San Mateo County vehicles getting greener

San Mateo County officials want to drive the conversion to fuel-efficient vehicles leading by example.

County departments must now purchase fuel-efficient autos unless the vehicle they need requires specialized performance that hybrid technology does not offer, according to an ordinance approved by the County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

The ordinance requires the fuel efficiency of at least 30 mpg for new vehicles. That standard will also be updated annually as technology improves.

Typically, sheriff’s patrol cars, which need to accelerate quickly, and large diesel-powered trucks will be exempted, said Jim Porter, county public works director.

By their calculations, county officials expect each new vehicle to cost $6,000 to $10,000 more than standard autos, with 70 to 80 new purchases each year for a total fleet of 789. Officials, however, expect the fuel efficiency of hybrids to be 25 percent better than current models.

The county’s top elected official, Board of Supervisors President Adrienne Tissier, recently bought a Toyota Prius for her commute from Daly City to Redwood City.

“It was important for me to take that same step” as the county policy, Tissier said. “It’s great that we are leading the charge and I hope others will follow.”

The county government’s requirement is thought to be the first of its kind in the country, but most local cities have made it a priority to replace standard autos with hybrids to save money on gas and reduce emissions.

One such move is a proposal to install biodiesel engines in fire trucks for the Belmont-San Carlos Fire Department, said Chief Doug Fry. Inspectors and some day personnel will also be receiving hybrid cars more and more at the department, he said.

San Carlos police Chief Greg Rothaus uses a Ford Escape hybrid patrol car equipped with police radio, lights and sirens.

“People used to say, ‘Oh, you’re the only police chief with a hybrid,’” Rothaus said. “I’d correct them and say, ‘No, I’m the first chief with a hybrid.’ There’s more and more discussion about it now.”

Millbrae is using 16 natural-gas vehicles, 30 percent of its fleet, because transportation is a leading factor in carbon dioxide emissions, said city recycling coordinator Shelly Reider.

mrosenberg@sfexaminer.com

By the numbers

San Mateo County will buy new fuel-efficient vehicles

789 Vehicles used by county departments
70-80 New vehicles bought by county each year
30 mpg Starting minimum standard for county vehicles to be considered fuel efficient
$6,000-$10,000 Extra cost to purchase a hybrid vehicle
25 percent Improved gas mileage for hybrids compared to standard autos
32 percent Portion of county vehicles considered fuel-efficient

Source: San Mateo County Public Works Department
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