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Farmington Hills seeks vehicle fleet efficiency

By: David Wallace | Farmington Press | Published September 5, 2012

FARMINGTON HILLS — City administrators briefed City Council Aug. 13 on efforts to find savings within their vehicle fleet.

Those efforts include investigating fuel-efficient models, alternative fuels and the timing of selling old vehicles.

“We have 245 vehicles. That does include what I guess we would call off-road vehicles — some of our bigger equipment,” Farmington Hills management assistant Nate Geinzer said. Geinzer leads many of the city’s environmental efforts.

“We travel over 2 million miles a year on our roads. We spend about just shy of $600,000 a year on fuel. That equates to just under 200,000 gallons of fuel a year,” said Geinzer.

“We emit about 2,500 tons of greenhouse gas emissions and use just over 4,500 barrels of petroleum,” he said.

Police vehicles make up more than 22 percent of the fleet, and they account for 36 percent of the money spent on fuel.

“They are the ones that are on the roads the most and traveling them and accumulating the most miles,” said Geinzer. “But we think there is a particularly good opportunity here to increase some of the efficiency of those users.”

The city will investigate idle-reduction technologies, such as electric backups that run the vehicle, or an idle-reduction switch.

“Essentially, the way it works is, when the vehicle is at a stop, the vehicle will shut down, and all of the electronic stuff will be run on the car battery,” said Geinzer. “When that battery charge reaches a certain threshold, the switch sends a signal to the motor to start back up and recharge the battery.”

Michigan’s weather requires vehicle heating during the winter and cooling during summer, which could complicate idling reduction.

“There’s definitely different circumstances that we would have to look at as we investigate that (technology),” Geinzer said.

He also said that propane might work as a fuel for police vehicles.

“One of the advantages is alternative fuels look a lot better the more miles that are driven, and since police vehicles are such a high-mileage vehicle, we think after some additional investigation we might be able to show positive return on investment in biofuel,” Geinzer said.

“So one thing that we’ll be looking a little more at is maybe doing a pilot of one of our newer vehicles or one of our other vehicles, and maybe doing a conversion. If we’re able to show the payback is there, so that we can get one on the road, we can get a sense of how it performs; we can get a feeling of how the officers like it; and kind of evaluate it and see if it’s really a feasible option for us to look at,” Geinzer said.

He said propane prices are not as volatile as gasoline, so the city could lock in prices for a greater period of time.

“One thing we found in this study right now is with where the technology is and what the costs are, it’s hard to make the payback work with some of the alternative vehicles out there, based on our current usage patterns,” said Geinzer.

While new technology might show some promise in saving money, the city might also save money by changing its practices. Handing down police vehicles for other city functions, such as inspections, might not be the best idea.

“What we’re finding that’s leading to is an underutilized fleet,” said Geinzer.

The city perhaps should not hand down all of its police vehicles and run them until they’re worth only $1,000 or so, he said. Instead, it might make sense to sell fleet vehicles when they have better resale value — when they might have about 80,000 miles on them, he said — and apply the money to a new or slightly used vehicle with better gas mileage.

“By looking at that model, we might be able to double the fuel economy of our non-police and specialty equipment fleet,” said Geinzer.

“I think selling off the police vehicles at the end of their life is the right thing to do. They’re purpose-built,” said Councilman Richard Lerner. “Clearly, we don’t need our park rangers in Crown Victorias that get 10 miles to the gallon.”

He noted that there are plenty of smaller vehicles that are not hybrids that still offer impressive gas mileage.

Councilman Michael Bridges said that such a program could help brand Farmington Hills and promote the city’s pro-energy-efficiency message.

“I think that park rangers and other people who are not police-oriented maybe should be representative of fuel efficiency,” said Bridges.

Additionally, the city keeps enough vehicles for peak use, but will figure out if there is a better size, and if peak usage times could be staggered between departments or even between cities.

“If they’re staggered, we’re always looking for ways to share savings,” said Councilman Kenneth Massey.

Geinzer noted that there are training programs for fuel-smart driving.