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TDCJ adds smaller, more fuel efficient replacement vehicles to fleet

Editor’s Note: Subsequent to being interviewed for this article, Rick Thaler was named director of the Correctional Institutions Division.

row of Ford Focus vehicles
Compact cars with improved gas mileage and which generate fewer greenhouse emissions have been added to TDCJ’s motor pool fleet.

Photo by David Nunnelee

TDCJ is downsizing part of its vehicle fleet. Not in number, but rather in the size of the passenger cars driven by employees on out-of-town business trips.

Over the past two years, the agency has purchased 56 Ford Focus compact cars as replacements for older, worn out vehicles. Most of the four-cylinder cars have been assigned to the agency’s four major motor pools around the state. The rest have gone to smaller regional motor pools, the Parole Division and to support other divisional operations.

As advertised, the smaller passenger vehicles get better mileage and generate fewer emissions than their mid-size counterparts in the fleet. Improved gas mileage and fewer emissions are the goals of recent legislation which requires that, if available, greener vehicles be added to state agency fleets.

“I do see that all agencies will continue to look for vehicles that are more efficient,” TDCJ Manufacturing and Logistics Division Director Rick Thaler said. “I think you will continue to see legislation that relates to ensuring that these vehicles are burning fuels as cleanly as possible. It’s a good thing for the environment. If we can buy a vehicle that will go farther on a gallon of gas and burn that fuel cleaner and still meet the operational needs of the agency, that’s the vehicle we’ll buy.”

Legislation passed in 2007 required that 10 percent of passenger cars purchased by state agencies during the 2008-09 biennium meet new emission standards and federal Greenhouse Gas Scores. To meet the standards, agencies could either purchase flex fuel vehicles (FFV) capable of burning alternative fuels or models with a Greenhouse Gas Score of at least 8. TDCJ did both, buying compact cars with the required score rating and a number of mid-size Chevrolet Impalas that are capable of burning ethanol. In all, the agency purchased approximately 320 replacement vehicles during the biennium, including 120 passenger cars. The size of the statewide fleet, consisting of vehicles of all types, remains unchanged at approximately 2,300.

“The intent is to stretch our ability to purchase the maximum number of vehicles we can to support the agency, to gain fuel efficiency by buying smaller-engine vehicles that increase gas mileage and to do that in a manner that doesn’t negatively affect operations,” Thaler said.

Thaler also said large vehicles like offender transportation buses and tractor-trailer rigs are exempt because none of the models currently on the market meet the new emission standards. Also, he said no vehicle, green or otherwise, that fails to meet the operational needs of the agency is bought.

“Our priority is dealing with those key operations that provide for the safety of the public,” he said. “Public safety has to be our top priority. It’s a public safety issue if a couple of correctional officers are going down the road with 10 offenders and their van breaks down. We try to ensure that we support the entire vehicle fleet. We are obligated to the citizens to make sure that we are providing for their safety, so we have to make sure we move these offenders and the staff supervising them up and down the road safely.”

Legislation approved during this year’s session requires that 50 percent of state agency vehicles be able to run on alternative fuels by September 30, 2010 and that they do so 80 percent of the time they are on the road. State law, though, anticipates that due to the limited number of alternative fuel depots outside of the state’s metropolitan areas, some state agencies may not have access to alternative fuels and allows them to apply for an exemption. Thaler said agencies like TDCJ, with its many rural facilities, may indeed have to apply for exemptions from the standard.

Thaler said, when purchased, the Ford Focus was the only non-FFV on state contract that met the new emission standards. And because each sells for about half the price of an alternative fuel vehicle, the agency was able to replace a greater number of older motor pool cars with new models.

“If we can meet the emission standards and get two vehicles to upgrade the fleet as opposed to one, that’s just the prudent decision to make in my opinion,” Thaler said.

He said feedback received from those who have driven the smaller vehicles on long-distance trips has been encouraging.

“The feedback has been very positive,” he said. “I haven’t received any negative comments from the staff in the field.”

Thaler said the agency plans to purchase additional green vehicles as replacements during the coming biennium but has not yet decided on which makes and models it will add to the fleet.

“Part of what drives this is what is available on the market.” he said. “There’s just not an abundance of alternative fuel vehicles or vehicles that meet the state’s emission standards to choose from today. But I anticipate that you’ll see greener vehicle fleets across the country in the future. And that will make it easier for us to have a greener fleet and still meet our operational needs. As demand in both the public and private sectors increases, I think you’ll see more manufacturers produce more vehicles that not only meet emission standards but also meet more of TDCJ’s operational needs.”

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