Virtually every fleet manager — in the public and private sectors — has at least thought about using fuels other than gasoline and diesel. But in the lowest-cost, no-tax-credit government environment, finding the solution that makes the most sense financially and operationally is particularly challenging.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy's Clean Cities website, the simplest alternatives are biodiesel or gasoline/ethanol blends. These typically require little if any vehicle modification while taking advantage of renewable resources.

Liquid propane and compressed natural gas are other options, but only if they're readily available and the vehicle can be modified to burn them. Hybrids — electric, hydraulic, plug-in electric, and natural gas — are ideal for the stop-and-go routes most publicly owned vehicles travel, but their maintenance needs differ from traditional vehicles. An all-electric vehicle may suit your internal customer's requirements, but keeping its battery charged may be logistically impossible.

All emit fewer pollutants than gasoline-and diesel-powered vehicles. To narrow the search as options expand, analyze your needs carefully. Answer the following questions to get started:

  • What's my top priority: lower costs, fuel consumption, or emissions? What code or regulatory issues apply?
  • What distances does the vehicle travel per shift, per day, and per week? How much of that is stop-and-go versus highway or long-haul driving?
  • What fuels are conveniently and reliably available? If specialized skills or tools are necessary to operate, maintain, and repair the vehicle, will my technicians need training or special expertise? If so, how accessible is it? Can we afford it?
  • What coalitions or partnerships can I forge to ease the transition to alternative vehicles?
  • Having explored the options for running a more environmentally beneficial operation, the following three managers have so far derived great benefits from taking less-than-radical steps. Stay alert for these opportunities in your own operation, and look for additional developments in the next few years.