How Are Zero-Emissions Initiatives Affecting Government Fleets?

Paul MilnerJune 4, 2021

The new milestone of today is that “sustainability” and “reduction of CO2 emissions” are not just far-off ideas or additional potential benefits of making greener decisions. Instead, they are crucial considerations that structure a company’s operational strategies and fleet management. Transportation is the biggest contributor of CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions in the US – and as a result, public and private sector fleets are facing more pressure than ever to adopt sustainable practices and employ green technologies. 

But it’s not just pressure headed their way; fleets are also being offered an unprecedented array of grants and incentives to go green. 

With so many short- and long-term environmental and economic benefits of a large-scale switch to electric technology, more businesses and governments on all levels are pledging to achieve net-zero emissions in the upcoming few decades.

But will they be able to achieve them? And if they can, what are the long-lasting effects?

Zero-emission initiatives: feasible for government fleets?

In February, the current administration proposed a $174 billion investment into the electric vehicle market. The order will support the creation of a nationwide network of 500,000 EV chargers, accelerate the manufacturing of American-made EVs and their batteries, as well as offer rebates and tax incentives for consumers buying American-made EVs.

President Biden has also committed to electrifying the federal government’s fleet of over 645,000 vehicles. The President’s aim with this order is two-fold: to replace diesel and gas vehicles with new, zero-emission models and to create millions of manufacturing jobs within the country. The vehicles to be electrified include transit buses, yellow school buses and United States Postal Service delivery vehicles – which according to USPS, make up 30 percent of the federal fleet and are prime candidates for electrification due to their short-range driving, overnight parking centers and stop-and-go driving.

However, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy drew a lot of criticism with the signing of a contract with Oshkosh Defense for the production of nearly 165,000 next generation vehicles. Though President Biden suggested that the entire fleet be electric, only 10 percent is currently planned to be EVs. 

As it stands, this contract with Oshkosh Defense will lock the Postal Service into a minimum of 25 more years of gasoline-powered operations. The decision puts into question whether the United States will be able to meet sustainability commitments in the next few decades, and whether these initiatives are truly feasible at all.  New government policies inevitably require going through layers of red tape and approval from different entities who may hold conflicting views, and now is the time in which we find ourselves waiting to see if sustainable targets can be met and promises can be upheld. 

Why are government fleets itching to make the sustainable switch?

With every passing year there is a greater sense of urgency to move away from unsustainable practices. While investors aren’t the ones pushing municipality fleets to be more sustainable, the pressure is coming both from above, with the President taking a strong stance on climate change, and from within, with citizens impatiently awaiting action andsuffering the effects of air pollution and extreme weather. 

On the first day of his presidency, President Biden rejoined The Paris Agreement, placing climate change as his top priority, second only to COVID-19. The White House set a target of reducing net greenhouse gas emissions by 50-52 percent below 2005 levels by the year 2030, as part of a larger plan to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

Shortly after the executive order, thirteen cross-party senators wrote the President a letter outlining their suggestions on how to succeed in electrifying the federal fleet. 

A little closer to home at the state level, more states are adopting green policies – one such being the Zero Emission Vehicles (ZEV) program, which pushes the sales of ZEVs by pushing car manufacturers to produce. There are currently 12 states participating in this program, with more sure to follow suit.

What does this mean for municipality fleet managers?

The impact of this movement is not only at a federal level. More state and local governments are pushing for funding to support greener public transit. 

Just this month, senators Chuck Shumer (D-NY) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) announced their Clean Transit for America plan. The $73 billion proposal seeks to fight climate change by fully transforming the country’s public transit into a fully zero-emission fleet. The funds will be used to replace all mass transit buses, cutaway vehicles and transit vans across the country, of which only 2 percent are currently carbon-neutral vehicles.

For a municipality fleet manager, this huge change will inevitably impact the considerations that go into their operational strategy, budget planning, technology additions and infrastructure planning for EV chargers. 

Budgets will have to be adjusted to account for heavy upfront costs that lead to long-term fuel savings and lower maintenance costs. According to the Clean Transit Plan, the average cost of a battery electric bus is around $875,000, but once deployed, these buses are far more cost-effective to operate and maintain.  Along with the cost of acquiring the vehicles and installing charging infrastructure, another important consideration will be the cost of retraining employees and hiring technicians to work with the charging stations. 

In terms of day-to-day operation, charging schedules will be one of the biggest hurdles in adapting to electric buses.Depending on whether a bus is long-range or quick charge determines how the bus must be charged and for how long. Long-range buses typically need to be charged twice a day, for 3 to 4 hours each time, while quick charge buses require only 6 minutes of charging for each hour of service. Essentially, managers will have to plan bus schedules and employee schedules around bus charging needs.

The bottom line

Ultimately, reducing carbon emissions with the goal of net neutrality on a national and global level is certainly achievable but will require immediate and profound action. Any substantial change will rely on governments creating realistic plans of action, legislation and regulation, but also on leaders seeing eye-to-eye on how to reach these goals. The key aspect to municipality fleets electrifying though, is understanding that it’s not just mass-transit that will be making the shift. Electrifying fleet assets will continue into the coming years – with pressure from local governments and citizens being the driving force. And as demand continues to increase, EV prices will inevitably drop and be more attainable – for future fleet purchases and consumers alike.

Utilimarc has been working with a variety of fleets electrifying their vehicles across the country in the last few years. If you would like to learn more about how municipalities in your region are electrifying their fleet, book a demo with a member of our analytics team.

Paul Milner

Benchmarking and Professional Services Manager

Paul Milner is a Benchmarking and Professional Services Manager at Utilimarc. He studied mathematics and philosophy at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota. Working at Utilimarc for nearly ten years, he helps find the stories and solve problems within complex data sets. See more from Paul

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