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City wins kudos for vehicle plan

It may lack a bit in pick-up, but in Mayor Fred Eisenberger's view the city's new Smart car lives up to its name.

As a member of the city's "green fleet," the pint-sized gas miser is part of efforts cut carbon dioxide emissions from municipal vehicles by 40 per cent over three years.

"It's not very peppy, but certainly efficient and functional," Mr. Eisenberger said following a test drive at a Green Fleet Expo hosted by the city last Friday.

"It's ideal. Why carry around this great big hulking vehicle when you only need to transport a couple of people?" he said.

"It's surprisingly stable and certainly worthwhile for those who are taking short-haul trips in the city, for inspectors, one passenger or two."

The expo, which drew 160 representatives from 50 municipalities, showcased the Smart car as well as the new hybrid vehicles and buses that earned Hamilton the first-ever national award for its efforts to cut fleet emissions.

The Fraser Basin Council -- a non-profit B.C. group dedicated to advancing environmental sustainability -- awarded the city a silver rating for policies that helped its vehicles increase fuel efficiency by five per cent and cut greenhouse gases by two per cent for every kilometre travelled.

The city's green fleet presently includes the Smart car, 56 hybrid vehicles and 12 hybrid buses, but Mr. Eisenberger said he expects it to be expanded over time to include electric vehicles and heavy equipment like bulldozers and cranes as technology improves.

Greater demand will bring down prices, he said, improving the pay-back time for the vehicles, which are generally more expensive than their conventional counterparts.

"There's less fuel costs for the municipality, but we're all looking towards improving our air quality," Mr. Eisenberger said.

"We have 11 smog-air days a year, we've got an anti-idling bylaw now; those are the small steps that we can all participate in.

"But we can lead by example for the rest of the community by saying, 'Look, purchasing a hybrid vehicle is good for the environment as a whole, and you can do it, as we are.' Hopefully the economy for that will be more affordable for everyone as we get into that technology."

Public works general manager Scott Stewart said the city hopes its green fleet plan sends "a strong message to vehicle producers" that municipalities want more environmentally friendly alternatives.

But the program extends beyond new technology, he said, citing an anti-idling policy for city vehicles that has cut operating time by 30 per cent.

The new hybrid vehicles meanwhile reduce gas consumption by 25 per cent.

"It's good on the pocketbook as well," Mr. Stewart told those on hand for the expo. "We continue to press that message to make sure we get it from an environmental perspective, to make sure our treasurer gets it, because he sees the savings as well, " he said. "That's the easy sell as we take that message back to the municipalities."

Toronto councillor Paula Fletcher said her municipality is presently reviewing its green fleet plan, which has reduced greenhouse emissions from city vehicles by 23 per cent from 2003 levels.

Despite that success, "sometimes it wasn't easy to generate buy-in" for the program, especially in the days before climate change leapt toward the forefront of the public's concerns, she said.

"It's not perhaps the sexiest thing that we're spending dollars on in the city," Ms. Fletcher said. "But it is the environmentally responsible thing to do."

Hamilton East MPP Andrea Horwath, who presented Fraser Basin Council award, said the fact the city beat municipalities like Vancouver for the honour "says we're doing some great work here."

"The transition to greener alternatives, in fact, is going to be one of the major solutions to our greenhouse gas problem," she said, noting the expo came as the province issued a smog alert for that day.

"Global warming, of course, is an undisputable fact and extreme weather is the outcome that we're all observing on a daily basis and I'm sure we're going to continue to observe these changes in our climate over this summer, which is lining up to be a particularly difficult one, apparently."

Green fleet program seen as 'good on pocketbook as well'

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