Government Fleet Top News

State Gas Use in California? It's a Guess

July 15, 2004

SACRAMENTO, CA — In these times of high gas prices, the state of California can only ballpark how many vehicles it has, how much gas it uses, and how much it pays for fuel. And there is no way to measure whether conservation efforts — only recently made a priority — are working, according to the Sacramento Bee newspaper. "This is an area that can be managed and should be managed," said Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste, based in Washington, D.C. "You can't figure out how much you can save unless you know what you have and how much you spend." But in California, those figures remain elusive. "I doubt any one entity knows the quantity of fuel consumed by all (the state vehicles)," said Rob Schlichting, spokesman for the California Energy Commission. "Neither (the Department of) General Services or the Department of Motor Vehicles can really describe what the vehicle fleet is like." According to a July 2003 report on the state vehicle fleet's fuel efficiency, the fleet uses about 46 million gallons of gasoline and 9 million gallons of diesel fuel a year. But Schlichting couldn't say how his agency arrived at those figures.Schlichting tried to get an answer from the Board of Equalization, which collects and distributes the tax from gasoline. "They confirm that they don't even have a handle on what the state is using. It looks like that information is not available anywhere that we know of," Schlichting said. New legislation requires each department to make an inventory of its fleet — but not its fuel use — for the state Energy Commission by June 30. General Services will issue a report on the data by Jan. 1.One reason for the lack of data is that the goal for many years was to decentralize state purchasing. Agencies bought vehicles as needed, set up their own fueling procedures, and monitored their own expenditures, independent of General Services. That's the way it is in most states, said Keith Yawn, program director for the Office of Vehicle Fleet Management in Texas. About four years ago, Texas legislators realized they couldn't make policy without knowing what the state owned and used, Yawn said. State agencies in Texas are now required to record data monthly in a central database: what vehicles the agency or department owns, how much they were driven, repairs, and amount of fuel used per vehicle. Some larger agencies have bulk fuel contracts for their internal fleets, but most of the gas is purchased using a single credit card vendor, Yawn said, which facilitates record-keeping. The state uses the data to monitor vehicle use and get rid of certain vehicles. The state Department of Finance said the state doesn't record line items below a certain level of expenditure, although individual departments may keep data on their fuel expenditures. State agencies buy gasoline in two ways: either from state bulk fueling stations or from public gas stations using a state credit card. Gas purchases at retail locations are reported on credit card statements, which The Bee obtained and used to analyze the state's fuel purchases for calendar year 2003. State agencies paid $45.9 million for 22.8 million gallons of fuel using the state credit card. The data showed the state's largest gasoline users as General Services, the Department of Transportation, and the California Highway Patrol. The agencies that spend the most have large numbers of employees who oversee operations across the state, making it necessary for them to travel, the agencies' spokesmen said. The cheapest way for state employees to gas up is at one of the state's bulk fueling stations, which contract with private fuel suppliers. General Services, which oversees the contract to supply fuel, could not provide the number of fueling stations nor estimate the number of gallons of fuel or the payments to contractors. Bee newspaper research shows there are about 473 bulk fueling stations statewide. Gas is delivered to the bulk stations by eight contractors. They charge a set price — which currently ranges between $1.63 and $1.74 a gallon for regular unleaded, depending on the location — and charge a differential to deliver it to the location. The differential also varies depending on the type of fuel and where it is delivered.The other way to purchase fuel is at a retail location using a state credit card, the Voyager Fuel Card. Gas in the Sacramento area currently averages $2.26 a gallon. One reason for the price disparity is that gas is a heavily taxed commodity. At the bulk fueling stations, the state pays no taxes. At retail locations gas is subject to local sales taxes, which total about 16 cents per gallon as a statewide average. There is also an 18-cent-per-gallon state excise tax. Unlike other customers, the state is not required to pay the 18.4-cent federal excise tax. The 12 agencies with the highest Voyager card use last year purchased 19.9 million gallons at retail locations. That means the state paid more than $6.7 million in taxes on retail gasoline purchases that would have been saved if they had bought bulk fuel. Many agencies can't use the bulk fueling stations because they travel to remote locations or work out of their homes. About 73 percent of the gasoline used by the Department of Water Resources comes from bulk fueling stations, said spokesman Don Strickland, with the rest coming from Voyager card fill-ups. With gas prices so high, most departments say they are emphasizing conservation by cutting travel, using teleconferences where possible, reducing air conditioning use and making sure vehicle tires are inflated. The Governor's Office has urged state employees to "lead by example" and reduce gas consumption. But without a base line, it is difficult to measure the success of these efforts.

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