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A year ago, Cincinnati committed to mostly buying electric vehicles. Turns out it's not that easy

Andrew Roberts

Cincinnati officials promised to only buy electric vehicles for the city fleet, as long as that option was available. Nearly a year later, every purchase attempt has been backordered or canceled thanks to supply chain and workforce challenges.

City Manager Sheryl Long says just this month, Ford canceled the city’s order for two electric vehicles for the police department.

"We're holding on to vehicles that are at 200,000 miles with a goal of replacing them with electric vehicles, but then your orders are canceled and you have to pivot quickly," Long said.

Long says they were able to find another vendor who could provide two traditional vehicles, but even those are hard to come by. Part of the problem, she says, is that the city only needs to buy a few at a time — so she's trying to get around that with cooperative partnerships.

"A cooperative is essentially us joining in with other governments to basically have bigger buying power," Long says. "But the problem with that, and where the hesitancy is, is it takes us out of our local economy."

Plus, the city doesn't have as much control over negotiating price and other contract terms. But, Long says, they have to be flexible.

It's a common tactic for other city needs, like ordering road salt through the Ohio Department of Transportation instead of independently.

"There is a contract that we've purchased from in the past that now more than 100 cities have purchased from," said Ollie Kroner, director of environment and sustainability for the city. "So this is a vehicle in which we can purchase vehicles."

The city policy has a hierarchy for purchasing: electric is top priority, followed by hybrid and alternative fuels. The city fleet already has about 30 electric vehicles, more than a hundred hybrids, and more than 500 using alternative fuels like propane or a high ethanol blend.

Kroner says the city is also working to expand electric vehicle charging infrastructure. Two requests for proposals are now active: one to focus on charging needs for the city fleet, and another to look at public charging infrastructure.

"So even while we're not purchasing vehicles, we're moving forward on other strategic aspects of this," Kroner said.

City officials are in the midst of updating the Green Cincinnati Plan. The current version, from 2018, set a goal to reduce carbon emissions 80% city-wide by 2050. The first draft of the new plan has a more ambitious goal: 100% carbon neutrality by 2050.

The draft plan is currently open for public comment.

Local Government Reporter with a particular focus on Cincinnati; experienced journalist in public radio and television throughout the Midwest. Enthusiastic about: civic engagement, public libraries, and urban planning.