Thursday, April 30, 2009

Bad News Dept: US city cuts climate change programs

Here is one more of myriad Bad News examples of public officials getting it very very wrong. In this case Montgomery County council staff has recommended cutting the county’s CarShare program in half. (Montgomery County is in state of Maryland, situated just north of Washington, D.C.)

Will they ever learn? No, not unless we all help them. Which of course is why we are here. (Comments as always warmly welcome.)
Montgomery weighs cuts for climate change programs
By: Washington DC Examiner Staff Writer, 04/30/09 *

Montgomery County officials want to scale back some of the county’s ambitious efforts to reduce the county’s greenhouse gas emissions in order to help bridge a budget gap of more than $550 million.

The county set a goal last year of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050, and has instituted a number of programs to help meet that goal. But with the county deep in the red, officials now propose to switch from biodiesel fuel to low-sulfur diesel, reduce the number of cars available for a county carpool pilot program and cut funds to buy equipment for telecommuting workers.

Council staff recommended cutting almost $100,000 that County Executive Ike Leggett has proposed to spend on laptops, BlackBerry devices and network hardware so that 25 county employees can telecommute as part of a program designed to cut commutes and the greenhouse gases that come with them.

Senior legislative analyst Keith Levchenko wrote in a memo to the council that he was “skeptical” of the value of spending so much money on the program, because most employees already have a computer and phone at home and might only telecommute a few times a week.

“It is not clear that this is the best investment of dollars to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Levchenko wrote.

County council staff has also recommended cutting the county’s “CarShare” program in half. The pilot program started in January, with the county making 28 cars available for county employees to share at a cost to the county of $1,100 per car a month.

Through April 14 the program was only used seven times, for a total of 27.25 hours, according to county council staff. Reducing the number of cars available for the program from 28 to 14 would save the county $184,000 a year, staff said.

The county’s motor pool said it has stopped using biodiesel fuel in some of its vechicles to save money, and because there have been quality issues with the fuel, which is a mix of diesel and discarded vegetable oil. County officials said the low-sulfur fuel they now use instead is on average 8 cents a gallon cheaper, and the switch will save the county $250,000 next fiscal year.

* * * *

It’s not easy being green

Environmental programs being recommended for cuts:

• Biodiesel fuel: County vehicles would return to low-sulfur diesel.

• Telecommuting: Council staff recommends cutting $100,000 for equipment that would allow 25 employees to telecommute.

• CarShare program: Staff recommends cutting this new program in half.
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  1. The Montgomery model is a story similar to the early Edinburgh system which failed with Budget Car Hire - who I think saw it as an extension of their conventional car hire business with a different customer- the Car Club. Edinburgh celebrated its 10th birthday in March this year, and is now the largest car sharing scheme in the UK and 'washing its own face' financially.

    The secrets? Well it has a number of significant corporate members including the city council, who use the cars during the working day, when the private demand is low, and thus the cars are available evenings and weekends for private users. Edinburgh has a high percentage of households who live in flats (apartments) and in the city centre which in turn means they either don't bother to own cars or find the parking (cost and availability) a big hassle. Thus there is a ready audience for the convenience of a 24/7 pay as you use car. Glasgow, with only 35% of households in the city centre owning a car has a massive demand for a car club but perhaps the most obstructive local council policy on providing the spaces on the street - although this is not a requirement
    - private sites can offer spaces in their own car parks.

    Researching residential cycle parking (another serious blind spot (if you cannot conveniently keep a bike where you live, you won't be likely to cycle very much) I also noted that 75% of homes in inner London are flat-type properties and not unsurprisingly over 50% of the households in these Boroughs do not own a car.

    I have a strong suspicion that the Montgomery model fails to take account of some very obvious conditions and has been driven as a political rather than a demand motivated solution. It would seem unlikely that a density of population which delivers a body of users within a convenient distance of a cluster of car club vehicles (to deliver a decent level of urban service you need at least 6 cars and 100 subscribers in a fairly concentrated area, and rural models tend to have a very different operating regime).

    I do recommend looking at the CarPlus UK website which includes illustration of how corporate members are making massive savings on staff car costs by buying this resource by the hour rather than leasing or buying a car which then sits idle for up to 80% of the time. The German Cambio system also a very interesting initiative, especially in the offer of interoperability between cities (catch the train to another city and buy a couple of hours of car use to get to a meeting outside the town).

    The German system is also compatible with the Flemish car clubs which have a majority stakeholder in the bus company de Lijn, reflecting the recognition that car sharing and bike sharing are actually a vital part of the public transport network.

    Dave Holladay
    Transportation Management Solutions
    Glasgow Scotland

  2. Kevin McLaughlinSaturday, 16 May, 2009

    It wasn't "car sharing" it was Enterprise...

    Kevin McLaughlin
    Toronto Canada

  3. Has Enterprise issued any kind of public response to this? This story is on like 6 of my newsfeeds today and it's not good for the industry as a whole.

    Maybe someone currently operating a successful program like this should contact the reporter and give them some stats about successful public/private partnerships and how much money they save when they're properly executed. Maybe one of City Carshare's government fleet programs? or the City of Philadelphia program that Zip took over from Philly Carshare?

    Just an idea...

    Brian Kusler
    Principal, Opencar Networks


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