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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Getting There: Other Washington cities show more progress in fleet electrification than Spokane

A Nissan Leaf is plugged into a charging station during the dedication of Electric Avenue on the Portland State University campus in Portland, Ore., on Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2011. The city of Spokane has 1,086 vehicles, including fire trucks, garbage trucks, patrol cars and pool vehicles, and exactly one of them is electric: a Nissan Leaf purchased during the tenure of Mayor Mary Verner. (Don Ryan / Associated Press)

How time flies.

In 2007, Washington state Gov. Chris Gregoire signed a law that said cities, counties and other local governments and entities had to switch their vehicle fleets to run solely on electricity or biofuel by June 2018.

That’s right now.

But 11 years after she signed the law, which went into effect in 2015, the city of Spokane has 1,086 vehicles, including firetrucks, garbage trucks, patrol cars and pool vehicles, and exactly one of them is electric: a Nissan Leaf purchased during the tenure of Mayor Mary Verner.

Math tells us that about one-tenth of 1 percent of the fleet meets the letter of the law. Or in other words, statistically insignificant.

Compared to Seattle’s 178 electric vehicles, Spokane’s lagging. But compared to every other local jurisdiction, Spokane’s doing great. Spokane County, Eastern Washington University and Washington State University have zero, according to a report released Friday by Coltura, a Seattle-based group with the goal to “spur adoption of clean, zero-emission vehicles, and phase out sales of new gasoline vehicles by 2030.”

Spokane Transit Authority and Spokane Public Schools were not included in the report, and didn’t respond to requests for comment for this story.

Maybe it was the part of the law that had its teeth extracted, which said the switch should be done “to the extent practicable,” that has kept the numbers low. Or maybe there’s more to the numbers that the Coltura report doesn’t mention.

The city, for instance, does only have one electric vehicle, it’s true. But it also has seven hybrids, which run interchangeably on gas and electricity. And it has 32 garbage trucks that run on compressed natural gas, which creates less pollution and is more efficient than fossil fuels. The city anticipates the entire 100-strong fleet of garbage trucks will run on CNG by 2023.

Marlene Feist, the director of strategic development for the city’s public works and utilities department, said the city is working to make the fleet as “fuel efficient as possible” and continues to “integrate alternate fuel vehicles to meet state law.” But she pointed out another roadblock when attempting to convert a city’s fleet.

“Our fleet is largely large industrial vehicles,” she said. “We used to have more of a passenger car fleet. We used to have a bunch of pool cars. We don’t anymore.”

That may be the case, but other Washington cities show more progress in fleet electrification than Spokane. Seattle’s 178 vehicles, out of a total of 3,410, leads the pack by far. By very far. It is Seattle after all. As the report says, Washington’s largest city has “the most advanced vehicle electrification program of any city in Washington. Seattle presently has 92 pure EVs and 86 plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. It recently completed an installation of 156 charging units, and now has 289 serving its fleet, with 400 planned by 2023.”


Tacoma, which has a similarly sized fleet as Spokane, and Everett, which has a much smaller fleet, each have seven electric vehicles. Bellevue has four, Vancouver has three and Kirkland has two. Renton and Bellingham tie with Spokane at one.

Feist said the city has 205 light-duty vehicles that “potentially could be candidates for conversion to electricity or other alternate fuels, depending on how we use them.” She noted that since the law went into effect in 2015, the city has had no need to replace any of these vehicles, which usually occurs at the end of a vehicle’s lifespan.

She said the city is considering buying an all-electric vehicle called a Polaris GEM, which looks like a hefty golf cart, for parking enforcement.

The city also has a law on the books from 2015 that states “each vehicle purchased by the City shall be as fuel efficient or more fuel efficient as the vehicle it is replacing in the City fleet.” Electric vehicles count.

The Coltura report, which is focused on environmentalism, largely avoids criticizing the lack of municipal action. Instead, it takes aim at the law, which was supposed to cut back on public fuel use.

It calls the law “so vague that it provides no effective guidance to agencies, and no clear basis for holding them accountable for their decisions. If, for example, an agency has not invested in charging facilities, a vehicle that requires charging would arguably ‘not meet operational needs.’ There is no guidance for calculating the lifecycle cost of the vehicle, nor how operational needs are to be determined.”

And as Feist suggested, vehicles that run on natural gas count under the law, which includes “an allowance for substitution of natural gas and propane for electricity or biodiesel not authorized within the statute.” The report acknowledges the allowance, but didn’t count the CNG vehicles.

The report shows what’s at stake. Vehicle emissions are the largest source of air pollution, and more than 40 percent of all carbon emissions in Washington state came from tailpipes. In 2016, Seattle burned through more than 2.2 million gallons of gas while Spokane combusted 902,000 gallons.

Secure your load

This Wednesday is Secure Your Load Day, an annual event to raise awareness about tying down loads on vehicles to prevent road debris.

According to the AAA Foundation for Safety, more than 200,000 crashes were caused by road debris over the past four years. Such road trash resulted in 39,000 injuries and 500 deaths between 2011 and 2014.

The day was founded by Seattleite Robin Abel, whose daughter was fatally injured by an unsecured load. Abel started to advocate for secure loads in 2004. Now, 47 states recognize Secure Your Load Day.

Some tips if you’re carrying a load: Tie it down with rope or straps; tie large things to the vehicle; cover the load with tarp or netting; and don’t overload. For more information, go to

Kids ride the bus cheap

The time is now to purchase a summer youth transit pass from the Spokane Transit Authority.

For children between the ages of 6 and 18, passes can be purchased for about half off their normal cost. So what would normally cost $105, the three summer months only costs $50.

STA says the best time to purchase the pass is this month since the price of the pass will increase in July due to a scheduled fare increase affecting all STA passes.

Find out more at

Sewage work in West Central

Work to stop sewage from flowing into the Spokane River continues to close multiple intersections in Spokane’s West Central neighborhood.

This week, crews are working at the following intersections:

    Cochran Street and Dean Avenue

    Cochran and Mallon Avenue

    Cochran and Broadway Avenue

    Lindeke Street and Broadway Avenue

    Lindeke and Mallon

    Lindeke and Dean

Boone and Broadway avenues will remain open throughout construction on this $3.4 million project.

In West Central’s Kendall Yards, similar sewer work has closed Cedar Street south of Bridge Lane to Summit Parkway, and Bridge Avenue between Ash and Oak streets. This project is building a 38,000-gallon storage tank and a 13,000-gallon storage tank.

North Monroe work continues

Work to completely renovate North Monroe Street between Indiana Avenue and the North Hill has largely closed the street.

The project is affecting about 16 blocks, and is being completed in four-block segments. There are two contractors working on this project, and each is working on a segment at a time, allowing some blocks to remain open to traffic.

On the south end of Monroe, Murphy Brothers will move on to the second phase of their part of the project between Montgomery and Indiana avenues on Thursday. That will occur only if all concrete, utility adjustments, signing and temporary striping on Monroe between Chelan and Carlisle avenues are complete and open to traffic.

On the north end of the project, being done by Red Diamond, the transition to phase two, between Euclid and Grace avenues, will happen on June 11.

Roundabout roundtable

The Spokane Regional Transportation Council is hosting a Roundabout Community Conversation on Wednesday from 6 p.m to 8 p.m. at CenterPlace Regional Event Center in Spokane Valley, 2426 N. Discovery Place.

According to SRTC, a panel of national roundabout experts will be talking about everything roundabout. So if you hate them or love them, be there.

Find out more at