The push to go electric is spreading throughout government fleets. - Photo: Government Fleet

The push to go electric is spreading throughout government fleets. 

Photo: Government Fleet

Fleet electrification has surged in popularity from new laws and regulations popping up throughout the U.S.

A lot of this can be traced back to President Biden’s goal in 2021 to reduce emissions by around 50% from 2005 levels by 2030. And since then, the laws and goals have been trickling down from state governments to city governments throughout America.

Some of the most significant electric vehicle (EV) and sustainability laws and regulations impacting government fleets are:

Idle Reduction Laws — Many states and municipalities have laws that limit the amount of time a vehicle can idle. This is aimed at reducing emissions and improving air quality.

In a report by the Department of Energy (DOE), a police cruiser was found to idle 60% of the time during normal operation and used 21% of its total fuel while parked. EVs help solve this problem, as they’re more energy efficient while idling states Fuel Economy.

Alternative Fuel Vehicle Procurement Requirements — Some states and local governments require fleets to purchase a certain percentage of alternative fuel vehicles, including electric vehicles.

Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions Standards — The federal government and many states have established GHG emissions standards for vehicles. This is designed to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases emitted by vehicles.

Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) Mandate — This regulation requires automakers to sell a particular number of zero-emission vehicles in certain states. That means automakers are pushing governments to purchase EVs more than ever.

These laws and regulations are designed to promote the use of electric vehicles to reduce emissions from transportation.

As a result, in government fleets, there is a rise in adopting electric vehicles to comply with these regulations and reduce their carbon footprint.

City Efforts to Go Green

States and cities are forming their own sustainability regulations — and they’re having a big impact on government fleets.

Green initiative laws aim to reduce the negative impact that cities have on the environment by promoting more sustainable practices and technologies.

And one such city is making efforts to be the first in the state of Iowa to achieve carbon neutrality.

Dubuque’s sustainability efforts led to the adoption of Dubuque’s 50% by 2030 Climate Action and Resiliency Plan in 2013.

When the City Council updated the 50% by 2030 plan in 2020, they aimed to maintain their leadership role and tackle some of the current major challenges to reach their goals.

And one way to help achieve that goal is by reducing the greenhouse gas emissions of its government fleet.

“We recognized that fleet electrification of City of Dubuque vehicles would be a major step toward reducing our city government’s output of greenhouse gases,” says City of Dubuque Mayor Brad Cavanagh. “While fleet electrification comes with significant challenges for us given our topography, our weather, and the technology of EVs that is still emerging and improving, we see this as a worthy and important goal. As a city, we know we have the ability and responsibility to take critical steps in climate action like this."

In January, the City Council gave its approval to a fleet electrification plan as part of the 50% by 2030 Community Climate Action and Resiliency Plan. According to the city, its vehicle purchasing policy was updated to focus on fleet electrification, starting with light-duty vehicles first.

Another city pushing to go green is Cambridge, Massachusetts. In February, the city manager issued a Clean Fleet Policy and is committed to net-zero emissions for its government fleet by 2050.

According to the policy, to achieve its goal, the City of Cambridge will:

  • Incorporate more zero-emission vehicles into the city fleet.
  • Minimize miles traveled.
  • Eliminate vehicles that are high-emitting and unnecessary.
  • While the city’s first EV was bought in 2012, it’s on a continuous journey to electrification.

As of 2023, Cambridge has added 26 zero-emission vehicles (including those ordered and waiting for delivery) to its fleet, according to Irina Sidorenko, Project Manager for Energy and Sustainability, Cambridge Department of Public Works.

“One of the biggest benefits is reducing emissions from fossil fuel but also reducing pollution in the city. The diesel-fueled refuse vehicles, for example, they idle more than miles driven. By replacing those with electric refuse vehicles, there will be direct benefits to communities such as eliminating tailpipe exhaust on city streets,” Sidorenko says.

Types of EVs Government Fleets Are Buying

The top benefits of EVs are they have lower operating costs and have the potential for reducing the overall carbon footprint of the government's operations.

Some of the popular types of electric vehicles used by government fleets include:

Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs)

BEVs are fully electric vehicles that run on electricity stored in a battery. They have no gasoline engine and are powered entirely by an electric motor. They are popular for use as city cars, delivery vehicles, and municipal service vehicles.

