Talks Business
March 2021

City of Madison reaches sustainable vehicle fleet goal

City of Madison recently purchased an electric forklift for its parts department.

City of Madison recently purchased an electric forklift for its parts department.

When MGE last spoke with Mahanth Joishy, superintendent, City of Madison Fleet Service, in 2019, he predicted the City would have the largest electric vehicle (EV) fleet in Wisconsin by 2020 as it was working hard to boost its use of alternative-fuel vehicles. This goal was accomplished. Here’s what we learned during a recent check-in.

Impressive uptick in EV stats

The City currently has 56 EVs including 35 Chevy Bolts, five Nissan LEAFs®, one Chrysler Pacifica plug-in hybrid, eight forklifts, five off-road utility vehicles and two sweeper scrubbers. The sustainable fleet rounds out with 50 hybrid vehicles, which are mostly used by the police department, and nearly 600 biodiesel trucks. It is hoping to add its first compressed natural gas truck in 2021.

Although Joishy factors sustainability into every vehicle purchase, user needs trump all, “The vehicle has to be a good fit for the user agency’s particular operations.”

Ample charging

The City currently has more than 20 chargers in place, six of which are powered entirely by solar panels. At this time, all chargers are Level 2, which provide up to 20 miles of range per hour with some more than 30 miles of range per hour. Joishy has found that because City vehicles are typically used for short distances and daytime driving, slower, budget-friendly overnight charging is a good fit.

EV trucks coming soon

As reported in the previous issue of Talks Business, EV trucks with plenty of power and range should be a reality soon in a variety of truck categories. “We are definitely interested in adding electric trucks,” said Joishy. “And if we could add three to four electric trucks by early 2022, I’d be very happy that we at least dipped our feet in the water before the inevitable jump.”

Lower fuel and maintenance costs

Like many local governments and businesses, budgets are tight, which is an excellent opening for fleets to consider EVs more seriously. Although the initial EV purchase price tends to be higher than that of a comparable gasoline or diesel vehicle, operating costs are typically lower.

“In terms of fuel costs, the rule of thumb is that the cost to charge an EV is roughly one-quarter to one-third the cost of gas,” said Joishy.

Regarding maintenance, Joishy reported research from New York City, a leader in EV fleets, shows costs are generally 50% lower. This is because EVs have fewer moving parts than vehicles with an internal combustion engine (ICE) and don’t need oil changes or other routine maintenance like replacing timing belts and spark plugs. Because the City’s EV fleet is relatively new and COVID has impacted vehicle use and data collection, maintenance stats are harder to capture at this time, though Joishy said inspection cost savings alone will be substantial.  

“Inspections are quick and easy—we typically inspect EVs about once a year, something we couldn’t do with an ICE vehicle,” Joishy said. “So, not only do we save on maintenance expenses, we save service downtime, rides back and forth to the garage and hassle.”

Approaching cost parity

Joishy reported EV technology and range are improving and costs are coming down—for instance, Tesla recently announced it will have vehicles in the $25,000 range soon. “Most EVs still require an additional initial investment, but that won’t be the case soon,” Joishy said. “And once there’s price parity, EVs should be cheaper than an ICE vehicle.”

Ongoing education partnerships

To help ensure the City has access to mechanics with EV experience, it created an EV maintenance curriculum in partnership with the Madison Metropolitan School District and Madison College. The apprenticeship program gives high school and technical college students hands-on work experience in City of Madison garages, plus a paycheck and school credit. In early spring 2020, these partners— along with MGE—organized a field trip to expose students to opportunities in the EV field.

Environmental benefits

The top benefit is that EVs emit 54% less carbon dioxide emissions per mile than the average new gasoline-powered car. And the City’s 2020 addition of solar chargers means some portion of its EV fleet can be powered completely by renewable energy.

Inspiring others

Joishy hopes that putting EVs on the road in various capacities will help showcase their usefulness so that Madison residents see they have a role in shaping vehicle supply and demand.

“I hope to convince your readers that anyone can own an EV,” Joishy stressed. “The performance is good, handling is great, prices are going down and they’re fun to drive.”

Check out MGE’s EV Fleet Analysis and see if EVs are right for your fleet.