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Council votes to allow city to spend $1.2M to replace some Vision Fleet vehicles

April 30, 2018

The city of Indianapolis’ $32 million deal to rent 425 electric vehicles from venture-capital-backed firm Vision Fleet and convert the city’s fleet from traditional gasoline-fueled cars caused controversy after the contract was inked in 2014 under former Mayor Greg Ballard. The City-County Council even sued the city over it.

But now that Mayor Joe Hogsett's administration is terminating the contract with Indy-Vision Funding I LLC, known as Vision Fleet, a year early, the city’s action to replace some of the cars was done with little fanfare.

The City-County Council on Monday passed a proposal 22-1 after no discussion that allows the city’s former Department of Business and Neighborhood Services to transfer $1.2 million to buy 50 replacement vehicles.

The city, which ended up renting only about half of the 425 electric vehicles, is currently engaged in a “staged phase-out” of the vehicles. Other city departments might also be making moves to replace their fleets.

Brian Madison, interim director of the department, said the purchase of replacement vehicles would be made “within the confines of our existing budget” by underspending on salaries and using reserves.

“We have a considerable number of folks out in the field—inspectors for zoning and licensing issues, high weeds and grass, trash and illegal dumping. All of the field staff that handles a lot of their responsibilities for inspections have vehicles,” Madison said. "With the termination of that agreement, we need to be prepared for bringing in new vehicles and setting those up and equipping them so we can have a seamless transition."

He said the new vehicles—all Ford Fusion hybrids—will still be fuel-efficient. Buying the cars as opposed to leasing them could also result in an unidentified amount of savings, he said.

City Controller Fady Qaddoura said in a written statement in February that the contract with the firm had originally been set to end in November 2019, and that “city leaders have been in conversations with the company over the last year in order to plan for the future of our current fleet.”

“This early termination will let the city move forward with a comprehensive program to replace its aging fleet and better deliver services to Indianapolis residents,” Qaddoura said.

When the Vision Fleet deal was announced, it was heralded by the company as Ballard's taking “the boldest initiative in the country to want to deploy this fleet.”

The city at the time also estimated the deal could save taxpayers $10 million a year in fuel costs.

But controversy soon ensued.

Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officers were concerned the plug-in vehicles wouldn’t be suitable for police use, including pursuit.

And councilors, even fellow Republicans, complained that the deal was secretive.

Reading the contract with the firm, which included 46 completely blacked-out pages, prompted then-Councilor Aaron Freeman, a Republican, to compare it to “reading the CIA redaction of killing Osama bin Laden.”

The council voted in 2015 to sue the city as a way to stall the deal.

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