City Seeks to Save By Reducing 26,000-Vehicle Municipal Fleet

dot_truck.jpgMany NYCDOT vehicles could be operated by a car-sharing company, under a new plan to make the city fleet more efficient. Photo: Transportation Alternatives

With the city’s budget battered by the economic crisis, the Bloomberg administration is looking for ways to reduce the cost of city government. One place they’re turning: the city’s fleet of 26,000 motor vehicles. The city announced last week that it expects to save $71 million by streamlining fleet management, including measures to cut fuel use and decrease the number of vehicles it owns. The city will also explore ways to use car-sharing to make the city’s fleet more efficient.

The size of the municipal fleet makes it a tempting target for those seeking to increase the city’s efficiency and environmental sustainability. Of those 26,000 vehicles, 60 percent are passenger vehicles, SUVs and vans. The vehicles in that portion of the fleet travel an average of 7,500 miles per year. Another 30 percent of the fleet are heavy-duty vehicles like fire or sanitation trucks. Those travel an average of 4,000 miles per year, but are also used extensively while stationary, according to mayoral spokesperson Jason Post. The remaining 10 percent of the fleet is made up of off-road vehicles, including forklifts and tractors. Managing the fleet currently requires more than 1,500 employees, spread across nine agencies. 

Much of the savings announced last week will come from back-end efficiency measures, like privatizing and centralizing some aspects of fleet management. But the city will also cut costs by reducing the number of cars it owns, making those cars cleaner, and possibly reducing the amount of driving overall.

To get a handle on the costs of driving, in both dollars and environmental impact, the city will begin tracking its total fuel use and vehicle emissions. Such a tracking system could quantify the benefit of continuing to shift toward an electric vehicle fleet, Post said. It could also, if taken seriously, illustrate the benefits of reducing the city’s driving altogether.

Most intriguingly, the city is exploring ways in which car-sharing could save taxpayers money. Some vehicles at every agency are already part of a pool, said Post. But the shared portion of each pool could be expanded, he explained, and even run by a third-party operator, like Zipcar or Hertz.

Car-sharing could lead to a significant reduction in the number of vehicles owned by the city. In Washington D.C., using Zipcar allowed the city to replace 360 vehicles with 71 shared vehicles, according to the New York Times, while Philadelphia shed 140 vehicles from its fleet via car-sharing. As with regular consumer car-sharing, municipal car-sharing customers would pay per trip, increasing the cost of each mile driven compared to city-owned cars. That in turn could create an incentive for the city to do its business without relying so heavily on the car.

  • Here’s one place to start: In Riverside Park (and probably others) replace the patrol cars on pedestrian/bike paths with foot patrol.

  • Larry Littlefield

    My guess is that a large share of the vehicles are patrol cars.

    Perhaps in some areas of the city, a set of officers on patrol could share bicycles, scooters and one patrol car.

    The officers would take turns on the bicycles, getting some exercise while not having to ride all day, on the scooters, and in the patrol car, which would ferry anyone arrested back to the precinct.

  • Please get rid of all those Parks golf carts.

  • Danny G

    It’s almost worth doing just have publicly accessible data of how people use car share in NYC.

  • ddartley

    Considering how so many more of the cops I see are in cars with windows closed, it suggests that the city thinks it costs more to have a cop stand on the street than have a patrol car.

    I like to imagine that changing that ratio (in cars vs. on foot) would help community relations, at least a little.

  • I know the Bloomberg administration likes those managerial good-government reform ideas, but sometimes the benefits are just too small. $71 million is pocket change by city standards. Bloomberg could cover it from his pocket. And City Hall’s 26,000-vehicle fleet is 1.3% of the number of vehicles in the city.

    There’s a real problem here, because the reductions don’t scale. If the city could reliably reduce total car ownership by 10%, it would make a difference. The problem is that doing this citywide and not just for public vehicles would require a major change in policy, one that could only come from political activism on the grassroots and insider levels, and the administration sucks at both.


    “The Big Green Buy,” Christian Parenti, August2/9, 2010, The Nation

    ” . . . federal, state and local government constitute more than 38 percent of our GDP . . .”

    ” . . . October 2009, when President Obama quietly signed Executive Order 13514, which directs all federal agencies to “increase energy efficiency; measure, report, and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions . . . ”

    ” . . . 28 percent greenhouse gas reduction by 2020. The stimulus package passed in 2009 included $32.7 billion for the Energy Department to tackle climate change . . . “

  • Gecko: bleh. First, the 38% figure probably includes stimulus spending. Pre-recession, total government spending was about 30% of GDP in the US. And second, 30% of GDP doesn’t necessarily mean 30% of emissions. The most emission-intensive activities in the US are resource extraction and manufacturing, which are done by the private sector. At its various levels, the government distributes welfare and social security (which has zero emissions by itself), provides health care and education (which are also low-emission), and bombs other countries defends the nation from enemies (probably low-emission too, as if the Pentagon will ever agree to emission cuts).

    Where government could do a lot to reduce emissions would be in influencing the private sector’s behavior: moving farm aid away from red meat, cutting road spending, changing regulations to allow transit to be constructed affordably, eliminating subsidies for large suburban tract homes. Even a pollution tax on gas would qualify, since strictly speaking it’s not a carbon tax, but good luck explaining the difference to people.

  • #8 Alon Levy, Oh dear that is absolutely wonderful! What else do you have to say?

  • Of course privatizing the fleet is there…it’s Bloomberg!

  • Alon, the benefit is in not just reducing New York City’s fleet but also showing to the other large fleet operators in the city that it can be done. It is always easier to point to succesful examples elsewhere when trying to get things changed.

  • According to the American Community Survey, the total number of vehicles available to New York City households is a little under 2 million, about the same as the number of vehicles registered in the city. In other words, the vast majority of vehicles in the city are family cars, rather than cars belonging to large corporate fleets.

    What’s actually easiest is to do feel-good symbolic things. Like, for example, slightly reducing the number of large-fleet vehicles in the city, while doing nothing that incentivizes households to reduce the number of cars they own.

  • Ian Turner

    Alon, don’t forget about all the vehicles fraudulently registered out-of-state, which may be a sizable percentage of household vehicles. These cars may or may not be reported in the ACS.

    My guess is that the fraudulent cars are registered in the ACS (but, of course, not the registration stats), meaning that in addition to all the household cars reported in the ACS there are a large number of business or fleet vehicles.

  • What’s a sizable percentage of household vehicles? 2%? 5%? 10%? Now, how many of those are actually reported in the ACS?…

  • Ian Turner

    Alon, no idea. For obvious reasons, this is a hard topic to collect statistics on. Anecdotally, I only know one person who keeps a car in the city, and he registers it out of state.

  • Alon, I would wager that between 50% and 75% of vehicles out on the roads at any time are fleet vehicles. Private owners don’t drive their cars more than two-three hours a day. Ambulettes (for instance) are on the road for 12. All those Time Warner Cable trucks are probably doing eight-hour shifts.


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