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Efficiency Technology Energy
March 2019

City of Madison Makes Commitment

The City of Madison has to balance competing concerns when choosing vehicles for its fleet. Cost-effectiveness, reliability and required features (for instance, those for a patrol car vs. a garbage truck) top the list of "must haves." But, Mahanth Joishy, superintendent, City of Madison Fleet Service, is working hard to create a fleet that delivers on those without compromising in another critical area: sustainability.

EVs will help Madison build a better fleet

Mahanth Joishy

Mahanth Joishy, superintendent, City of Madison Fleet Service, fuels up at the City County building charging station. Mahanth is building a sustainable vehicle fleet for the City.

Much of Joishy's vision for Madison's future fleet mix is informed by his experiences in New York City (NYC). There he was part of a team that prioritized sustainability and successfully brought plug-in electric vehicles (EVs) to NYC government operations. NYC's experience proved EVs were great to drive, cheaper to maintain and cleaner than their fossil fuel counterparts. Plus, they had sufficient range to be used for a wide variety of government activities.

"It's safe to say that NYC's uniquely important functions like safely managing 70 million tourists a year, responding to constant terrorist threats, hosting the United Nations headquarters, etc., were not impacted by the switch to EVs," Joishy stressed. "If they had caused any hint of operational problems, we would have heard about it. NYC employees are not shy about speaking up!"

The City of Madison didn't have a single EV or on-site charger when Joishy first arrived in 2017. But that is changing quickly. The City currently has three entirely electric Chevy Bolts, purchased in partnership with MGE. Two more Bolts are on order, and there are plans to add 20 more in the coming year. These last 20 vehicles were made possible through funding MGE provided for charging infrastructure and a grant from the State Office of Energy Innovation (OEI). The Department is also investigating other EV types such as vans and forklifts for 2019 and 2020.

"By 2020, we should be the largest EV fleet in Wisconsin, with the goal of continuing to replace old gas guzzlers with EVs in perpetuity where possible," Joishy said. "EVs are the only affordable and practical option among alternative-fuel vehicles that are entirely zero-emission. EVs are a large piece of the puzzle, but they aren't the only solution."

The City is also using the grant to partner with the Madison Metropolitan School District and Madison Area Technical College on a variety of educational initiatives. What Joishy described as "the crown jewel" of the partnership is an apprentice program, which brings students to City of Madison garages for hands-on work experience, a paycheck and school credit. "My intention is to train future mechanics on the ins and outs of EVs and chargers, how to maintain them, how to operate them and what's under the hood," Joishy said. "These are the cars of the future after all, and this program will give the kids a jump-start. I am planning to work with MGE on this curriculum development."

More about the State Office of Energy Innovation Grant

The Wisconsin Office of Energy Innovation (OEI) sponsors an Energy Innovation Grant in support of programs that reduce energy consumption and/or increase the use of renewable energy.

The City of Madison received a 2018 OEI award, which it will use toward the purchase of 20 new electric vehicles. Fleet Service plans to share the wealth among City departments including Fire, Police, Parks, Engineering and Traffic Engineering, all of which should be operating their first-ever EVs soon. In support of this award, MGE provided $10,000 for charging infrastructure at City facilities.

Area students will also benefit

The City is also using the grant to partner with the Madison Metropolitan School District and Madison Area Technical College on a variety of educational initiatives. What Joishy described as "the crown jewel" of the partnership is an apprentice program, which brings students to City of Madison garages for hands-on work experience, a paycheck and school credit. "My intention is to train future mechanics on the ins and outs of EVs and chargers, how to maintain them, how to operate them and what's under the hood," Joishy said. "These are the cars of the future after all, and this program will give the kids a jump-start. I am planning to work with MGE on this curriculum development."

Other fuels important too

Because not every vehicle category has a completely EV option, other sustainable vehicles will continue to be part of the City fleet for the foreseeable future. "There's no single solution, no silver bullet," Joishy said.

Gas-electric hybrids. Joishy reported that switching Madison Police Department (MPD) detective cars and others into hybrid Ford Fusions more than doubled miles per gallon on those vehicles (from 18 mpg to 43 mpg).

Biodiesel. With few practical and affordable options in the medium- and heavy-duty truck category, the City has opted to use biodiesel blends with standard diesel vehicles.

Compressed Natural Gas (CNG). This is currently on the City's "to do" list. "We're investigating CNG truck purchases for 2019," said Joishy. "Hopefully, they'd fuel at Dane County's landfill methane conversion station."

EVs deliver measurable cost savings

While it can be hard to estimate overall savings because of the fluctuations and unpredictability of fossil fuel markets, there's one area where EVs are a clear winner: maintenance.

Because EVs have fewer fluids such as no engine oil to drain and replace, fewer moving parts such as spark plugs and fewer things that can go bad such as fuel lines and fuel filters, they simply take less time and money to maintain.

Said Joishy, "Based on recent trends, we predict that switching from a Chevy Impala to a Chevy Bolt pays for itself in about four to five years, assuming regular usage, and that the cost of charging EVs through the grid continues to be about one-fourth of what gasoline fill-ups would cost."

A hit with employees

Those who have never driven an EV aren't always sure what to expect and can be reluctant to try something new. And concerns about getting stuck somewhere after running out of fuel are a common fear. Chevy Bolts can deliver about 240 miles in one charge—which will meet the needs of most City employees—and charging stations are becoming increasingly easy to find, both in town and along highway corridors.

"There's nothing better (for addressing concerns) than rolling them out," Joishy said. "One of our Bolts is in a pool that any City employee may reserve for City business. I can't tell you how many nice notes I've received once people discover EVs are fun to drive, plus offer better turning, pickup and stability.”

The most important benefit of City adoption

Although Joishy is excited by the City's commitment to creating a sustainable fleet, he believes the public relations value of the move tops actual vehicle benefits. "City fleets, or even all fleets combined, cannot solve the challenges of transportation emissions alone," Joishy stressed. "Although Madison runs by far the largest unified fleet operation in the region, we are a tiny fraction of the vehicles on the road. The biggest impact we can have is to show the driving public that these cars are nice, that they work well and that anyone can get themselves into an EV while maintaining the lifestyle they are already used to."

Some of the EV "love notes" the City has received from City EV users:

Just took the e-car out and again it performed great. The Willy-Co-op e-charger seemed to work with the card you gave me, and then at the end said I used $0.23 in e-fuel.
Thank you for moving us past the Taurus! I drove the Chevy Bolt today for the first time. The instructions were very clear, and it was easy to figure out. Jeanne Hoffman told me about the successful grant we had for updating the City fleet. Thank you for bringing us into the future!