Hybrids not on the horizon for Lower Cape towns

Four-wheel functionality outweighs fuel savings even in this troubled economy

Cost of hybrids too high, towns continue to "roll-down" SUVs and sedans

   Previously belonging to the police department, SUVs in Brewster are "rolled-down" and used as inspection vehicles, but may also return to service in the event of an emergency.

By Bethany Gibbons

For Lower Cape towns, Governor Deval Patrick’s recent announcement that federal stimulus funds may be used to purchase fuel-efficient vehicles may be a case of poor timing. The program to provide municipalities and private companies with energy-efficient vehicles requires the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) to apply for the federal grants by May 28, and towns must submit their letters of commitment by May 18.

“We would definitely go hybrid if we could.” -  Sheila Vanderhoef, Eastham town administrator

Clean Cities” funds will be eligible for a wide variety of vehicles, including cars, trucks, busses and cabs, with the grant money covering the difference between the cost of the fuel-efficient vehicle and its less-efficient counterpart. While the opportunity to get on board for this exciting offer may seem hard to resist, the towns of Orleans, Eastham and Brewster aren’t shopping for new rides.

Budget-breaking hybrids

For hybrid-hungry Eastham, the timing may be particularly hard to swallow. “We would definitely go hybrid if we could,” explained Sheila Vanderhoef, Eastham’s town administrator. “The selectmen took a vote and approved a policy to look at vehicles that use biodiesel and hybrids whenever possible. For our most recent purchase, we looked at the Ford Escape hybrid, but it was too expensive.”

orleans_sedanAn Orleans town-owned sedan.

John Kelly, town administrator for Orleans, declined to be interviewed for this story, but his administrative assistant Margie Astles explained the town’s view of hybrids. “The Orleans Town Administrator’s office is aware of the rebate offered for hybrid vehicles, but there are no vehicles scheduled for replacement in the next year,” she wrote.

4WD hand-me-downs

Brewster’s town administrator Charles Sumner described how the town ‘rolls down’ Ford Explorers from the police department to be used as inspectional vehicles housed at Town Hall. As four-wheel-drive vehicles outfitted for use by emergency responders, these SUVs can be commanded by police in the event of a weather emergency, such as a snowstorm. “We get a lot of people asking why we don’t use hybrids or other, smaller, fuel-efficient vehicles, but it just works out better for us this way,” Sumner said. “It’s better than having four-wheel-drive cruisers just sitting at the station to be used in the case of bad weather.” He explained that two out of the three, and by next month three out of three inspectional vehicles for town employee use will be Explorers, which are rolled down after 50,000 miles.

Who's driving the town cars home?

“We get a lot of people asking why we don’t use hybrids or other,smaller, fuel-efficient vehicles, but it just works out better for usthis way.” - Charles Sumner, Brewster town administrator

The multi-use nature of vehicles assigned to department heads is common to all three towns. Eastham’s Vanderhoef explained that of vehicles purchased for the Police Chief, Deputy Police Chief, Fire Chief, Deputy Fire Chief, and DPW assistant director, only one, the Deputy Police Chief, has a car, rather than an SUV. That sedan is usually purchased new and ‘rolled-down’ to a police cruiser after a couple of years. The rest of the vehicles are available for use in emergency response. “We press everything into service in the event of a snowstorm or other emergency,” Vanderhoef said. “We have even used the DPW assistant director’s truck for beach rescue.” The DPW assistant director, like the other department heads and their deputies, is allowed to take his truck home so he can respond to calls at night.

Similarly, Orleans allows for individuals to “take a car home from work because they may be called upon to respond to an emergency after hours,” according to their official policy. Approved personnel listed are Park Superintendent, Highway Manager, Harbormaster, Fire Chief, Deputy Fire Chief, Police Chief, Police Lieutenant, and Water Superintendent. The town administrator’s assistant did not clarify which of those vehicles are sedans, but indicated that some are.

Orleans policy allows for mileage to be paid to town employees who use their own vehicles at the rate of $.55 per mile. Brewster also pays employees who use their own vehicles. The town administrator and police chief receive an annual stipend of $3,200 for the upkeep of their personal cars.

Gassin' up at the pump, town pump, that is

In all three towns, vehicles gas up at town pumps, which offer gas that usually costs the towns less than what it would at the local filling stations. In Eastham and Brewster, odometer readings must be entered when fueling the vehicle, allowing the towns to track mileage easily. “We belong to a county-wide fuel purchase plan that offers gas at a significantly lower price than what you’d find at the pump,” said Brewster’s Sumner. “It’s about $.40 cents or so cheaper.” Orleans also provides gas to fill up town-owned vehicles.

The gas mileage of a 2006 4WD Ford Explorer is 13 miles per gallon in the city, according to www.fueleconomy.gov, while a 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid gets 29 miles per gallon in the city. By comparison, the same site reports Toyota’s Prius gets 48 miles per gallon in the city.

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