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Federal Eye
Posted at 12:26 PM ET, 04/01/2011

Explaining Obama’s car talk


(Koji Sasahara - AP)
President Obama likes to spend time talking about batteries, but on Friday he’s talking cars.

Specifically, a new Energy Department program encouraging private companies to buy more alternative fuel vehicles. During a visit to a United Parcel Service facility in Maryland, he’s announcing that UPS, FedEx, Pepsi, Verizon and AT&T are joining the National Clean Fleets Partnership that will dole out money to companies willing to go green behind the wheel. Collectively, the five companies highlighted Friday — who rely on vehicles to do most of their business — own about 275,000 vehicles.

But the federal government owns many, many more cars, trucks and vans and is also planning a shift to cleaner vehicles.

Earlier this week during remarks on energy independence, Obama said that by 2015 the federal government will be buying only alternative fuel vehicles — either hybrid or electric. A wholesale replacement of current vehicles won’t happen, but the 2015 goal is meant to eventually phase out traditional gas guzzlers, according to administration officials.

The government’s 600,000-vehicle fleet is divided in roughly three ways: About a third of the vehicles are owned by the General Services Administration, (the government’s purchasing and real estate agency), another third is bought by GSA and leased to all other federal agencies, while the U.S. Postal Service owns the rest. (The military’s vehicles aren’t included in this count.)

We’re expected to learn more from GSA next week on its plans to start buying greener rides, but getting USPS to switch over could prove tricky because of its perilous financial situation.

It owns about 220,000 vehicles — most of them the iconic right-hand drive delivery trucks (or long-life vehicles [LLVs]) that are nearing the end of a 24-year life cycle. (RELATED: Watch The Federal Eye drive an LLV.) Estimates suggest it would cost about $4.2 billion — or $30,000 per truck — to buy an entirely new fleet of LLVs, so the Postal Service prefers to repair broken vehicles.

Repair costs totaled about $524 million in fiscal year 2009, according to auditors, because many trucks required significant maintenance. At that rate, repairs in the next eight years are expected to cost $342 million more than it would to buy new trucks, auditors said.

Lawmakers are pushing USPS to go green, and in the last Congress proposed giving $2 billion to the Energy Department and the Postal Service to convert current mail trucks or manufacture new ones that use vehicle-to-grid technology.

In the meantime, USPS is using several electric vans to transport mail in New York City. Nationwide, more than 43,000 mail vehicles can run on alternative fuels, and 584 ethanol-powered trucks are used in Minnesota. Some mail carriers in Arizona and Florida use bicycles to make deliveries, while other carriers in those states, California and Washington, D.C. have tested three-wheel electric vehicles.

So-called T3 battery-powered vehicles can reach speeds of 12 miles an hour and carry a maximum 450 pounds of mail. Mail carriers have also tested hybrid vans produced by Ford and General Motors, according to USPS.

Could you imagine if federal workers ever had to use battery-powered bikes to travel on official business?

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

By  |  12:26 PM ET, 04/01/2011

Categories:  Administration, Postal Service

 
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