The noise in the trade press about electric and autonomous vehicles is deafening. Anyone new to our industry would think, based on the plethora of this emphasis, that any day now electrically charged, driverless people movers will abound solving all of our environmental, safety, maintenance, and traffic crash “problems” as we all dance into the sunset.
Let’s be real: this alternate reality is many years away, in spite of what we read. Those of us in government fleet likely understand the true reality of this very distant future better than any other government functionary, especially and including elected officials. The clarion calls we’ve weathered to date for hybrids and alternate fuel adoptions such as ethanol, bio-diesel, CNG, propane – auto gas, etc., all have had their “15 minutes of fame” in many of our fleets while gasoline and diesel fuel continue as the predominant power of choice for efficiency, cost, availability, and general acceptance reasons. That fact will not change in the foreseeable future, especially for governments.
Is there anyone in the government space who truly feels a dump truck can operate autonomously on a paving site or deliver material precisely onto an unpaved road in front of a motor grader? Or a fire truck, ambulance, bucket truck, refuse truck, or a street sweeper? Yes, these vehicles may someday be electrified. It will be interesting to watch the current electric refuse truck tests underway in a few cities. Will the electrical system hold up during the summer and winter and deliver 150 plus lifts and several compaction cycles each day? I’m optimistic, but convinced that without significant infrastructure enhancements, these trucks will continue to require operators, and yes, maintenance technicians.
Unfortunately for all of us, the term statesmanship has passed from fashion in our political discourse and been replaced by blatant self-interest fueled and supported by the exploitation of social media to manipulate the truth. This unfortunate reality places the burden of truth regarding the future of government fleet reality squarely on the fleet manager.
It’s up to the fleet manager to stay well informed enough on the current and future states of play in vehicle technology to avoid being swayed and/or influenced by the whims of political “relevance” or the desires of citizens who consider themselves experts because they, too, own a vehicle. The fleet manager must continue to be the voice of reason and truth as to the reality on the ground.
Fortunately, even though what we read and hear from media sources today must be considered with a growing degree of skepticism, the high value of truth remains unchanged. Fleet managers must stand for the reality that exists and resist what may be growing calls for the adoption of new, expensive, untested, yet seemingly politically correct technology in order to protect the taxpayers from themselves.
It will be a lonely and difficult position; one fleet managers have routinely taken for a very long time.
- Bob Stanton, Stanton Consultants, Cumming, Ga.