Mass. cities are adding electric vehicles to their fleets: How it's going

City officials talk the pros and cons of Tesla, the Mustang Mach-E and hybrids


By Wendall Waters
Wicked Local North, Danvers, Mass.

DANVERS, Mass. — Towns and cities north of Boston have added all-electric vehicles (EVs) and hybrids to their municipal fleets, including in their police, building, public works and traffic enforcement divisions. But do these vehicles perform as they should, even in public safety situations? Do they save money by using less gas and/or requiring less regular maintenance? We checked in with some local officials to find out.

Here's a look at some of the hybrid and electric vehicles being used by municipalities north of Boston::

  • Beverly: 2 electric school buses; 3 electric vehicles in public safety — a squad car, one for the school resource officer, and one for traffic enforcement
  • Ipswich: 1 Tesla for the police chief; 4 gas/electric hybrid Ford Explorers for officers.
  • Marblehead: 2 Ford Interceptor hybrid cruisers were ordered for the Police Department; 1 Chevy Volt in the Building Department
  • North Andover: 2 all-electric vehicles, purchased with funds from a grant in the amount of $169,390 under the Green Communities Act.
  • Saugus: 2 electric vehicles are used by the parking enforcement officer and the DPW
  • Swampscott: 3 Ford hybrid cruisers in the Police Department
  • Somerville: All front-line police cruisers are hybrids
  • Topsfield: 1 Ford Mustang Mach-E in the Police Department

Two Ford Interceptor hybrid cruisers were ordered for the Marblehead Police Department as part of the fiscal 2021 capital improvement package.

"It has the ability to kind of go into a sleep mode, unlike a traditional 24-hour running cruiser," said Police Chief Dennis King. "It kind of shuts itself down and monitors it, which has nothing but positive effects on the wear and tear of a vehicle, which, for police, is a big deal. Wear and tear is 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so anytime you can reduce the number of hours that it's in operation, you're going to see savings."

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Before joining the Marblehead force, King worked in Salem for 25 years. In his last position there, he was in charge of the fleet, and over a period of a few years brought in five hybrid cruisers.

"Anecdotally, we did run our numbers just for short time periods on a couple cruisers that we were using," he said.

There was a decrease, somewhere in the area of 20-30%, in the amount of fuel used and in the number of trips to the fuel pumps.

Three Ford hybrid cruisers were added to the Swampscott Police Department, and they get mixed reviews from Lt. Michael Frayler, who is in charge of the fleet.

"Mechanically, they are constantly being repaired, Frayler said. "They're unreliable. The best part of the hybrid is the battery helps with the idling. They perform well, when they are working properly."

In Ipswich, the police chief's vehicle is a Tesla EV, and four of the department's front-line vehicles are Ford Explorer hybrids.

Emergency Manager Director Lt. Jonathan Hubbard wrote of the hybrids, "They are a bit to get used to as it switches from gas to electric, and the feeling is different than a standard gas car on acceleration, but other than that we haven't had any performance issues with them at all."

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"The Tesla is working out great. No complaints about its performance as an administrative vehicle," Police Chief Paul Nikas said by email.

The Tesla was purchased on March 1, 2021. Towards the end of the year, there were about 2,000 miles on it, he said. The vehicle has a 300-mile range and had been fully charged the equivalent of seven times.

"At a cost of approximately $12/full charge, we have spent $84 dollars to operate," Nikas wrote. "As a comparison, a Ford Explorer, with 7 fill-ups (16 gallons) at an average cost of $2.50 gallon would be $280 to operate."

And, there are no carbon emissions, he pointed out.

How will it perform in the snow?

"Feel free to reach back out after our first good snowfall to see how the battery charge holds up and AWD does in inclement weather," the chief said. "I'm expecting good results."

The Topsfield Police Department invested in a Ford Mustang Mach E. Topsfield Town Administrator Kevin Harutunian said a lot of research went into making the decision. Police Chief Neal Hovey, he said, test drove a number of vehicles before settling on the Mach E. In addition, the town did some financial analysis.

"The up-front cost plus the fit-out of the vehicle is about a $5,000 to $6,000 variance between buying a combustion engine Ford Explorer or buying a Mustang [EV]," Harutunian said. "And when we looked at the savings from the cost to fuel the vehicle, electricity versus gasoline, and we looked at the ongoing annual maintenance costs being reduced with an EV, no oil changes and things of that nature, we estimate somewhere between a $3,500 to $4,000 dollar savings annually."

So, the payback on it is under two years, he said, and the Mach E has everything the Police Department was looking for in a vehicle. Plus, the town received a $7,500 credit from the state for purchasing an EV.

"There's a lot of wins with this, operationally, financially," Harutunian said, "and it's also a good thing for the environment. It's something that we should all be thinking about when opportunities present themselves. If we can be sustainable and find efficiencies or savings, that's great."

[RELATED: Man donates Tesla patrol car to Ohio police department]

The first of two electric school buses in Beverly Public Schools' fleet hit the streets in late 2020. Dana Cruikshank, director of transportation for the district, had only good things to say about the vehicle.

"The elementary school kids call it 'The Magic Bus,'" he said.

Aside from having lower emissions than its diesel counterparts, the electric bus has been a lot of fun to have in the fleet, Cruikshank said.

"I've driven it several times," he said. "It's similar to any new bus. ... But it's super quiet. It reminds me of, as a kid, going to Disney and riding the monorail."

(c)2022 Wicked Local North, Danvers, Mass.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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