Taxpayers, environment to benefit from move to hybrid police vehicles in Lancaster County [Lancaster Watchdog] | Local News

Since last summer, a police department in northern Lancaster County has saved about $15,000 in fuel costs by transitioning all patrol vehicles to hybrids, which run on electric power part of the time.

And over the course of four years, it’s estimated those savings will rise to about $130,000, according to Sgt. David Burdis of Northern Lancaster County Regional Police Department. Other related savings could add up to even more, he said.

“Fuel saving on running a hybrid fleet versus a standard fleet is significant and saves the taxpayer a lot of money,” he said.

On top of that, it’s expected that the hybrid fleet will drastically reduce the patrol vehicles’ carbon emissions, which have been linked to both poor air quality and climate change.

“On-road vehicles are the single largest factor in cancer risk from outdoor air pollution in Lancaster County,” said Kevin Stewart, local environmental health director at the American Lung Association.

The hybrid model is being considered by officials at some other local law enforcement agencies.

But it clearly made sense for Northern Lancaster County Regional, which serves Clay, Penn and Warwick townships, Burdis said.

There, all 15 of the department’s patrol vehicles are now hybrid SUVs, specifically 2020 Ford Police Interceptors, which first hit local streets last summer.

Factors behind decision

Driving that decision, at least in part, was police officials’ desire to reduce fuel burned during the significant amount of time their vehicles spend idling, Burdis said.

“The idle time, it’s huge,” he said, explaining many day-to-day duties require stationary, in-vehicle work. “It’s not just a car. It’s basically a mobile office.”

To power in-vehicle equipment, officers often would leave engines running, burning costly amounts of fuel while spewing emissions, Burdis said.

Now, the hybrids allow all of that equipment to be powered instead by in-vehicle electrical systems, which means gas-powered engines can shut off — kicking on only intermittently to charge batteries.

Department officials haven’t noticed any significant difference in how the hybrids perform, Burdis said, adding that officers have seen no related interruptions to fulfilling their regular duties.

Since officers first took to county roads in the hybrids last July, the average vehicle has been in use for about 800 total hours, he said.

Of that time, about 300 hours have relied on gas powered-engines — 37.5{50531db320f8e8a316d79d6a285e47c71b6e4f6739df32858cb86474d7e720e9} of the overall time that the vehicles have been in use, according to Burdis.

“We are particularly proud of this number for two reasons,” he said. “This is how we achieve fuel savings. This is how we greatly reduce our carbon footprint and help our environment.”

Air quality, health benefits

Again looking to estimates, Burdis said the hybrid vehicles could allow for a 45 percent reduction in carbon emissions — lowering annual per-vehicle carbon dioxide loads from 62,719 pounds to 34,418 pounds.

Those emissions carry pollutants that are known to contribute to Lancaster County’s historically poor air quality, said Stewart, with the American Lung Association.

They’re pollutants that can impact human health, leading to respiratory illnesses while also acting as irritants that can exacerbate symptoms in those already diagnosed with forms of lung disease, he said.

“These are the kinds of health effects that people experience,” Stewart said, applauding any example municipal leaders can set by cutting emissions. “We also know that there is a role, a very clear and needed role, for leadership organizations.”

But that transition comes with a cost, Burdis said. In Northern Lancaster County Regional’s case, that cost was $39,750 per vehicle, he said, admitting that’s higher than a traditional, non-hybrid vehicle.

Still, Burdis said the hybrid fleet could end up being cheaper than other options by a few hundred thousand dollars over the course of the vehicles’ four-year lifespan — a cost savings realized by a number of factors, including buying the vehicles “in bulk,” purchasing a comprehensive warranty plan and reducing fuel consumption.

Other departments

Within other local police forces, the transition is still being considered or, in some cases, moving more slowly.

That includes Pennsylvania State Police, who deploy between 1,400 and 1,500 marked and unmarked vehicles statewide, including 22 assigned to Troop J, which covers Lancaster County, spokesman Ryan Tarkowski said.

“We have purchased five 2020 hybrid patrol vehicles that will be field tested in the next three to six months to see if they are suitable for widespread PSP use,” he said in February. “We are specifically looking to see if the fuel savings will offset the higher initial cost of the hybrid vehicles.”

In Lancaster city, nine hybrids — five marked and four unmarked — are among the police fleet, Lt. William Hickey said.

Decision-making also is under way in Elizabethtown, where Chief Ed Cunningham said no hybrids have yet been added to the borough’s fleet of five marked and five unmarked vehicles.

“We are considering it and trying to weigh the options at this point,” he said.

A part of that consideration will take into account how hybrids perform in other departments, including Northern Lancaster County Regional, Cunningham said, explaining he wants to “make sure that reliability and performance are not diminished in the new platform.”

Other options, like an all-electric police vehicle made by Tesla, also have piqued Cunningham’s interest, he said.

Inversely, Lt. Thomas Shumaker of the Ephrata Police, said his department has not added any hybrids to its fleet, and they’re not currently being considered by officials.