Seattle is on the verge of a possible buying spree, to acquire cleaner lift trucks, parking-enforcement scooters, and other vehicles that emit less carbon.
Using shiny white vehicles as a backdrop, Mayor Mike McGinn on Wednesday announced a “Million Gallon Challenge” to avoid burning that amount of petroleum fuels between now and 2020. This would equate to a 42 percent reduction from what McGinn said is already America’s cleanest city fleet. Carbon dioxide is a cause of global warming that threatens to raise ocean levels 1 to 3 feet by 2100.
The city government’s output, and even that of 7 million Washingtonians, is a drop in the bucket globally. McGinn said he hopes Seattle’s actions will set an example for local businesses and for other cities. Mayors like to compete for such distinctions as “Number 1 green fleet,” he said.
- Seattle already has 14 new-generation lift trucks, for electric-line crews and traffic-signal installers. They use diesel only to drive then use conserved battery power from regenerative braking (like a hybrid car) to operate the lifts. Old-style trucks idle on diesel all day while crews work overhead.
- The city bought the first two “Firefly” brand electric vehicles for parking enforcers, and two others. Besides clean fuel, they include a bike-rack space so a second officer can ride along, then pedal through the target neighborhood writing citations.
- Software and tracking devices will be used to plan routes and track speeds of vehicles, to reduce fuel demand.
- More biodiesel, made of 20 percent waste vegetable oil, will be used.
As for jump-starting a market, King County Metro famously led the way by moving toward an all-hybrid fleet, placing a 500-bus order in 2007 with General Motors, Allison Transmission and New Flyer that helped to stimulate new manufacturing lines. And in Seattle, a city-funded natural-gas fueling station near South Park made it possible for garbage contractors to convert in 2009 from diesel to compressed natural-gas vehicles.
A big question mark is cost: Will taxpayers take a hit, or would fuel savings pencil out by offsetting the upfront price of cleaner rigs? Chris Wiley, city green fleet manager, said breaking even is a goal. The new-generation lift trucks can cost $300,000 — $50,000 more than standard ones, he said. The total initial cost for McGinn’s program hasn’t been established yet. The mayor would likely provide dollar figures in September in the preliminary 2014 budget, said Julie Moore, a city finance spokeswoman.