March 2- 8, 2006
city beatTwo Minutes With...Alvin Blain
Los Angeles' municipal hybrid-car honcho
City Paper: When did Los Angeles start buying hybrids?
Alvin Blain: We started looking at the hybrids in a serious manner with the 2000 Insights by Honda, and then we bought the Prius and then the Civics. I believe we're in the neighborhood of half hybrids. That's all we buy right now. The fuel-efficient hybrid is our standard. This year, we're going to be buying in the neighborhood of 200 to 250 hybrids and maybe two to three nonhybrids.
CP: Few could argue with the environmental benefits of a hybrid.
AB: It's extremely clean and then you're getting the extra fuel mileage. But there are exceptions. They don't make a hybrid station wagon. So in that case we'll go to the next fuel-efficient vehicle, which could be Ford Focus, which is a low-emission, high-fuel mileage vehicle. You have to prove you have a special circumstance. You may drive off-road on the beach and you need a four-wheel-drive vehicle or whatever the case may be.
CP: Anecdotally, what are you hearing from employees who drive the cars?
AB: They love them. They have no issues with them. Everybody's kind of jumped on the bandwagon and now in California you have the carpool lane. The first 75,000 hybrids can drive in the carpool lane and they're issuing carpool stickers up until '07.
CP: How much money is the city saving?
AB: There is a substantial savings in gallons of fuel. It's a 6 to 8 percent savings [annually. Since] 2000, you can see a definite decline in the volume of fuel being used, but because the price of fuel went up so much in dollars, we're still spending more. We were paying as little as $1.35 per gallon. Then it went well into the $2 range for us, like everybody else.
CP: How long will it take for the gas savings to cancel out the extra $2,000 to $4,000 you paid for each hybrid?
AB: It depends on how many miles you drive. If you were going to drive a lot of miles, you could match the dollar price within a five- to six-year range.
CP: Do you find there's any extra maintenance?
AB: They've been very good cars. And we've worked very closely with Honda and Toyota on the training so our mechanics are trained to maintain them.
CP: Is there any downside?
AB: We've done several programs in this manner to try and make this the cleanest city in the nation and that one has been, you might say, one of the trouble-free ones. The vehicles were very much accepted by the customers. It's really worked out well.
CP: Would you encourage another city to make the switch?