City of Boston
The City of Boston has two Ravo electric street sweepers on dedicated routes near downtown.

Boston EV Party

June 20, 2024
How the City of Boston's municipal fleet is preparing for electrification.

Under Mayor Michelle Wu, the City of Boston has taken an aggressive stance to eliminate carbon emissions from buildings and transportation through the city’s Green New Deal. As part of this environmental justice policy, the 1,200-asset municipal fleet—ranging from passenger cars and pickups to street sweepers and tow trucks—will progressively become more electrified with a mix of hybrids and EVs.

As of this May, Boston has around 60 fully electric vehicles, according to Robert Pardo, director of central fleet, City of Boston. More than 50 of those are compact Chevrolet Bolts, used primarily for traffic and code enforcement. Back in 2013, the city started electrifying its fleet with Ford Focus EVs. On the commercial side, the Parks Department took ownership of two Ford E-Transit cargo vans in 2022.

“The practical range is about 120 to 140 miles, which is more than enough for city driving, but [the drivers] do plug them in at the end of every shift,” Pardo said.

The city also deployed the first of two Ravo electric street sweepers in 2022. These operate near the heart of Boston on preplanned routes, staying close to the charging port, as Pardo noted that running the sweeping mechanisms also depletes the battery. “We’re still able to do exactly what we needed to do for this size of a map,” he said.

More recently, four Ford F-150 Lightning pickups joined the fleet.

At this stage, the fleet’s goal is to balance the long-term aspirational goals set forth by the mayor’s office to eradicate air pollution and injustices with the daily grind of making sure the various vehicles are available and capable enough to keep the city running. It’s been a methodical approach.

“It would look great if they were all electric, but it might not look great if there’s still trash in the street,” noted Pardo, who has spent 14 years with Boston’s municipal fleet. “To make sure that they can do their duties, we’re just kind of creeping into it and collecting as much data as we can.”

To collect that data, all of the fleet’s vehicles have some level of telematics, with the data managed through Samsara.  Using the telematics platform has allowed Pardo to “filter out that information,” he said. Before placing an EV into service, Pardo’s team analyzes the route data of existing ICE vehicles.

“That’s how we determined to electrify the code enforcement division, because of how far they go, how often they return, and how many shifts,” Pardo said.

For the decade-old Ford Focus EVs, tracking range is more important because battery degradation has lowered the range. These have been moved to departments that drive fewer miles per day.

Though climate activists fear a future where Boston Harbor will rise 6’ by 2100, winter weather is still very much a concern today. And those electric heaters drain the battery.

“As soon as you turn the heat on, you’re losing range, so we have that factor,” Pardo explained. “And on top of that, it’s the snow-fighting aspect where some of these trucks are out beyond the amount of time that they should be.”

Where vehicles are relative to the handful of available chargers is also critical. Pardo said most of the commercial vehicles have a dedicated charger, so no one has to swap vehicles after a charging cycle concludes.

“Right now, we’re just working on infrastructure to get these vehicles charged so we can improve and implement more vehicles,” Pardo said.

The city mostly uses Level 2 ChargePoint CPF50 units, which provide AC charging, and it has also installed some ABB 24kW D/C units, which Pardo said are “a middle point” between Level 2 and DC fast chargers.

“[The ABB charger] doesn’t rely on the vehicle’s inverter to change the AC voltage over to DC, so it can charge at a slower amperage but a quicker rate,” Pardo explained. “Those have been a big help.”

 The city is preparing to train employees for when the fleet grows large enough that multiple vehicles at each location will share chargers. This will allow everyone’s vehicle to be fully charged by the time work starts the next day.

As Boston plans to expand its charging infrastructure, and thus its total electric fleet, selecting optimal locations based on routes is only the start. The building itself must also be able to support the additional load, which is discovered during audits of the electrical system.

“With Boston being an older city, we found that some of the electrical services were just really out of date to the point where to get two or three chargers in would take immense amounts of construction, from trenching to new transformers,” Pardo said. “The biggest thing at this point is evaluating the current status of locations before getting excited about installing chargers or going electric.”

Maintenance

Pardo, a former technician for the city, noted “there’s a lot less preventative maintenance” for these trucks, with tasks like oil changes being a thing of the past. The technician does have to check for new problems like coolant leaks, though.

“Because EVs use electric pumps to pump coolant through them to cool the motors and the batteries, it’s a new challenge,” Pardo said.

And one benefit of EVs, regenerative braking, caused an issue with the older EVs. Because the actual brakes were not used as much, Pardo said road salt and lack of use would cause rust buildup.

“It would continue to build up until the rotors looked like the vehicle had sat for months without being driven,” he said.

Even though ICE vehicles had more maintenance, most problems were typically “familiar” to the techs, so there is now a “learning curve.” And components are now packed more closely, making general repairs “a little bit trickier.” Pardo said that “overall, the maintenance is a lot easier.”

While most EVs are so new they are still covered by warranties, the city still checks everything before sending work out-of-house. The city has 20 technicians, all expected to receive at least some EV maintenance training, and is looking to add several more.

“We know the warranties are going to end at some point, so we’re going to have to service them here in-house,” Pardo explained. “The biggest thing on that end is just getting the technicians comfortable with dealing with high voltage.”

Even though industry-wide, technicians have more trouble with the electrical side of vehicle diagnosis and repair, Pardo said it’s not as intimidating as one might think.

“Everyone hears the word electric, and they just automatically say ‘I’m not good at electrical,’” he said. “But for the most part, the high-voltage side of EVs is pretty simple when you actually look at it from a diagram standpoint. There are less components than in an internal combustion engine where everything is connected to the 12-volt system. On these EVs, you can divide out which part needs to be looked at.

“It’s not as scary when people start to dive into it,” Pardo emphasized. “Once most technicians start looking at these vehicles, they’ll realize that they’re not as complex as they think they are.”

To stay up on the more complex aspects, Pardo makes sure to hit the shops regularly to check out the new vehicles and attends training to sharpen his maintenance skills. Ultimately, this will also help him make better decisions about how to scale the EV fleet.

“I always like to make sure that when the salesperson comes in pushing some new technology, that I know what they’re talking about,” he concluded.

About the Author

John Hitch | Editor-in-chief, Fleet Maintenance

John Hitch is the editor-in-chief of Fleet Maintenance, where his mission is to provide maintenance management and technicians with the the latest information on the tools and strategies to keep their fleets' commercial vehicles moving.

He is based out of Cleveland, Ohio, and has worked in the B2B journalism space for more than a decade.

Hitch was previously senior editor for FleetOwner, and covers everything related to trucking and commercial vehicle equipment, including breaking news, the latest trends and best practices. He previously wrote about manufacturing and advanced technology for IndustryWeek and New Equipment Digest.

Prior to that he was editor for Kent State University's student magazine, The Burr, and a freelancer for Cleveland Magazine. He is an award-winning journalist and former sonar technician, where he served honorably aboard the fast-attack submarine USS Oklahoma City (SSN-723).

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