Leeds City Council won the 2018 Future Fleet award for the Most Innovative Fleet Management Strategy. Terry Pycroft, head of services, tells LAPV about the council's ambitious plans for a fully alternatively-fuelled fleet and why the award helps keep the momentum going. Lotte Debell reports.

Leeds City Council's ongoing fleet replacement programme aims to help the city meet its clean air targets by transitioning to low emissions vehicles. With a Clean Air Charging Zone expected to come into force in the city from January 2020, the council wants to ensure all of its fleet of 1,100 vehicles is compliant with the requirements of the zone, even those that fall outside the targeted vehicle categories.

Spearheading the council's efforts to transform its fleet is head of services Terry Pycroft. Terry has been with the council since 2005 and he has been looking at alternative fuels almost since the moment he arrived. His first acquisition was a CNG-powered RCV ' Leeds was the first council in the UK to purchase one ' which went into service in 2009, and by October this year the council expects to have a fleet of close to one hundred electric vehicles.

Terry is a firm believer that CNG is the future for the Leeds heavy vehicle fleet ' the council recently put the first CNG road sweeper into service and is procuring land to build a full-scale CNG station ' but the announcement of the coming Clean Air Zone for the city prompted a renewed interest in electric vehicles. One area identified for potential transition to electric was the council's small van fleet.

'I looked into EVs when I first started at Leeds, but at the time the mileage was very low and they weren't practical,' says Terry. 'However, the announcement of the Clean Air Zone helped to take things to the next stage and we started looking at electric again. This was around 2015/16, and after we compared the mileage of our current vans against what the EV market could offer, we bought 41 Nissan NV200 vans and two Nissan Leaf cars.

These Nissan electric vans have a mileage of 70 miles. They are used across multiple service areas including city centre enforcement, highways, maintenance, and fleet services, and have been so successful that Leeds has procured further vehicles.

'Nissan now does a 140-mileage version and this really opens up electric vehicles to a whole new category of vehicle for us,' says Terry. 'We have ordered 51 new vans, which we expect to be delivered later this year'

The ultimate aim is to transition the entire fleet onto some kind of alternative fuel. 'Our small vans, cars, MPVs, and 4x4s will all be electric where possible. That's approximately 300 vehicles. The larger vehicles will be CNG or Euro VI'

Leeds has a total fleet of 1,100 vehicles and by the time the Clean Air Charging Zone comes into force in January 2020, Terry expects to have transitioned all fleet vehicles. 'We are currently replacing vehicles as we find suitable alternatives on the market, however, in a lot of categories a CNG vehicle simply doesn't exist yet. We have 33 vehicle types and only three or four of them come into the EV bracket, and sourcing CNG vehicles for the rest of the categories is no mean feat with the market as it is. That's why, in some cases, we will have to choose Euro VI until a CNG, electric or hybrid version becomes available'

That isn't the only obstacle to Leeds ambitious plans, however. While Terry is committed to CNG for the majority of the vehicle fleet, plans to transition the entire small van fleet to electric requires the council to have the charging infrastructure to keep them on the road. Currently Leeds has 106 charging points for EVs and has maxed out the charging capacity of its depots, which means that it has reached capacity for electric vehicles unless it can find some other way of charging them.

Not to be deterred, Terry organised a trial of a home charging project with a handful of vehicles across various service areas. 'We have a lot of people who travel to and from their homes to work in our vehicles so we put together a pilot project to see if there was any interest from staff in home charging. We installed a charging unit at their homes and reimbursed them for the cost of charging the vehicles, and it is very popular. We currently have seven people using home charging across highways, maintenance and parks maintenance, and we have more people interested in joining the scheme ' currently we can't get the vehicles quickly enough to enrol more staff in the scheme. We are hoping to end up with 225 vans of this type so potentially we could have additional people home charging'

There are certain requirements staff must meet to join the home charging scheme (off-street parking, for example) and home charging alone won't completely solve the council's charging problem ' 'We will also need to put more infrastructure into our own sites,' says Terry ' but it is a practical and inclusive solution, involving council employees directly in efforts to improve the environmental performance of its fleet.

In fact, the inclusive nature of the council's efforts and the way staff have been involved at every stage of the project was one of the aspects particularly praised by the Future Fleet Awards judging panel. In addition to the charging pilot, the council also consulted each service lead and organised internal and external events to explain its objectives and ensure everyone understood its mindset on alternative fuels. Leeds also organised its own green forum to share lessons-learnt for other organisations.

Terry says that the support internally has been fantastic. 'It helps that I have been working with these people for a long time and they have seen how the technology has proven itself. The normal lifecycle of an RCV is five years. Our CNG RCV is now in its ninth year, so they can see this works.'

He adds that it is the boost that it has given to everyone involved in the project that makes winning the Future Fleet Award so special. 'We are working hard on this and it is nice for our efforts to be recognised. There are a lot of people involved in this right across the service areas from the managers down to the drivers, and this award helps to keep the momentum going'

And that momentum is important because there is still a long way to go. 'The challenge now is making it happen,' Terry acknowledges. 'We know what we want to achieve and we have the backing of the CEO but there are still obstacles, such as the availability of suitable vehicles currently on the market'

In the meantime, however, Terry is busy ensuring that the support and infrastructure for Leeds' new fleet is in place. The council has upskilled its 30 engineers to enable them to work on electric vehicles. 'Nissan has three levels of engineer who work on the EVs. Our engineers have completed level one City & Guilds training for EVs, which means they can work on these vehicles safely and carry out servicing and maintenance. I hope to put them through levels two and three so that by the time the warranties expire, they can carry out whatever work is required. Then we want to do the same for our CNG vehicles'

Terry also has ambitious plans for the council's workshops. His own site was built as a tram shed in 1934 and is long overdue for an overhaul. 'We want to turn it into an eco-site. This means changing the roof so it is south facing so we can install solar panels to charge vehicles, and ventilating the space with automatic roof opening so it can be used with CNGs vehicles. We also want to harvest rainwater and put in EV charging infrastructure for our electric fleet'

This emphasis on implementing a sound infrastructure while maintaining a holistic view of the entire operation was a key factor in the decision of the Future Fleet judging panel to give the Most Innovative Fleet Management Strategy to Leeds City Council.

And its thorough exploration of options, innovative approach to solving problems, and willingness to share what it has learned is why Leeds, and Terry, have become the go-to experts for advice and guidance for both public and private sector organisations hoping to follow Leeds example.