Influencing the Future of Alt-Fuel Transportation

January 24, 2014

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Government Fleet’s financial survey results from November 2013 showed that about two-thirds of agencies have some sort of fleet greening goal in place, whether that’s mandated by a public agency or conceived and written by fleet management. Given the push for “greener” fleets all over the country, it’s no surprise that fleet managers, the vehicle experts of their agencies, have become strong influencers in the future of alternative-fuel transportation. This isn’t just within their own fleets — they’re also influencing the way the public perceives or purchases vehicles.

Introducing Technologies & Providing Fueling

There are two ways fleets are doing this: by making new technologies seem less “scary” and making fueling or charging more readily available.

According to data from the Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center, 9% of public access alt-fuel fueling stations were owned by public entities (excluding utilities) as of mid-December 2013. Take out electric vehicle charging stations (individual charging stations make up about half the data) and this number rises to 43%.

Fleet management often leads or supports plans to construct compressed natural gas (CNG) fueling stations and often manage operations and set prices, which are likely to be lower than prices at privately owned stations. By providing fueling to the public, agencies are helping expand the nation’s network of CNG fueling stations, and by providing low prices, they are encouraging local fleets and residents to consider investing in a CNG vehicle for fuel savings in the long term.

Fleet professionals are also helping implement electric vehicle charging station networks, writing guidelines for EV charging programs or installations, or helping implement propane-autogas fueling station corridors, all of which provide similar benefits.

Also, while workplace charging for electric vehicles at public agencies does not seem to be common yet, employees oftentimes buy more new personal vehicles than their employers (public agencies) do for their own fleets. Allowing employees the option to charge at work would help spread the use of EVs. Although there may be little to no financial benefit, it would help agencies with goals to reduce harmful vehicle emissions.

Public adoption of advanced-technology vehicles creates public awareness, especially since these vehicles are often clearly labeled as being alt-fuel vehicles. Fleet managers conducting training sessions with potential motor pool drivers on new alt-fuel vehicles help spread the word and use of the technology. One fleet manager is involved with a hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle project, providing test vehicles to carpool drivers who might never have considered the technology. By placing a hydrogen-powered vehicle in the hands of a “regular” driver for commuting purposes, the agency expands awareness and also takes away some of the fear of the unfamiliar technology.

Should Governments Have an Alt-Fuel Agenda?

One can argue that using public funds and time to further an alt-fuel agenda is not a government agency’s job, especially if this results in use of taxpayer funds. This is true in many cases where the public agencies do not advocate for a green fleet, and residents are more concerned about other issues over vehicle emissions. Fleet managers may decide to not go with alternative fuels because it doesn’t provide any financial benefit, or the reduced emissions aren’t worth the added cost of equipment.

However, in areas where a public entity prides itself on being “green,” or where the fleet manager can provide long-term financial savings estimates, fleet managers play a major role in influencing policy and expanding vehicle fuel options for residents.

What do you think? What kind of role should public fleet managers play in the overall future of alternative-fuel transportation, and should alt-fuel programs always have a cost benefit?

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  1. 1. Allen Mitchell [ February 03, 2014 @ 01:05PM ]

    Innovation often becomes a question of "chicken vs. egg" in my view. So when a public entity can demonstrate value in converting to alternative fuel(s) it starts a conversation with private fleets and individuals who have a sustainable and/ or an economic bent that will further the cause. So, yes I believe the public sector should innovate where possible and not be in stasis as many are. Leadership can be painful, but more often it is rewarding.

    Thanks for your blog,

    Allen Mitchell
    Retired Fleet Executive

  2. 2. Kelly Reagan [ March 17, 2014 @ 11:58AM ]

    To your point Mr. Mitchell - you are in fact correct in your assesment of the "chicken vs. egg" - and to Thi's point it is better for "public" sector to lead and demonstrate value for alt fuels. Often this is not the case as "private" sector barrels ahead with initiatives that drive additional earnings to the bottom lines for Fortune 500 companies. So this should posture us to ask ourselves, if "private" sector is doing this, then why aren't we? Private is more often focused on EPS quarter to quarter and looks for every opportunity to sqeeze a penny and rightfully so, in an effort to maximize share holder return. There are also many very good companies focused on image and "greeing" thier fleets for carbon credits and/or offsets as well.

    Public sector should lead the charge in doing the right thing driven by both economics and GHG reduction always. This becomes even more difficult in a public enviornment because more often than not this means that there must be a Champion with vision to lead the charge, especially in an enviornment with tight budgets, limited capital and a silo mentality for repsective fleets - in other words, "these are MY units and no one can tell me what I can or cannot do with them, to them and in them".

    The Champion in public must still build concensus and must have a top down approach - in fact direction should come from the Mayor or Govenor by empowering the Champion to get the alt fuel program in place - this seems to work best for our city anyway - thank you for your thoughts Mr. Mitchell and Thi, thanks again for the great article - you push us to think outside the box!

  3. 3. Chris Hammer [ August 09, 2014 @ 12:42PM ]

    I like the question at the end of this article: “should alt-fuel programs always have a cost benefit?”
    Cost benefit of what precisely? What will we measure? Livelihood of employees, profits, environment, competition, pride, etc. This is a good question to examine.
    And relative to alt-fuels, have we developed a well-made, elevated torque engine for the greater percentage of our transportation needs? 18-wheelers, train, and cargo ships?


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Author Bio

Thi Dao

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Executive Editor

Thi is the executive editor of Government Fleet magazine. She is interested in maintenance management and alternative fuels.


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