CALIFORNIA

San Diego faces 'daunting' crisis as city vehicle fleet ages and deteriorates

Years of neglect and mismanagement of San Diego's large fleet of fire engines, patrol cars, street sweepers and other vehicles have created a crisis that officials say they're just beginning to understand.

Only about 1,600 of the city's roughly 4,100 vehicles are in good shape or better — and a recent analysis said more than 700 should be immediately replaced and an additional 1,100 considered for replacement based on age and deterioration.

Describing the situation as "daunting" and "a mess," officials last week said that restoring the fleet to acceptable levels would take several years, millions of dollars and an almost completely new approach to acquiring and repairing vehicles.

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New leaders in the city's fleet services division said they would unveil a comprehensive management plan this summer after evaluating past practices, the status of the city's vehicles and the best ways to pay for replacements.

The plan for the first time will include consideration of rebates, warranties and resale value, said Ron Villa, San Diego's deputy chief operating officer.

"The city has historically kept vehicles until they literally wear out and fall apart," said Villa, noting such an approach sharply increases maintenance costs. "Industry experts have recommended we determine the sweet spot for our vehicles, which may mean that we keep vehicles for three or four years — or five maybe at the longest — instead of the eight to 10 years that we've been doing."

The city will also probably decrease the variety of vehicles it uses to streamline maintenance and repairs.

Although costly, the need to replace so many vehicles relatively quickly could help San Diego meet the goals of its aggressive climate action plan, which requires that half of city vehicles be zero-emission by 2020 and 90% be zero-emission by 2035.

The fleet services division already has hired 27 employees who have helped to reduce the vehicle repair backlog, restore street sweeping in some neighborhoods and increase the number of reserve fire engines typically available.

In addition, the City Council has approved $25 million to purchase 31 vehicles for the Fire-Rescue Department: 22 fire engines, six firetrucks and three brush rigs.

Among the city's 4,100 vehicles are nearly 700 kinds, ranging from tractors and large trucks to police patrol cars and golf carts.

The recent analysis found that 79% are passenger cars or other light-duty vehicles and 21% are heavy-duty, such as street sweepers. Just over half are used for public safety, primarily police and firefighting, with the rest devoted to other city functions.

david.garrick@sduniontribune.com

Garrick writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on March 02, 2016, in the News section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "City vehicle fleet facing crisis - San Diego leaders are studying a new strategy for buying and fixing aging cars, trucks and machinery." — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe

UPDATES

This story originally ran on the Union-Tribune website on Feb. 27, 2016.

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