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The City of Portland, Oregon

Planning and Sustainability

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Modernizing the City’s fleet vehicles

The City of Portland’s sedan fleet has transformed dramatically since 2013, from almost entirely conventional gas vehicles to over 20 percent electric vehicles (EVs) and hybrid EVs.

The City is a leader in EV purchasing, EV charging infrastructure, education and outreach efforts, and fostering new markets for EV technology beyond sedans and light trucks. There is great support for EVs at the City, from Mayor Ted Wheeler who can be seen getting around town in his Ford CMax Energi to Bureau directors and staff. It’s truly a team effort and our collective hard work is paying off.

But this transformation is still underway, as there is more work to be done to meet key goals of the City’s 2030 Environmental Performance Objectives, Climate Action Plan (CAP), and the community-wide renewable energy goals established in 2017 by Resolution 37289.

  • The City’s Climate Action Plan, adopted in 2015, sets ambitious goals: a 40 percent reduction in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 2030 and an 80 percent reduction by 2050, using 1990 levels as a benchmark.
  • The 2030 Environmental Performance Objectives, also adopted in 2015, hold the City to even higher standards, aiming for a 53% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2030, using FY 06-07 as a benchmark.

With transport currently creating 40% of CO2 emissions in Multnomah County, “EVs are a vital tool to help the City and the region meet long-term environmental goals,” explains Ingrid Fish, EV Policy Lead with Portland’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. While EVs are part of the solution, they are by no means the entire solution.

The City is also working hard to create and foster walkable communities, encourage active transport, and create policies for autonomous and shared transport. But in areas where cars are still a necessity, EVs are the way to go and they are also the future of the City’s vehicle fleet.

Modernizing an aging fleet

The opportunity to transform the City’s fleet fell heavier on the Bureau of Development Services (BDS) than on some other Bureaus, because their inspectors only use sedans. Other Bureaus require heavy duty trucks and for these there are currently few, if any, EV options. Katie Salazar, Facilities Coordinator for BDS, recalls that in 2013 their fleet was aging and not at all green. They had no EVs and more than half of their vehicles were due for replacement. In order to follow the then new Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (BPS) policies and to help meet City EV goals, BDS began buying exclusively hybrids and plug-in hybrids.

But Katie faced a challenge. “The Prius was seen as the ultimate green wimp car. I wanted to be sustainable, but also to keep my people happy.” So, Katie got to work. She explained to BDS staff how the Bureau needed to reduce its carbon emissions in order to do their part to meet the City’s Climate Action Plan (CAP) goals. She sold hybrids on convenience: “You won’t have to stop as frequently for gas.” And she gave staff voice and choice.

After test driving a number of vehicles, BDS staff chose the Ford C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid. Many staff objected to the Prius, which was under consideration, not only because of its image, but also because it was uncomfortable for taller inspectors and had difficult sight lines. Staff were happy to have voice and choice and, in general, there have been few complaints about the new vehicles. Today all of BDS' 108 vehicles are hybrids or plug-in hybrids.

Plug-in hybrids are projected to deliver meaningful cost savings over the lifetime of the vehicle. Hybrid vehicles last longer and need to be replaced only every 10-11 years, while conventional vehicles need to be replaced every 6-7 years. Hybrids also have lower operation and maintenance costs. And the cost difference of buying a hybrid or plug-in hybrid as opposed to a gas vehicle is getting less and less. For example, five years ago a standard gas-powered sedan cost about $20,000 and a plug-in hybrid cost $35,000, a 75% difference. Today that gap has narrowed to 20% with gas powered sedans at $24,000 and plug-in hybrid’s at $29,000. With the reduced purchase price and reduced maintenance, the overall lifecycle costs of these vehicles are less than that of a comparable gas-powered sedan.

Building EV infrastructure

With the City of Portland purchasing hybrid EVs in ever-increasing numbers and with an “EV first” policy, requiring that new vehicles be EVs unless there is a compelling reason not to buy one, the City is working hard to build sufficient charging infrastructure. At times, the City is playing catch-up: creating infrastructure that will let Bureaus charge existing vehicles.

In 2017, 43 EV charging stations opened in the garage that the City of Portland’s Bureau of Development Services uses to park its fleet. This was a significant milestone in a broad and ongoing process of fleet transformation designed to decrease carbon emissions.  

The 43 EV charging stations were built in partnership with Portland State University (PSU), from whom the City rents garage space. The City Council approved project cost was $280,000. 

Growing the EV market

The City has committed to a goal of meeting 100 percent of its community-wide energy needs with renewable energy by 2050. This goal includes transportation energy which results in the City aiming to have a zero-emission vehicle fleet fueled by renewable electricity sources by 2050. To meet these goals markets must continue to shift. For example, the EV market for sedans and light SUVs is relatively well established. But, if you’re looking to buy a heavy-duty truck or specialized vehicle like a paver or garbage truck, there are very few EV options and the options that exist are currently cost prohibitive.

Portland, in partnership with other west coast cities, is working to change this. In 2017, the Cities of Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, all members of the Mayors National Climate Action Agenda, submitted a Request for Information (RFI), inviting “automakers to describe their plans for meeting a potentially record-breaking order of EVs. The four cities could buy or lease up to 24,000 electric vehicles for their fleets, if automobile and truck manufacturers are able to meet the demand and provide appropriate pricing.”

This RFI is the first effort of its kind to include municipalities from different states, demonstrating the purchasing power of local governments to transform the electric vehicle market. By moving to electric vehicles, cities can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, decrease reliance on fossil fuels, and improve air quality while reducing fuel and maintenance costs by an estimated average of 37 percent. In particular, this RFI aims to demonstrate demand and create a market for the development of EV trucks and medium or heavy-duty equipment including delivery vans, trash trucks and transit buses.

Education and Outreach

The process of fleet transformation and EV adoption is not simply a technical one. It is also a question of the behavior of thousands of users – City staff who depend on fleet vehicles. BDS has opted to make the process of behavior change more natural and not to make it mandatory for staff to use the charging stations. Currently there are more EVs than charging stations, so hopefully the charging stations will be used by engaged and motivated staff and this will, in turn, create additional interest. To streamline this process BDS has conducted outreach and created a video explaining how to use the charging stations. Similar outreach and education processes are playing out across the City’s Bureaus.

Initial reports are very positive. Ingrid Fish shares, “I have heard from Fleet that EVs are the first to be reserved. People like how they handle and that they are very quiet.” It is also a plus that you don’t need to refuel frequently. Donny Leader, the Vehicle Administrative Supervisor for City Fleet agrees. “As an EV owner, I try to lead by example and encourage others to purchase electric vehicles. I also advocate for workplace charging as an incentive to City employees who commute to work from outside the city limits to purchase electric vehicles.”  City Administrative Rules do not currently provide for this.

Looking ahead

As the City of Portland continues to buy more EVs and to use EVs to fulfill more needs, there will be continued need for new EV charging infrastructure. Some of these charging stations will be eligible to earn credits under the Oregon Clean Fuels Program.  Hopefully car and truck manufacturers will respond favorably to the RFI and move swiftly so that we’ll see EV garbage trucks and construction vehicles in not too long. When it comes to personal vehicles, the City will look to encourage and plan for a future in which individual vehicle use, even if it’s an EV, declines.