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Leading the drive for electric fleets

Source: PSE - Aug/Sep 15

Dundee City Council is among a handful of public sector organisations shortlisted in the 2015 Low Carbon Champions Awards. PSE spoke to the council’s corporate fleet manager, Gary McRae.

On 9 September, the 2015 Low Carbon Champions Awards will be announced at an event in Milton Keynes, during the Cenex Low Carbon Vehicle event. 

There are nine categories, and although most of the shortlisted contenders are manufacturers, consultancies or engineering companies, some public sector bodies have made it to the finals too. 

These include Aberdeen City Council for ‘Low Carbon Road Transport Initiative of the Year’ and council-owned Reading Buses for ‘Low Carbon Vehicle Operator of the Year’. Also in that category is First Bus with City of York, and Dundee City Council. 

Dundee’s entry focused on its expanding fleet of pure-electric cars and small vans. As of the end of the 2014-15 financial year, the council had 38 electric vehicles, putting it at the top of the leaderboard for all UK authorities, according to an analysis by Scottish councils are definitely leading the way – four of the top five councils are in Scotland. 

Dundee has since expanded its fleet further, and now has 62 of its own pure electric vehicles, and has also worked with partners including Dundee University and a local taxi company to encourage them to procure more electric vehicles. The University recently expanded its own electric fleet with three new vans, a car and 12 electric bikes, thanks to Transport Scotland funding. 

The council’s corporate fleet manager, Gary McRae, said its submission focused on the “innovative use of electric vehicles as part of Dundee City Council’s modern fleet, to help towards carbon reduction and create a cleaner and healthier city”. 

As well as its electric vehicles, it also owns 58 charging points: a mix of rapid-charge (taking roughly half an hour) and fast-charge (which take three to four hours). Eight of those charging points are also available to the general public. 

The council has somewhere between 300 and 600 users trained to use its electric fleet, which makes up one in four of all its light vehicles. Most sit within car pools, but others are for particular members of staff, for example refuse collection supervisors out ‘in the field’ all day long. Dundee city’s geography – roughly nine miles by three miles – makes it ideal for electric vehicles. 

In 2014-15, the council’s electric fleet did close to 200,000 miles, saving 75 tonnes of CO2. Now, with its fleet nearly twice as big, it expects to do 300,000 to 350,000 electric miles in 2015-16. 

McRae’s corporate fleet team was created in 2011, before which individual departments looked after themselves. It looked into electric vehicles from the outset, because of the council’s strategic aims of cutting carbon emissions and improving air quality. 

With help from government grants and industry offers, the council built a strong break-even business case based on a five-year working life for each car. In fact, maintenance costs have been lower than expected, and McRae thinks most vehicles will easily manage six or seven years instead of just five. 

“All local authorities are under pressure not to spend more money, so we were able to make a business case that also reduced our carbon impact, and improved our air quality. It was something that fitted really well with what we were trying to do overall. That will continue as we increase the fleet,” McRae said.

The council has been supplier-agnostic: rather than sticking with an individual manufacturer, it has vehicles from Nissan, Peugeot, Kia, Mitsubishi and Renault, using local authority frameworks to procure them. 

Dundee also made it into the final 12 councils bidding to become Go Ultra Low Cities under a £35m government competition. The councils must finalise their submissions by the end of August. PSE interviewed the then transport minister Baroness Kramer when that competition was announced earlier this year. 

McRae said the next stage of the city’s electric ambitions depends heavily on the outcome of that bid. “If we can get that funding, we’ll move forward very quickly, and in huge numbers. We’ve got really ambitious plans. If we don’t get the funding, we’ll carry on as we have been, moving forward more slowly.” 

Staff “love the cars”, he said. There were some teething issues as people learned how the charging worked, but as for the cars themselves, McRae said there hasn’t been a negative word in four years. 

Andy Eastlake, managing director of awards organisers LowCVP, a public/private partnership, said: “The record number of entries, as well as their quality and diversity, again show how the UK’s vibrant low carbon vehicle and fuel sector is leading innovation in clean transport.” 

Category winners at the awards can also go forward to the European Business Awards for the Environment (EBAE).

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