Facility Maintenance Decisions

Cost of Electric Utility Vehicles Prompt Change at University of Texas

The story is much different at University of Texas in Austin, where the cost of electric utility vehicles has slowed the drive to purchase them for grounds operations.

"With electric, you don't have the fuel costs up front on a daily basis," says John Burns, the university's landscape manager. "But then you have to replace the batteries from time to time, and they can be very expensive. It's kind of a trade-off, but we've gone to the gasoline because of the initial cost of purchasing the vehicle."

Burns' staff maintains about 850 acres— 450 acres on the main campus downtown, and about 400 acres at the research campus outside Austin. The department deploys 18 vehicles in its fleet, nine of which are electric.

"We've done a roundabout," Burns says. "Until the electric vehicles come down in cost or the gas vehicles go up, or until (the electric vehicles) are more reasonably priced, we are now going to more of a gasoline fleet. In our purchasing process, we purchased a couple of gas carts this year, where in the past it would have been the other way around."

One alternative fuel source for utility vehicles that has caught Burns' attention is propane, which the department uses to power mowers and some other vehicles.

"We haven't been able to crack that nut yet," Burns says, referring to the challenges related to using propane to power utility vehicles. "With utility vehicles, the tank takes up too much of your bed space. If it ever turns out that's not the case, we'd be interested in propane as a sustainable alternative fuel source."

Despite the current situation at the University of Texas, Burns knows it is only a matter of time before momentum again swings toward purchasing electric vehicles.

"We do sustainability," Burns says. "We consider that in all of our purchases. In utility vehicles, it was the main driver in going electric, but money is part of that. Being able to afford to run that equipment. We're still thinking sustainability when going gasoline. Only money has taken a bigger role, a more guiding role."

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  posted on 8/14/2013   Article Use Policy

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