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SF slows down charge toward electric vehicles

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A proposal to replace vehicles in The City’s fleet with zero-emission electric vehicles would cost tens of millions of dollars. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)
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Facing sticker shock, San Francisco on Thursday pushed off the proposed deadline to replace polluting sedans driven around by city employees with zero-emission electric vehicles until 2022.

The initial 2020 deadline proposed in Supervisor Katy Tang’s electric vehicle requirement legislation was seemingly out of reach, according to a report on the proposal by the budget analyst. The report found it would cost tens of millions of dollars to buy electric cars and install needed charging stations, and require a significant ramp-up in the offloading and purchasing of fleet vehicles.

In addition to changing the deadline Thursday during the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee, Tang also changed the proposal to allow 10 percent of the impacted fleet to be plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, a combination of gasoline and electric, to address concerns over costs and the distance a vehicle can drive before needing to be recharged.

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The proposal is only the latest effort to tackle San Francisco’s municipal fleet, which has posed challenges over the years in terms of getting departments to reduce the number of cars they use and to eliminate gas-guzzlers.

Supervisor Norman Yee expressed concerns over the cost. “We are going through all this budget discussion over how tough it’s going to be over the next few years,” Yee said. “It’s a big-ticket item.”

The analysis of the proposal looked at replacing 1,550 sedans in The City fleet, out of the 5,876 total vehicles of all types, and arrived at a cost of $95 million.

But the proposal will only impact a subset of those sedans since it exempts public safety vehicles like the approximately 500 police patrol cars, which run on gasoline. The cost of purchasing 759 vehicles and installing 636 charging stations was estimated at $31 million. That low-end estimate includes the least expensive electric vehicle model, Smart Electric Drive at $27,500, and charging stations at $16,000 apiece.

But Tang argued that while “the analysis for the costs looks really scary,” the cost could be reduced significantly if the fleet is reduced in size and other cost benefits are factored in, such as savings from gas.

Under previous adopted vehicle laws, The City is required to reduce its fleet and also to track usage using telematics technology, devices sometimes called black boxes that track vehicle usage, installed in nearly 4,000 vehicles in the fleet.

Adam Nguyen, finance and planning director for the City Administrator’s Office, which oversees the fleet, said the devices were installed in the required vehicles during the past year and a half, and a report is due out by June 30.

Nguyen said the two largest concerns of the proposal were cost and what to do with leased spaces, which account for about 50 percent of the parking spaces for city vehicles that The City couldn’t outfit with charging stations.

He also noted that some departments may have challenges going electric. The Department of Building Inspection has about 100 vehicles that are in leased parking spots, and would need to use the cars after an earthquake to inspect buildings.

“Should the grid go down, they may not have the power to do so and then be able to provide appropriate response,” Nguyen said.

The initial 2020 goal would have forced The City to ramp up vehicle purchases from the current 100 annually to 300 annually. By extending it to 2022, the purchases would increase 150 annually.

Tang is hoping that an updated analysis by Budget Analyst Harvey Rose, due in time for the full board vote on May 2, will show costs have come down enough to win over the support she needs for the proposal’s passage.

“Every day needs to be Earth Day and if we do not collectively take action to deliberately stop the damage that we are doing to this planet, then we will no longer have an Earth to celebrate nor to live on,” Tang said.

The City currently has 36 electric sedans. Regarding how residents are faring in terms of electric vehicle ownership, there are 425,000 cars registered in San Francisco, of which nearly 5,000 are electric vehicles, according to data provided by the Department of Environment in November.

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