Public safety department looks to go hybrid on 1,035 cars

The Indianapolis Department of Public Safety could save $8.6 million over the next five years by replacing 1,035 non-patrol vehicles with plug-in electric hybrids, according to an internal review released Tuesday.

The review follows Mayor Greg Ballard’s executive order in December to replace the city’s entire fleet with electric or alternative-fuel vehicles by 2025. The public safety department is key to executing Ballard’s plan because its 2,070 vehicles make up the bulk of the city’s fleet.

The actual savings, however, will depend on how much of the upfront replacement costs the city can afford. It would cost an estimated $35.2 million to replace all 1,035 vehicles with plug-in hybrids at one time. As the review team points  out, the public safety fleet has fallen behind on the replacement schedule, and there’s no plan for future financing.

“It’s not out of the question the city may come up with a way to fund a large number of these this year,” said Indianapolis Fire Department Chief Brian Sanford, who led the review team. There are 700 vehicles, most of them belonging to the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, due for replacement this year, he said. At this point, he’s not sure how much money will be available.

Public Safety Director Troy Riggs commended the team’s effort, and he committed to coming up with a financing plan by the end of the year.

Ballard, a retired Marine officer, launched his “post-oil” initiative as much to move away from foreign sources of fuel as to save money, but he said in a prepared statement that public safety’s plan would do both.

“Indianapolis is showing the world that we can break the cycle of dependency on foreign oil and save taxpayer money at the same time,” Ballard said.  “Public Safety operates the largest fleet in the city and it is the top consumer of fuel. These recommendations mark another great step forward.”

Public safety’s vehicle-efficiency team assumed that the department would switch from mostly Crown Victorias and Dodge Chargers to Ford Fusions, which are estimated to cost $34,056 apiece, or 53 percent more than what the city has paid for Dodge Chargers in the past.

The upfront cost for the Ford plug-in hybrid would be $12.2 million more than for Dodge Chargers. The city's team concluded it would be offset by an estimated fuel savings, over five years, of $15.9 million. (The fuel savings is based on public safety's actual 2012 fuel use, nearly 2.3 million gallons at an average cost of $3.25 per gallon.)

The $3.7 million difference between upfront costs and fuel savings, plus a $4.9 million gain from resale of the hybrids, would net $8.6 million over five years, according to the review team.

Sanford said the team didn’t put a price tag on vehicle-maintenance costs, but he said it's expected to be lower, based on the city’s experience so far with hybrid Toyota Camrys that were purchased in 2009.

There is a potential pitfall in switching to plug-in hybrids, Sanford said. If the city didn’t stick with a five-year replacement cycle, it would face big bills, thousands per car, for new batteries.

For all diesel-powered vehicles, including fire apparatus, public safety this year will switch to B20, a 20-percent biodiesel blend. Sanford said the review team didn’t determine whether there was a potential savings from the switch, but it’s recommended because B20 is considered cleaner-burning and derived from domestic sources.

The department will also start using the ethanol-blended gasoline E85 on non-patrol vehicles and run a pilot study of the fuel in police pursuit cars.

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