No one has been a more vocal supporter of "green" policies than Pittsburgh City Councilor Bill Peduto ... and yet at a May 17 council meeting no one was complaining more loudly than Peduto about a plan to have city employees use a fleet of hybrid automobiles.
"I don't believe all of this efficiency and green-government PR crap that's being thrown out," Peduto said.
The object of Peduto's ire was a request from city finance director Scott Kunka, who asked council to spend $10,000 on a contract with Flexcar, a car-sharing service that allows participants to rent a hybrid vehicle from a fleet of 20 scattered around the city. Flexcar began operating in Pittsburgh this month as a private venture, and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has pushed for a pilot program in which some city officials will sign up for memberships.
The hope, Kunka told council, was that Flexcar "could reduce traffic congestion and pollution. We also hope it will ultimately reduce our need for a city motor-vehicle pool."
Peduto countered that if Ravenstahl were serious about environmental issues, the city would start by reducing the vehicle pool first. He charged that Ravenstahl, who drove a Flexcar into Market Square as a media stunt, was using environmental causes for some short-term political gain.
"We have a motor pool, and then to go and spend $10,000 to use another fleet, we are not being good to the environment, and we are not saving the taxpayers money," Peduto says. "This is being utilized throughout the country, and when they're doing it, they're not having press conferences first. ... What they're doing is eliminating their motor pools."
Peduto also faulted the city for not allowing other car-sharing programs to offer their services. Philadelphia, he pointed out, even offers its own public-private ride-share program, PhillyCarShare. The city claims it saves $2 million a year as a result, and that it sold its entire fleet of more than 330 cars.
As for bidding the project out, Kunka said this pilot program didn't have to go through the bid process because it's a professional service. The contract with Flexcar is for a year and covers the car's usage up to 150 miles a day and all fuel costs. The $10,000 will be spent at a rate of $8 an hour. For the general public using Flexcar, the hourly cost is $10.
Kunka said that if the pilot program is a success, nothing says the city can't go looking for a deal better than Flexcar's once the year is up. He and some city councilors say there's no harm in seeing whether the program works before investing time and even more money into it.
"This contract is for a pilot program," said Councilor Tonya Payne. "Shouldn't we see if it works first? I wouldn't want to sell off our fleet and then figure out that Flexcar doesn't work."
Said Peduto: "I want us to do the hard work up front. I want to see how this program will be used in the next year so we can eliminate our motor pool and have a true green system, not a stunt ready-made for the TV cameras."