|Within the next year, the city is set to receive the largest order of new vehicles ever, adding to its fleet an array of some of the most eco-friendly trucks, tractors and hybrid cars available.
"We are purchasing more new equipment now then we ever have," said Steve Miller, fleet manager and 25-year city employee.
In the 2008-09 budget alone, $4.3 million is budgeted for 52 new vehicles and pieces of motorized equipment, not including eight new fire trucks totaling $4.5 million that were a part of last year's budget. The most expensive vehicle budgeted this year is a $630,000 fire truck equipped to deal with hazardous materials.
Miller is responsible for the city's 278 vehicles and over 300 other pieces of equipment. "We wanted to get the big polluters under control first," he said, referring to dozens of large diesel-powered vehicles with low emissions diesel technology that are due to arrive within a year. The purchase includes four tractors, all eight of the city's fire trucks, 10 other large trucks, street sweepers, dump trucks, a bucket truck for street-light maintenance and a truck used when patching asphalt. The city's diesels, new and old, will be equipped with special particulate exhaust filters to reduce emissions by 98 percent.
"We will be reducing emissions from our city equipment by a substantial amount," Miller said. "Later we will address things like the small lawn mower that only burns 100 gallons a year."
It took Miller three years to specify the order of the new fire trucks. While a new car has maybe 10 options, a fire truck has 11,000.
It wouldn't make financial sense to replace all of the city's diesel trucks, Miller said, because many still have lots of life left in them. Instead, the city is spending $25,000 per truck to retrofit the special particulate exhaust filters.
"Do I spend $25,000 on a truck worth $10,000 that has considerable life left in it?" Miller said. "These are the decisions I had to make."
The city is also replacing its gasoline-powered cars with hybrids. A dozen more are on the way this year, adding to the 29 already in service, Miller said.
"Of the 70 units that could be hybrid, approximately 41 to 43 will be hybrid next year," Miller said. "A lot of this is going to be handled through attrition," he added, meaning that cars will be replaced with hybrids when they get too old to be of service.
The city's standard hybrid vehicles have been the Toyota Prius sedan and the Ford Escape SUV. The police department will be using a few Chevy Malibu hybrids as well. But the City Council will soon be asked to consider something new: a large, state of the art hybrid diesel-electric work truck, equipped for street light maintenance.
Built by International and called the DuraStar, the truck exemplifies the sort of technology that could replace large diesel guzzlers in the future, but right now it's a bit expensive -- the hybrid option itself costs an extra $75,000. But the upside is that its massive battery pack and electric motor can provide a 60 percent increase in fuel mileage, especially when its battery pack is used to elevate workers on its lift arm.
"The City Council will look at it from a cost-benefit perspective," said Kathy Lazarus, public works director.
With gas prices on the rise, the city hopes to reduce its fuel costs with the new vehicles.
"In the last year the price of fuel went up 20 percent higher than we budgeted," Miller said. "We had a budget shortfall of considerable amount."
The cost of the alternative biodiesel fuel the city has been experimenting with has gone up even higher than other fuels, now over a dollar per gallon more than regular diesel. Miller said that over the past year, the city has been using a 5 percent mix successfully, with no links to mechanical problems from the low-emissions, vegetable-oil-based fuel.
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