Howard's Move to Hybrids More Foresight Than Fad

By Lori Aratani
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 4, 2008

Some naysayers scoffed when Howard County Executive Ken Ulman (D) announced last year that the county would, whenever possible, replace cars in its fleet with hybrid equivalents.

Oh so trendy. Oh so expensive.

"There may have been some light grumbling," said Joshua Feldmark, director of the county's Office of Environmental Sustainability. Maybe something along the lines of: " 'Oh, they're just jumping on this bandwagon,' " he recalled.

Now that gas prices have topped $4 a gallon, officials in the county that has more hybrids in its fleet than any other in Maryland are having the last laugh -- or at least a smug chuckle. Environmental concerns may have prompted them to take the hybrid leap, but now they're thrilled that they're saving thousands in fuel costs.

The change was a significant shift for Howard, which just three years ago had no such cars in its fleet. Now close to 10 percent of the vehicles used by inspectors and other county workers are hybrids, including a Ford Escape driven by the county executive. Feldmark said he's heard through the grapevine that after some initial misgivings, the Prius has become the preferred vehicle among many county workers.

Howard joins a growing number of local governments taking steps to "green" their fleets.

Fairfax and Montgomery counties joined the hybrid revolution in 2002. This year, said Fairfax spokesman Brian Worthy, the county will buy about 37,000 fewer gallons of gasoline now that 106 of its 3,100 vehicles are hybrids. If the current gas price of about $4 a gallon holds, the savings would be roughly $148,000.

"We started buying hybrids in 2002, long before gas prices spiked," Worthy said. He added that the county recently partnered with the Sierra Club in the Cool Counties program and pledged to reduce its emissions by 80 percent by 2050.

"Obviously, having hybrid vehicles is a huge part of that," Worthy said.

In Montgomery, which has 21 hybrid cars and 14 hybrid buses, diesel fuel usage was cut by 56,000 gallons and unleaded fuel usage by 46,000 gallons in 2007, county spokeswoman Esther Bowring said.

The District's 3,114-vehicle fleet includes 11 electric hybrids, the first of which were purchased in 2003.

Even states are getting into the act. Last month, Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) directed the Maryland Transit Administration to begin converting its diesel-powered buses to hybrid electric ones.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company