Government Fleet Top News

University of California, Santa Cruz Mechanics are Going Eco-Friendly

June 29, 2004

SANTA CRUZ, CA — Recycling used oil and batteries; setting oil drums on platforms that can catch leaks; washing vehicle parts with hot water and soap instead of solvents containing harmful chemicals. That’s what mechanics at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) are doing to keep their workplace environmentally friendly, according to the Santa Cruz Sentinel newspaper. As a result of their efforts, UCSC’s fleet services garage was recognized recently by the state Department of Toxic Substances Control as a "model pollution prevention shop." Nine employees maintain, repair, and fuel the fleet of 400 vehicles, ranging from transit buses and street sweepers to farm equipment and lawn mowers. Their budget is $1.6 million a year. UCSC is in the second wave of UC campuses to earn the certification. UC Davis was the first, along with 28 other vehicle repair outfits across the state. Wes Scott, who oversees UCSC’s transportation and parking services, heard about the model shop program six months ago and pushed for changes to earn the award. Fleet employees had adopted many of the practices recommended by the state, and Scott was honored by UCSC’s Student Environmental Center earlier this month for taking a "green" approach to his job. “The industry is changing,” said Tory Francisco, a mechanic who has worked at UCSC for more than three years. "It’s as easy to recycle metal as it is to take it to the dump," said Adam Lewis, a student who works at the garage. Scott, a mechanic early in his career, recalls when workers didn’t think twice about sticking their hands into a bucketful of chemical cleaner. Nowadays they can steer clear of solvents that might attack their liver or other organs. Five years ago, UCSC bought an industrial-strength “dishwasher” to clean parts with hot, soapy water. Skeptics were convinced “when the greasiest, ugliest part came out spotless,” Scott said. Some UCSC vehicles run on biodiesel, which reduces emissions of hydrocarbons. Others use electricity, eliminating emissions entirely. The university has been blending biodiesel with diesel for a year and a half. Scott said biodiesel made from soybeans costs about $2.50 a gallon, a bit more than diesel, but smells cleaner. A third alternative fuel, compressed natural gas, will become possible this summer. A $500,000 fueling station is under construction next to the garage, funded in large by a grant from the regional air district. The campus also has 30 small electric cars, produced by Global Electric Motors (GEM). Five cars arrived a year ago, part of a gift of 184 vehicles to the University of California system by the manufacturer. UCSC bought more at a special price of $2,000 each. The cars, which look something like golf carts, are two-seaters with a flatbed for cargo. The cars can travel up to 35 miles with a top speed of 25 mph and can be driven on city streets. Scott said the GEM cars maintenance costs are low, and they can be recharged in six to eight hours by plugging into a standard 110-volt outlet. They can also be parked next to buildings without taking up a parking space. On a campus with 15,000 students, 3,000 employees and 5,000 parking spaces, that’s a plus.

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