Challenges to Electrifying City Fleets

Shifting municipal fleets to electric vehicles poses some challenges, but cities can take steps today to prepare for an easier transition to an electric future.

Read Time: 2 minutes

February 10, 2022, 5:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Electric Cars

Imfoto / Shutterstock

While many cities have pledged to electrify their municipal fleets—including police cars, transit buses, street sweepers, and other vehicles—meeting their goals may be difficult due to a number of factors. As Sharon O'Malley writes on Route Fifty, in additions to concerns about up-front costs (an electric Ford pick-up, for example, costs around $10,000 more than the gas-powered version), "some fleet managers have complained that electric vehicle technology has lagged behind their eagerness to bring electric-powered heavy-duty trucks and equipment on board." City leaders worry that electric heavy machinery like snowplows won't function as effectively or require too much time to recharge.

Some cities, like Portland, Oregon, which has committed to a fully electric city fleet by 2050, have found ways to save costs on charging infrastructure. "To prepare, the city struck a subscription-type deal with a vendor of charging stations so it pays monthly to plug in its cars and trucks rather than laying out the capital to build the stations itself. In turn, it uses its savings on fuel to help pay for charging, making it an operating cost rather than a capital expense."

O'Malley writes that experts advise cities to make strategic decisions to decarbonize their fleets most efficiently, like replacing the cars and trucks that rack up the most miles, which will save more money on fuel. Alan Bates, fleet business operations manager for Portland, says departments like parking enforcement offer "low-hanging fruit" for electrification, offering Portland's three-wheel parking enforcement scooters as an example. "They’re not driving a ton of miles, they’re stop and go, they easily get enough charge every night to come back in the morning and run their routes." Others encourage cities to at least give electric vehicles a test drive in order to "demystify the process" and win over EV skeptics.

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