Being green is not an option for the New York City Dept. of Parks & Recreation (NYC Parks), given its mission of providing millions of New Yorkers with access to outdoor recreation year-round through a multitude of parks, beaches, natural areas and facilities of all sorts.
The managers of the NYC Parks fleet are charged with translating that commitment into action for a remarkably diverse and large roster of motor vehicles. Despite that complexity, they leave no stone unturned as they seek to operate a fleet that fully lives up to their department's favorite sobriquet — “New York's Greenest.”
“You see, 13% of New York City is parkland and 3% is natural areas,” says chief of operations Keith Kerman, “so our mission is very much environmental.” Green for the green, as it were — 65% of the fleet runs on some sort of alternative environmentally friendly fuel.
NYC Parks runs a fleet of some 2,700 vehicles, which fit into some 40 different equipment categories, to clean, sweep, mow, prune and perform the myriad of other tasks required to maintain 29,000 acres of parks, playgrounds, playing fields, beaches, natural areas and, yes, street trees that grow in Brooklyn and the four other boroughs that make up the Big Apple.
But it's not the number or the variety of vehicles that earns kudos for this fleet — it's the management that is farsighted enough to look beyond all the grass and trees to see that the future is now.
NYC Parks is not shy about what it does; it hosts its own annual fleet show dedicated to showcasing the latest equipment to other city agencies and nearby municipal fleets to build mutual awareness. This summer's 20th edition drew over 120 exhibitors and gave attendees the chance to see production-ready hybrid trucks, natural-gas refuse vehicles, and small plug-in utility pickups among other green options.
“We can't invest in developing technology, but we can provide a high profile to prove that they work,” says Kerman, referring both to the fleet show and the department's ongoing green-fleet initiatives.
The fleet now fuels all of its 800 diesel-powered trucks with B20 biodiesel. What's more, it's running a 50-truck pilot test of B50 to see if it can eventually run on that fuel and use B20 just in the winter.
Compressed natural gas is another major fuel choice. NYC Parks was an early adopter of CNG, starting back in 1993, and now operates two CNG refueling sites in the city. “Our CNG [vehicles] are mostly Honda Civics and some cargo vans,” Kerman explains. “We've also taken in our first three CNG street sweepers so we're starting to look at this fuel for heavy vehicles as well.''
NYC Parks runs nearly 500 electric or hybrid vehicles, including their first diesel hybrid, a Kenworth. “We do encourage manufacturers to develop the alternative-fuel solutions we need,” he continues. “That's part of the rationale for the fleet show — to get everyone talking.”
Kerman says their “biggest pitch” to suppliers right now is to develop pickups and vans that will run on alternative fuels. “Within two years, every sedan or SUV we have will be CNG-powered,” he notes. “And we have made progress with biodiesel and hybrid diesel equipment.”
Innovation, though, is not limited to implementing green specs. Kerman points to just one example of what else the fleet is up to: a specially designed 6-yd. capacity, non-CDL “mini packer” — engineered with the smallest possible footprint to easily and safely access park roads to take out the trash with as little fuss as possible.