We hear the term “green” used for so many things these days that it might not register as the important issue it represents. But Riverside, Calif., sure knows the meaning and definition of “green,” having recently been named by the National Association of Fleet Administrators as the No. 1 greenest fleet for 2022. NAFA is the vehicle fleet industry’s largest membership association, a nonprofit trade association for professionals who manage fleets of automobiles, SUVs, trucks, vans and a wide range of specialized mobile equipment for organizations in the United States and Canada. These vehicles are the foundation of many businesses and can range in type from taxi cabs, rental cars, trucks, buses and more. The Green Fleet Awards recognize sustainability efforts and honor the fleets that have enhanced practices to make a more positive impact on the environment.
The achievement of this award is truly something to be proud of, and Riverside is justifiably so. It takes the overall green picture very seriously: the Envision Riverside 2025 Strategic Plan calls for Riverside to reach carbon neutrality by 2040. In keeping with that, in January, the city of Riverside began requiring most new buildings of three stories or fewer to be all electric. By 2026, all new buildings, regardless of height, will have to meet this requirement.
Jessica Spiking, administrative analyst for the fleet department, knows her work well and explained more about what all this means, and why it’s important to keep moving beyond fossil fuels.
“Fleet vehicles are ranked accordingly: light, medium or heavy duty. We have everything from small sedans, like Honda Civics, to trash trucks and tractors.” If you’re not used to thinking of tractors in any capacity but farming, Spiking said, “They’re used for street maintenance, repair jobs, things like the park division. Say the water department is replacing water lines; the tractors are used to break the ground, break up the dirt, so the next steps can be made more quickly.”
As for the city’s ranking, Spiking said, “We’ve placed in high positions before. We usually finish in the top 10, and we got No. 1 in 2012. So it’s been a while, and we never stop working toward that goal. We have that strategic plan previously mentioned, Envision Riverside 2025, and part of that is environmental stewardship, reducing the carbon footprint. We all need to do that. So for the fleet, we looked into every possibility — electric, hybrid, hydrogen, propane, really anything considered low emission. Our current plan is to replace older vehicles with those using alternative kinds of fuels. Whenever we go out to purchase new vehicles, that’s what we look for. That’s what we’re careful about, purchasing something that reduces, like our plan. We’re starting to do the research on replacing our heavier duty vehicles. It’s a little stressful. There’s a lot of talk about electric cars, and we’ve worked closely with the Department of Electricity, working to plan carefully with the infrastructure so it will be able to support the vehicles planned.”
Spiking said the award is something fleets can apply for, a competition of sorts. “I started working here in 2015 and have worked on this annual report almost every year since then. There are requirements, of course, and only certain kinds of fleets can apply; we’re a government agency, so we qualify. And it feels so good to be No. 1! Everyone works so hard to make it happen. Our mechanics put in a lot of work to make sure everything is up and running properly.”
When asked if the No. 1 rating had any perks or benefits for the winners, Spiking said, “I believe there could be. A lot of different cities have requested tours of our facilities, looking at us for best practices and ideas they could incorporate. I believe, too, there are grant opportunities. I mean, we have a station here where the public can fill their cars with CNG (compressed natural gas). I’m not sure if the award in 2012 had anything to do with some of that.” compressed natural gas is a gasoline and diesel fuel alternative consisting primarily of methane. It’s created by compressing methane down to less than 1% of its volume; it is safer than gasoline and diesel fuels because it is nontoxic and doesn’t contaminate groundwater.
Spiking said other cities considering this kind of program might do as she did when she first began her work with it all.
“For me, being one who helped with the applications, I’d say familiarize yourselves with the city’s policies, goals, what’s green and sustainable already. Look at the city website. Do some research. Reach out to the city manager’s office. What’s their current fleet composed of? What do their vehicles do? You have to kind of immerse yourself into the whole process.”
But of course it can’t be done in one fell swoop.
“We have a vehicle replacement program. To give you a little background on that: When the city vehicles are purchased, initially there are monthly fees that are paid into a reserve fund. Once the vehicle has reached the end of its usefulness, there is some money set aside for the replacement. It’s not such a big bite all at once.”
There are criteria to meet when it’s time to replace vehicles. “Alternative fuel sources, flex fuel, electric — we’re starting the process, but we have to work on the infrastructure to meet all those needs. Heavy vehicles are replaced with better choices, but they’re better not just because they’re newer, but because the fuel usage is cleaner. (We’re) always keeping that 2040 goal in mind. Diesel fuel will be going away. Most of our trash trucks are almost all CNG tanks now, and they have a certain lifespan of about 15 years. So we were looking into the replacement costs, and we realized the trucks were actually in pretty good shape, and that got us thinking. We reached out for quotes, comparing the cost of replacing the tanks versus replacing the trucks altogether. We ended up just replacing the tank, which cost less but still gave us good results.”
This plan has been going on in various incarnations for some time now, with Spiking noting, “Our oldest vehicle is a Honda Civic, and it’s a 2000. We just put in an E85 fuel pump for a few vehicles.”
E85 — or flex fuel — is a term that refers to high-level ethanol-gasoline blends, containing 51% to 83% ethanol, which is made from plant materials, such as corn, sugar cane and grasses. The ratio depends on geography and season.
“But we do still have a few diesel trucks. The fire trucks are considered emergency vehicles, and they still use diesel. But there’s beginning to be more manufacturing of all-electric, so we’re getting everything else in order. Have to be ready to use them when we can. The solid waste department has an order in for, I think, six solid waste trucks, and that should be exciting. You have to wonder, how will they work? What will be the benefit?”
As with just about everything else, the pandemic and supply shortages slowed everything down for a while, but Spiking said, “I feel like we’re still on track for our carbon neutrality by 2040, and I believe the rest of the city is working toward it, too. The city manager, Mike Futrell, is very proactive. He’s constantly reading up on all the newest news, and how they’re planning all the infrastructure. I believe they’re making solar-powered chargers that don’t need to be plugged into anything. He wants to stay up on everything. A lot of the trucks have GPS systems now; most of our vehicles, in fact, have a GPS, and I know that our refuse department uses them to map their routes for the trash trucks. They can figure out the most efficient route, even down to analyzing things like a right or left turn and analyze idle time because that also affects emissions.” Spiking concluded, “Community reaction has been, I would hope, good! I know that when the No. 1 rating was announced, our marketing department sent out a social media blast. I think a lot of people may not really understand all that’s involved when they see city vehicles driving around. It’s not just the city and not just the fleet. It all works together.”