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Procurement: are fleets electric?

What do advances in the electric and hydrogen vehicle market mean for police fleets? Chloe Livadeas reports on local force initiatives and the first attempt at a national procurement exercise.

Critics say performance will be compromised for sustainability, but what has the electric vehicle (EV) market made viable for today's police fleets?

Gloucestershire Constabulary has the biggest percentage of EVs which run within the largest charging infrastructure of any force in England and Wales.

Their fleet is made up of 282 diesel vehicles, 31 petrol, four hybrid and 83 electric.

This is all part of Police and Crime Commissioner Martin Surl's commitment to a “green and pleasant county”. As one of the biggest employers in Gloucestershire, he wants the force over the next 18 months to come up with a plan to become carbon neutral by 2035 (“if viable”).

“We've done the work, we've done the research. And there's no doubt that the public, particularly young people, are overwhelmingly supportive of it,” said PCC Surl.

“We didn't try to do it purely out of principle and give a substandard vehicle with poor range. We only introduced the large numbers when we knew the range would be sufficient, the performance would be sufficient and it would do the job for them.”

The force says its EV fleet is making savings in terms of both budget and carbon footprint.

Steve Imm is Gloucestershire’s head of transport services.

He said the force is predicted to make more than £100,000 in fuel savings annually and £30,000 in service and maintenance costs.

And so far Gloucestershire calculated that they’ve reduced their Co2 by around 190 tonnes a year by moving to electric vehicles.

“For me, it's about being a responsible police service. The public expect that”, said PCC Surl.

“Why would forces be the last to do this?”

The Metropolitan Police is second place behind Gloucestershire and has 546 eco-vehicles in its fleet of around 5,000 (around 11 percent) – a combination of hybrid, hydrogen and electric. The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has set an ambition for the capital to be one of the world’s leading zero-emission cities, with 100 per cent electric vehicles by 2030.

It’s not just the type of vehicles forces are procuring but the way they procure them that’s changing.

BlueLight Commercial was launched earlier this year to use the power of the 999 customer base to spearhead more competitive procurement processes for police and fire services and has just announced its first national framework contract of over 8,000 vehicles over two years. Around 1,300 of the 8,198 cars will be low emission vehicles – approximately 16 per cent. Forces asked for 828 electric and 465 hybrids as part of the framework bid.

Jo Osborne is Bluelight’s Regional Commercial Director with responsibility for police fleet and aviation.

She said all forces had signed up to the contract to supply a new nationwide police fleet in order to benefit from the “economies of scale of working together”.

“If all 43 forces all go off and do their own thing, we're not going to get better value, we're not going to have a standardised approach to things and they won't get the benefit of sharing their experience.

“We're going to be putting a new strategy together with National Association of Police Fleet Managers (NAPFM) to really look at the decarbonisation agenda. That's another big area that BlueLight will focus on. There is opportunity to procure electric vehicles under this arrangement that we're just putting in place now, and that that will only grow.”

The majority of the Gloucestershire’s electric vehicles, manufactured by Nissan, are used by local investigation teams. They have 66 Nissan LEAFs, of which 11 are marked vehicles, and nine e-NV200s.

Gloucestershire's Nissan LEAFs and e-NV200s

Gloucestershire’s Office for the Police and Crime Commissioner has been promoting greater use of electric cars for six years.

For example, most chief officers get a car as part of their package.

“In Gloucestershire, you have a choice,” said PCC Surl. “You can have a red one or a blue one - but it'll be a Tesla.”

Currently most of the usage of electric vehicles by forces is confined to CID and other roles not involved in response calls. But could this change?  

“At the moment, we're sort of restricted to our operational vehicles being essentially A to B cars to drive to crime inquiries,” said Transport Manager Imm.  

He said there were 'complexities' in terms of what makes an ideal pursuit vehicle and there are still some issues with electric models in this role.

Electric vehicles are heavier because of the weight of the battery which is between 200 and 300 kilos. “That’s essentially the weight of the equipment we’re putting in (to pursuit vehicles),” said Mr Imm.

He also said range was a limitation, with their electric vehicles managing 150 to 160 miles before needing a re-charge.

But these barriers are likely to be overcome in the not-so-distant future. Electric is where manufacturers are going. Purchase price is being driven down, increasing the potential of affordable, longer-range vehicles coming on the market.

PCC Surl said: “There's no reason not to go to about at least 20 per cent in all forces if the will is there.”

Gloucestershire is aiming to extend its electric fleet to 40 per cent within four years.

PCC Surl said they’ll move forward when the technology allows them to. “We’re not going to do it just on principal,” he said.

Such a shift is mostly dependent on the progression of the county’s charging infrastructure.

PCC Surl and the force's transport mnager agree it will be crucial that all forces have a charging infrastructure compatible with one another.  Otherwise an officer might have to register with three or four energy suppliers to be able to charge the vehicle they were driving 'on the fly.'

He said: “I think nationally for us to move forward there needs to be some consistency within the national infrastructure to allow us to charge and have access to charging on our roadways, which then will in turn increase our ability to increase the number of fleet vehicles.”

PCC Surl holds the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners’ newly formed Environmental Sustainability portfolio and says South-East forces are working in harmony to establish an electric charging infrastructuire for the whole region dedicated to police vehicles.

Mr Imm said: “The national infrastructure has been supplier led and really needs to be government led.”

Sweden, he said, is an example where government backing has resulted in the installation of charging points up and down the roadways with one supplier.

The next thing on the horizon for forces with a green ambition is rapid charging infrastructure for response cars that run 24/7. Rapid charging can be done in 20 – 40 minutes, other wallboxes  take up to eight hours.

Ms Osborne said Bluelight’s contract is for a two year period because “things are changing so quickly”.

“We want to make sure that we're not tying ourselves into something that there's no flexibility in. We need to work closely with our colleagues in estates departments up and down the country because the charging infrastructure is wider than just fleet colleagues.

“There's all sorts of complexities - if they share buildings, if the buildings are PFIs and also just in some of the more rural areas, if we were to put charging stations in we could wipe out whole villages by using the electricity.”

While there are undoubted obstacles PCC Surl is confident they will be overcome. “I think the time to go electric is now. There's nothing to stop you. We've got the charging infrastructure in place, there's nothing stopping all forces in the country moving to 20 - 30 per cent of electric.

“This is the right thing to do. We'll share all the information we have through that. And then we'll keep up with technology to see when we can move to the next stage.”

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