privacy.
Include a sample message like this, that citizens can easily personalize and send to city leadership.
b. Plan to attend the City Council meeting where the issue will be addressed, and restate the contents of your letter as a public comment. In-person comments can be more impactful than emails.
c. Check your city’s public email log (as an example, Menlo Park’s is here) to see who/how many wrote emails to the city.
d. Follow up with your fellow citizens, especially those who wrote to City Council, to let them know the outcome.
*Note: Tesla needs more evidence of city interest in electric police vehicles to merit investing in a program to outfit their electric vehicles for police use. Have your city leaders email Tesla expressing interest and stating how many police vehicles the city has.
For more information about public fleet electrification, see Coltura’s white paper about fleet electrification in Washington State, called Recharge Required, and the following resources:
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