Alt-fuel vehicles join campus fleet

“Vroom, vroom” has a new ring to it in Physical Plant. More to the point, it may have no sound at all as the division looks to incorporate alternative-fuel vehicles to its fleet.



Physical Plant is purchasing a two-seat electric utility vehicle that will get 50 kilometres to a charge. Unlike the demonstration model above, Western’s ‘truck’ will have an enclosure and a longer bed – used to carry maintenance tools and equipment.


“As with most departments that operate trucks on campus, our customers have expressed their concerns regarding emissions. And, quite honestly, they are right. We can do better,” says Roy Langille, Associate Vice-President, Physical Plant & Capital Planning Services.



In the fall, Physical Plant followed the footsteps of Foot Patrol and invested in a hybrid sedan. The Honda Civic sedan was acquired primarily to move PPD employees, consultants, and clients around campus. 



According to the Honda website, the Civic Hybrid is a low-emission vehicle that delivers high fuel efficiency. The rated fuel efficiency is 4.7 litres for every 100 kilometres of city driving. It swallows barely half the fuel of the non-hybrid version.


The effort to improve the largest fleet on campus doesn’t end there.



Physical Plant has agreed to purchase a two-seat electric utility vehicle. The vehicle’s features include six 12-volt flooded electrolyte batteries, which can be charged by plugging into a standard household electrical receptacle. Reaching a top speed of 40kmh, the average range is about 30 miles (50km) on a single charge.


To accommodate typical maintenance tools and equipment, a 70″ x 48″ flat bed with a 700 pound cargo capacity comes as standard equipment.



There are options such as additional seats, enclosures, heating, and covered beds. This flexibility means that Physical Plant can satisfy most of its transportation needs through simple modifications.


Langille likes the possibility of a growing electric fleet.


“Physical Plant will continue to evaluate the electric vehicles and hope to add them to our fleet wherever possible,” he says.


Before that can happen, he admits there are some challenges to overcome. For example, the new home of Physical Plant, the Support Services Building, is located across Western Road. Any trip to campus requires the low horsepower vehicles to share city roadways with regular traffic.


Fortunately, there are a number of successful deployments of electric vehicles in Ontario. McMaster University, in the bustling city of Hamilton, has faced similar hurdles and now boasts a number of electric vehicles in its fleet.


Acknowledging that safety is non-negotiable, Langille believes that if the issues can be overcome, the vehicles have a bright future in the Physical Plant Division.


“Not only is going electric the right thing to do in addressing the concerns of our customers, but it also reduces our dependency on fossil fuels,” he says. “This is undoubtedly the next generation in transportation and we’d like to be at the forefront of the trend.”



The writer is a communications officer in Physical Plant.