The city of Cambridge purchased its first EV for the Cambridge police department in February. The city bought three Mustang Mach-E BEVs, which will be used by the traffic unit and the criminal investigations unit.

The city of Cambridge in Massachusetts purchased its first electric vehicle for the Police Department, Mustang Mach-E BEV. - Photo: City of Cambridge

The city of Cambridge in Massachusetts purchased its first electric vehicle for the Police Department, Mustang Mach-E BEV.

Photo: City of Cambridge

“We are in the midst of starting a pilot program to test the feasibility of electric vehicles within our department. While we recently started this phase, the early response from officers and the community has been positive. We found that at this point in the EV market, the Mach-E was the largest EV that was 'pursuit-rated.' It could incorporate all our department specifications and there was strong availability of inventory,” says Jeremy Warnick, director of communications and media relations, Cambridge Police Department.

“We are committed to reducing our carbon emissions footprint and using renewable energy. If the pilot program proves to be effective and we see the results that we anticipate, our hope is to expand beyond the pilot phase and integrate more EVs into our fleet,” Warnick adds.

A big benefit of the EV transition is that the Mustang Mach-E will reduce fuel usage by 2,800 gallons per year and drop maintenance to a minimum of $1,500 per year, according to the Cambridge Police Department.

Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs)

PHEVs have both an electric motor and a gasoline engine, which work together to power the vehicle. They can be driven on electric power alone for a limited distance, and then the gasoline engine takes over.

PHEVs are popular for use as police cars, emergency response vehicles, and other fleet vehicles that need to be ready to respond at any time. Popular PHEVs are Toyota Prius Prime, Chevrolet Bolt EV, Ford Escape PHEV, and Honda Clarity PHEV.

Several cities throughout the U.S. utilize PHEVs for their day-to-day necessities.

The City of Seattle in Washington told Government Fleet it has 161 PHEVs across several classes of vehicles and equipment. They are used for administrative, fieldwork, public safety, and vehicle towing functions. Some of the most popular in the city’s fleet are Ford Fusion, Ford CMAX, Ford Escape, and Chevrolet Volt.

When it came to choosing to add PHEVs to the fleet, the city says the deciding factors were:

  • Frequency of travel outside of the actual electric range of comparable all-electric vehicles.
  • If the city can use PHEVs as “bridge technology” to all-electric for certain applications where they are uncertain whether an all-electric can accomplish the operational need of the vehicle.
  • Availability in the market v. BEV for certain applications.

“The biggest challenge is educating drivers on the importance of plugging in their vehicles, so the vehicles don’t rely solely on the gas engine. In most PHEVs, the ICE is less efficient than engines in an all-ICE vehicle. This issue is especially noticeable in the Mitsubishi Outlander. If drivers are not plugging in their vehicles, then the city does not gain the reduction in fuel and GHG emissions," states Chris Wiley, division director, fleet management, city of Seattle.

"To help mitigate this challenge, fleet management identifies vehicles falling below fuel efficiency standards for a vehicle make and model and provides that information to departments to educate drivers,” Wiley adds.

Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs)

HEVs have both an electric motor and a gasoline engine, but the electric motor is only used to assist the gasoline engine and cannot power the vehicle on its own. HEVs are popular for use as city cars, taxis, and other fleet vehicles that need to be highly fuel-efficient.

Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEVs)

FCEVs are powered by an electric motor, but instead of using a battery, they use a fuel cell to generate electricity onboard. FCEVs are still relatively new and are primarily used in government fleets for demonstration and research purposes.

Overall, battery electric vehicles are becoming increasingly popular for government fleets due to their low operating costs, long driving range, and improved charging infrastructure.

However, plug-in hybrid and hybrid electric vehicles are still popular for government fleets that require vehicles with longer driving ranges or that need to be ready to respond at any time.

With more options than ever, fleets are able to choose the right EV for the right job. The adoption of electrification in government fleets is a positive step toward a cleaner and more sustainable future. As more cities make the switch to electric, it will be easier for governments to meet their carbon footprint goals and improve public health.

Emissions Tracking: Small Steps With Big Impacts

About the author
Hillary Weiss

Hillary Weiss

Senior Editor

Hillary Weiss is a former senior editor at Bobit. She has a decade of digital publishing experience and a passion for all things related to fleets.

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