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Records show 4 out of 10 state hybrid vehicles rarely driven

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island’s “green” vehicles have been even more environmentally friendly than most, with nearly 40 percent of them spending a lot of time in park.

A review of mileage records for the state’s hybrid and electric fleet revealed five Ford C Max sedans were driven one mile each for the the last four months of 2015, the year they were purchased.

One Chevy Volt was not driven at all last year. 

Of the 146 vehicles on the spreadsheet obtained by Target 12 from the Department of Administration, 58 of them averaged less than 300 miles a month, for years at a time in many cases. 

Nearly half of those were driven about a thousand miles or less in one year’s time since they were put in service.

And several averaged about a thousand a year over multiple years. 

By contrast, the governor’s office hybrid Chevrolet averaged around 100,000 miles a year in 2016 and 2017. 

But that Chevy is one of several vehicles on the list where it reads “data not available” in the mileage column, for multiple years. 

DOA Director Michael DiBiase said his agency has been looking into efficiencies for the entire state fleet, including gasoline vehicles, for about a year.

“I think there’s room to better utilize our cars,” DiBiase said when asked if the data indicates under-utilization. “That’s self-reported data. I’m not meaning to question it but until we centrally manage this fleet, we’re not going to actually know.”

This all started when a viewer tipped us off about a row of Department of Environmental Management vehicles that they said “are never driven.”

Target 12 watched those cars over several weeks, for hours at a time, and saw one driven only once while we were there. We then requested the data, which ended up supporting the claim.

DiBiase said after realizing the state “can do better in terms of utilizing our cars,” a job for state Fleet Administrator was posted July 19.

He believes the $85,000 to $95,000 a year position will more than pay for itself in savings from more efficient use. 

“There is an insurance expense. We insure them as a fleet,” DiBiase said. “There’s the expense of not utilizing the vehicles because the vehicles will depreciate.”

Paul Lauria, president of Maryland-based fleet consulting firm Mercury Associates, said “it is rare” for states to not have fleet administrators.  

“That can definitely save [a state] money,” Lauria said.

As for the low mileage for Rhode Island’s hybrids, “I would say that’s potential under-utilization,” Lauria said. “Mileage does not always tell the whole story.”

DiBiase said the rest of story will be told with data collected by the fleet administrator, with one probability involving electronic devices on the vehicles that would send everything from mileage to maintenance requirements to a database.

Lauria said one potential motivator for government to better manage its fleet is taxpayers noticing rows and rows of idle state vehicles. 

“It’s exactly those kinds of perceptions and observations that often precipitate state government taking a harder look at fleet management practices,” he said.

The DEM and Department of Corrections are the agencies with the highest number of apparently under-utilized vehicles. 

DOC spokesperson J.R. Ventura said corrections vehicles are “being utilized efficiently.” 

“Vehicle utilization depends largely on its purpose,” Ventura said. “For example, a vehicle designed to operate within the Pastore campus in between RIDOC facilities and buildings used several times a day, every day, will likely reflect lower mileage than one used to travel across the state a few times a week.”

DEM spokesman Michael Healey acknowledged his agency has “a unique role in implementing Governor Raimondo’s ‘Lead by Example’ initiative.”

“The fact that vehicle usage statistics are tracked, recorded, and updated in different ways and at different times across state government underscores the importance of DOA’s plan to hire a new State Fleet Administrator,” Healey said. 

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau.

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