Good Ideas for Cities: Electrify Your City Fleet

Speakers from The Electric City: EV Fleet Transition panel.

By Aaron Westling | Outreach Associate Mayors Innovation Project

At our 2023 Summer Meeting, speakers on the panel The Electric City: EV Fleet Transition discussed the opportunities and challenges faced by cities and offered tips on how municipalities can begin moving towards a more sustainable fleet, including discussions of leasing vs. owning, the potential of public-private partnerships, and the importance of long-term planning. Throughout the rich discussion, two main themes emerged: the importance of planning and the need to get creative. 

Plan For the Future 

A constant theme throughout the panel discussion was the importance of planning, not only for the procurement of EVs and the charging infrastructure required for the fleet to be successful, but for all aspects of rolling out a major policy shift. 

RMI's 2023 Report, How Cities and Counties Can Electrify Their Fleets
RMI’s 2023 Report, How Cities and Counties Can Electrify Their Fleets

Aradhana Gahlaut of RMI showcased her organization’s recent report, How Cities and Counties Can Electrify Their Fleets, which provides local governments with insights on how to begin or advance their electrification efforts. Specifically, the report covers three of the most critical aspects of shifting to EVs: 

  • Policies and Processes, which covers getting the right people engaged, securing commitments from leadership, and understanding the playing field. 
  • Technical Considerations, which includes conducting fleet assessments, prioritizing low-hanging fruit, and building lasting collaborations.
  • Financial considerations, including capitalizing on lifetime savings, anticipating barriers to implementation, and issues around staffing and charging infrastructure.

Fátima Luna, Climate and Sustainability Policy Advisor for Mayor Regina Romero of Tucson, AZ, shared an example of these principles being put into practice with Tucson’s award-winning Electric Vehicle Readiness Roadmap which is informing the city’s electrification transition. The plan accomplishes a number of things, including:

  • Clearly laying out why Mayor Romero sees fleet electrification as a top priority, including cleaner air and city-wide economic benefits.
  • Stating specific goals, such as “Transitioning 100% of the City light-duty vehicle fleet to electric by 2030”. 
  • Describing key strategies that will need to be taken to reach the stated goals, including actions, lead departments, partners, budget, level of effort and potential impact. 
  • Providing a detailed outreach and education plan.

The plan provides the city a document to refer to and benchmark themselves against as they move forward. Laying out relatable and understandable reasons for the shift to EVs, achievable goals, and specific strategies for achieving those goals is vital to launching a successful move towards electrification. 

Get Creative

While many cities around the country are considering how to electrify their fleets, each faces unique challenges; there is no one-size-fits-all solution. For many cities, one of the main obstacles to fleet electrification is a lack of staff capacity and institutional knowledge of an incredibly complicated policy area. With this in mind, Nicole LaChapelle, Mayor of Easthampton, NJ discussed her city’s public-private partnership with green technology company MoveEV. MoveEV performed an analysis of Easthampton’s fleet and its future needs and is working to develop a system to facilitate the electric transition. This partnership allowed Easthampton, a city of 16,000 people, to access the resources they needed to begin to electrify their fleet.

“We are excited to partner with MoveEV to help Easthampton reach our sustainability goals. In a fast-moving industry, this public-private partnership with MoveEV gives Easthampton the technical support necessary to move toward vehicle decarbonization” – Mayor Nicole LaChapelle

The need for creativity can extend to simply selling the concept of EVs to those who may remain skeptical, including folks with legitimate questions around cost and feasibility or those who have been fed certain myths about EVs. To help overcome this hurdle, our host city of Scranton, PA, used ARPA funds to lease EV vehicles for their code enforcement unit in lieu of purchasing. This decision allows the city to showcase the effectiveness and reliability of EVs without the long-term commitment of purchasing the vehicles, setting them up with examples and data to make the case for continuing to electrify their fleet in the future.

As our climate crisis worsens and federal money continues to flow, now is the time for cities to electrify  their fleet. To do this successfully, cities need to align planning, financing, partnerships, and public will to bring EVs to their community. Our speakers and their resources offered a number of other tools and tips to get started; you can view all presentations from the panel here, as well as our briefing book of resources here.