A green light tells drivers that vehicles are available. They can then tap their City badge to unlock the vehicle and check it out. Photo courtesy of Local Motion.

A green light tells drivers that vehicles are available. They can then tap their City badge to unlock the vehicle and check it out. Photo courtesy of Local Motion.

The City of Sacramento, Calif., is using a new technology to help expand use and better manage the electric vehicles in its motor pool. Local Motion, a California-based technology company, is providing in-vehicle hardware, a mobile app, and an online platform to manage five electric vehicles used by City employees.

A motor pool driver using the Local Motion app can see how much range a vehicle has left and when it’s available, and reserve the vehicle if she chooses. When she picks up the vehicle, she taps her existing ID badge on the vehicle’s windshield to open the doors. At the end of the ride, she taps her ID on the window again to check it in and gets an e-mail reminding her to plug in the vehicle. It also tells her how much fuel she avoided using that day by driving the EV.

“Employees love the convenience of ‘tap & go’ with their city ID with no reservation required,” Fleet Manager Keith Leech said. “They almost always opt for the Nissan Leafs when they are available.”

Leech, who set up the program at the City, said there are no upfront investments in key managers or vehicle hardware. The system also provides GPS and trip tracking.

Addressing Sacramento’s Specific Challenges

There are three main benefits to this solution that specifically address the City’s fleet needs. Leech said it allows him to expand car sharing to locations where there are too few vehicles to justify investment in a key manager. The City is using Invers for its non-plug-in motor pool vehicles, with key managers in four locations.

The other benefit is to overcome challenges the fleet has experienced with providing real-time status of remaining battery life for plug-in electric vehicles. Because drivers can make sure there is enough battery life for a specific trip, they might be more likely to check out an EV.

Lastly, this technology also solves a solution with parking — the City’s EV motor pool vehicles are parked in tandem spaces in the basement of City Hall. A driver can just pick up a vehicle not blocked by another in the tandem spaces because they don't have to check out keys.

The City of Sacramento’s EV fleet consists of two Nissan Leafs, four Ford Focus EVs, six Chevrolet Volts, and two Toyota RAV4 EVs coming soon. It has 25 Level 2 chargers at four locations that are available for employees to use for their personal vehicles during the day.  

Leech plans to expand use of the Local Motion technology to all shared electric vehicles City-wide. The fleet will also look into expanding it to department-dedicated units or units shared between departments. “The technology will enable us to have a primary owner in one department for a specialized piece of equipment, such as a dump truck or backhoe that might not be fully utilized by just one department, and keep track of rentals and reimbursement by other departments. This will improve the utilization of the unit overall,” Leech explained.

The technology might also help the fleet assess which vehicles could be switched to EVs for a quick and positive return on investment, he added.

Local Motion Set for Expansion

While Sacramento is the first public agency Local Motion is working with, it has 15 different fleets using its service, including Google and the Downtown Project in Las Vegas.  Clement Gires, co-founder of Local Motion, said the company is in talks with other public agencies, although he couldn’t reveal which ones.

Pricing is set per vehicle, per month, which includes all hardware, potentially with volume discounts for large contracts. “There’s no up-front cost. Fleets can start and stop whenever they want,” Gires said. Additionally, fleet managers can log in to see real-time activity, including vehicle locations, drivers, and even maintenance information. He added that there are additional services fleets can choose to purchase, such as a driver training service that shows drivers how to be more fuel efficient, and a fleet optimization service that will identify which vehicles in a fleet are underutilized.

The company’s aim is to reduce the amount of assigned vehicles and move into more shared vehicles, whether this is grouped by driver location or vehicle specialization.

“We work with [a fleet’s] existing motor pool to make it a better user experience,” Gires added.

The start-up currently has eight staff members, but with today's announcement that it raised $6 million in series A funding, Local Motion is preparing for expansion. With this funding, the company will be able to grow the team and expand to municipalities nationwide, Gires said.

By Thi Dao