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Gas Pains

Agencies nationwide are hurting as the price of fuel for their fleets strains budgets to the breaking point.

July 01, 2008  |  by Mike Scott

Leg Power

Bicycle patrols are also seeing a resurgence as the price of gasoline approaches or surpasses $4 a gallon across the country. In many ways, these patrols can be even more effective than the typical motorized vehicle in urban or densely-populated and traveled areas. So both small and large communities are reconsidering their bike patrol strategies.

High gas prices forced Hollidaysburg, Pa., Police Chief Jeff Ketner to reinstitute regular bike patrols earlier this spring once the weather warmed. It was one of the strategies Ketner used to deal with the fact his department was $6,000 over budget on the department's four vehicles because of rising gas costs.

"That's not an insignificant amount of money for our budget and plus there are so many advantages with using bike patrols." Ketner says.

"It makes good fiscal and logistical sense," Ketner said, referring to the resumption of the bicycle patrol program.

Getting Off Gas

Using alternative fuels is also fast becoming one way that governmental fleet managers are addressing the rising impact of gas prices. The city of Santa Monica, Calif., was an early adopter of alternative fuels and now the city's police department is increasing its efforts in reducing fuel costs using this strategy.

Santa Monica developed this policy to reduce its vehicle emissions in 1993 with an overriding goal that included having at least 75 percent of its vehicles be powered by alternative fuels. These alternative fuels could include a combination of options, from natural gas to propane to electric.

Some 15 years after the city's policy was implemented, more than 84 percent of the municipal fleet vehicles are now using some sort of alternative fuel and the police department is increasing its efforts.

With the natural gas vehicles, the cost per gallon of fuel is equivalent to $1.40 per gallon of what it would cost for standard gasoline-powered vehicles, a cost per gallon that is significantly cheaper that either gasoline or diesel, according to Santa Monica Fleet Administrator Rick Sykes.

The quality of an alternative-fueled vehicle's drive is also significantly better Sykes says. Police officers and other city employees have reported less vibration in vehicles powered by natural gas and other alternative fuels. And given that the City of Santa Monica spans just eight square miles, developing a natural gas fueling infrastructure has been relatively simple. Natural gas fueling stations have been installed at the city's main garage and at the municipal bus line station.

Clean Energy, the largest provider of natural gas for vehicle use in North America, has also opened a natural gas station available to the public within the city limits.

"There is fuel savings associated long-term, even with the short-term costs of infrastructure," Sykes said. "The more gas prices rise, the more money we plan on saving long-term."

Midland County (Mich.) Sheriff Jerry Nielsen mandated that his deputies drive no more than 180 miles per 12-hour shift to cut down on gas consumption, according to a May 2008 article in the Bay City Times. That fact has Nielsen and his department considering propane as an alternative fuel source which could help the department save money.

"(Propane is) supposed to burn cleaner, get better gas mileage, and it's cheaper than gasoline," Nielsen told the newspaper. On average propane is selling for $1 a gallon less than gasoline in mid-Michigan.

Mike Scott is a Michigan-based freelance journalist who specializes in fleet management topics.

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Tags: Take-Home Vehicles, Managing a Police Fleet, Bicycle Patrol, Fuel Costs


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