Monday, June 2, 2008

Metro will trim fleet to save gas

Fewer cars can be driven home By MICHAEL CASS • Staff Writer •(Tennessean) June 2, 2008 Metro Nashville will reduce its vehicle fleet by 10 percent and make other changes to try to gain ground in an ongoing battle against the high price of gas, Mayor Karl Dean will announce today. The elimination of 400 vehicles should save the government more than $1.4 million a year, the mayor's office told The Tennessean Friday. "We're already in tight financial times," Dean said. "When you add in the increasing cost of fuel and growing concerns about the environment, it's clear these changes need to be made." Dean also will order department heads to: • Reduce the number of vehicles taken home by employees. More than 900 vehicles are assigned to employees 24 hours a day, but they shouldn't be without "strong justification," Dean's office said. Most of the take-home vehicles are in the Metro Police Department. Dean expects patrol officers to continue to take their cars home at night, while police administrators probably won't have the same need, spokeswoman Janel Lacy said. • Try to buy smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles, including hybrids, when it's time to replace old ones. • Require employees to turn off their engines rather than leaving them idling during brief stops. Metro is making the changes as fuel prices continue to rise. An average gallon of regular unleaded gas cost almost $3.84 in the Nashville area Friday, according to AAA. Metro Councilman Mike Jameson said the changes would be good for the environment as well. "It's important that the city demonstrate by example," he said. "And this certainly seems to be in that vein." Councilwoman Megan Barry said she'd like to see the city use the savings to help the Metro Transit Authority, which plans to cut bus routes and raise fares to deal with a $2.9 million budget shortfall in the upcoming fiscal year. "My hope is that those dollars might help other Nashvillians get from Point A to Point B in a cost-efficient way," Barry said. MTA will add six hybrid-electric buses, which will cut gas and maintenance costs, to its fleet by the end of the year. Departments cut back A few Metro departments have already implemented some of the changes Dean is calling for. Fire Chief Steve Halford said he cut back on his department's take-home vehicles after taking the job in 2001. "When I got here, it seemed like everyone had a take-home vehicle," he said. Halford, who also is the acting director of the Mayor's Office of Emergency Management, said he's planning cuts in both departments in the next two weeks. Fire will reduce its take-home vehicles from 55 to 38, and OEM's after-hours fleet will drop from 13 to eight. The two departments, which have nearly 1,200 employees, also will eliminate 12 vehicles altogether from their combined fleets. "It's the first time since I've been in Metro that I've seen this degree of trying to reduce costs," Halford said. "It's a good thing, and we all have to contribute." Metro Water Services used to let its engineers take vehicles home at night so they could go straight to inspection jobs in the morning. Now that only happens if an engineer's first job of the day is near his or her home. "We've essentially removed them from the take-home vehicle list unless there's just a good demand for it," said Deputy Director John Kennedy. Kennedy said he expects the department to make other changes eventually. In response to questions from council members at a budget hearing Thursday, Parks Director Roy Wilson said park police officers are his only employees who take city vehicles home. Parks also has a no-idling policy "during these difficult times with fuel prices," Wilson said.

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