The greenest public fleet in America

A Sacramento-owned Chevy Bolt
A Sacramento-owned Chevy Bolt.

This article has been adapted from GreenBiz's Transportation Weekly newsletter, running Tuesdays. Subscribe here

Public fleets — often managed by cities, counties or ports — are the invisible transportation infrastructure that keeps society running, from picking up our garbage to helping workers fix power outages. Over 38,000 public fleets are operating in the U.S., although you probably only think about these vehicles when you wheel out your garbage bins or get a parking ticket. 

But here's one reason why you should give them some more consideration: Many of these vehicle fleets are helping lead the transformation to zero and low emission vehicle tech such as electric, hybrid and natural gas.  

How did city fleet managers become cleantech leaders? Oftentimes, they can tap into state and federal incentives, and are also being pushed by local and state mandates to meet emissions reductions goals. California's city fleets in particular have been moving rapidly in recent years to much greener fleets.

There's a lot that the corporate world can learn from how these fleet teams are buying and operating greener vehicles, taking advantage of incentives and working with their organizations to get buy-in from drivers as well as management. 

I recently had the opportunity to chat with a fleet manager that's helping his city develop one of the greenest fleets in the United States: Sacramento. Under the leadership of fleet manager Mark Stevens, the city of Sacramento recently was declared the No. 1 greenest fleet (tied for first) in America by the Green Fleet Awards competition. Peruse the top 50 list to check out other cities, counties, ports and universities that are pushing the green fleet envelope.

Stevens plans to discuss many of his lessons learned, along with two other green fleet winners, during a free webinar Sept. 18 (11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. PST) put together by The Green Fleet Awards and the North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center. It should be a fascinating listen (for those of you like me that geek out on zero and low emission vehicles) and I'll be speaking on it. 

But I also wanted to share a few tidbits about what Sacramento has accomplished and why they're doing this. Here are five things to know about Sacramento's green fleet: 

80 Electric Chevy Bolts: Stevens says Sacramento owns 80 electric Bolts, made by GM, that city workers use for jobs such as parking enforcement or engineering inspections. They've been "fantastic," says Stevens, and they're saving the city significant money. The Bolts cost 6 cents per mile for both operation and maintenance, compared with 24 cents per mile for gas-powered light duty vehicles. "It's a win-win," says Stevens. 

City sustainable fleet targets: Sacramento is unique in that the Sacramento City Council implemented a plan that says that three-quarters of purchased light duty vehicles need to be zero emissions by 2020 and three-quarters of all vehicles (including big trucks) bought by 2025 need to be alternative tech or fueled. City leadership can really help city fleets much more aggressively adopt these low and zero emission fleet technologies.

Natural gas garbage trucks: While Stevens says he'd love to buy a big fleet of electric garbage trucks, he says the costs are just too high right now to run these heavy-duty trucks on batteries. Instead, the city is building out a compressed natural gas fueling station to run dozens of CNG garbage trucks.

Tomorrow's hot vehicle: Stevens is excited to check out Rivian's electric pick-up trucks that fleets could use for jobs such as park and recreation or grid and road maintenance. An electric pick up truck "would have an incredible market for government fleets," says Stevens.

Half of the city's vehicles are green: Sacramento has a fleet of around 2300 motorized vehicles, and half of those are some kind of alternative fueled or green tech. Woot!

Anyone who wants to learn more about green fleet practices should tune into the webinar next week, and also come to our Low Carbon & Electric Fleet Workshop at VERGE 19 next month, which will highlight speakers from Oakland, Seattle, Volvo, UPS, PepsiCo, Nikola Motors and more.