County on the road to going green

The county plans to purchase more hybrid cars, like the Toyota Prius. Photo courtesy Toyota Motor Corp.

The county plans to purchase more hybrid cars, like the Toyota Prius. Photo courtesy Toyota Motor Corp.

By CONOR McKOY
Westchester legislators are gearing up to make the decision whether or not to buy more green vehicles for county government.

On July 29, members of the Westchester Board of Legislators approved a public hearing for the recently proposed Green Vehicles Sustainable Savings Act, though a date for the hearing has yet to be set.

Introduced by county Legislator and president of the Environment and Energy Committee Catherine Parker, a Rye Democrat, and county Legislator Ken Jenkins, a Yonkers Democrat, the act is supposed to strengthen an existing law governing the purchase of green vehicles for the county.

Currently, county Department of Public Works and Transportation Commissioner Jay Pisco can grant exemptions to the existing green vehicle law for “good cause.” However, this term is interpreted too broadly and undercuts the law’s effect, according to the Board of Legislators. “Westchester County needs to do a much better job in transitioning its fleet of vehicles away from low mileage, heavy emission models,” Parker said. “Eliminating the loophole in the county law that allows the administration to stick with bigger, gas guzzling vehicles will save taxpayer dollars and help protect our environment.”

If the Green Vehicle Act is approved, it will not mean the purchase of a fleet of new hybrid and electric cars. Instead, the act will ensure old cars will be replaced with hybrids when needed.

“There’s no scenario where the commissioner is replacing a hybrid with not a hybrid,” Jenkins said.

By adding more hybrid cars to Westchester’s fleet of more than 300 vehicles, including buses, passenger cars, trucks, and commercial vehicles, the county hopes to save money by lowering fuel costs and cutting down on gas emissions.

According to howstuffworks.com, the average hybrid has a fuel efficiency of about 38.7 miles per gallon, while standard vehicles only get about 26.7 mpg. Since hybrids get significantly better mileage, they produce 31 percent less carbon dioxide per hundred miles when compared to standard models.

Because hybrid technology is still being developed, the costs to buy and maintain them are much higher than standard vehicles. The cost of any hybrid model is usually $5,000 to $10,000 more than internal combustion models, according to carsdirect.org.

And because the parts are harder to replace, the cost of maintaining and fixing any hybrid is also much higher than its counterpart, but that isn’t the case in Westchester,
according to Jenkins.

“The Department of Public Works maintains a fully functioning auto shop, so we maintain our own vehicles,” Jenkins said.

Since fully electric cars don’t need oil changes, the county only needs to pay to replace windshield wipers and tires. For hybrid cars, the oil and fuel engine do not need to be checked as often, which
reduces maintenance costs.

Jenkins said the Department of Public Works has been buying hybrid and electric cars for more than a decade and it has proved to be a huge money saver. Most of the driving by county workers is done within city areas over short distances, which only uses the car’s electric power.

“We’ve saved millions of dollars on fuel costs,” Jenkins said. “We cut the cost of fuel in half by having a hybrid.

The Green Vehicle Sustainable Saving Act awaits a Sept. 8 meeting of the full Board of Legislators to set a date for
a public hearing.