Foster City weaning itself off gas — slowly 

Despite lowering speed limits to accommodate electric cars that don’t yet exist in town, Foster City is taking its time in converting its petroleum-powered fleet to alternative-fuel vehicles.

On Monday, the City Council, in a study session on the upcoming year’s budget, will discuss the replacement of 10 vehicles from the city fleet. Of the planned replacements, only one, a Toyota Prius, will run on something other than standard gasoline or diesel fuel. The city has three such Priuses.

In the last two years, the city has replaced three sedans with Prius hybrids, which run on both an electric battery and gas; they plan to replace one more in fiscal year 2007-08.

"We’re very pleased with what we’ve seen with the hybrid sedans, and if we can see the same proven track record for vehicles in the maintenance field, we will look at it," Parks and Recreation Director Kevin Miller said.

San Mateo, in contrast, uses seven hybrids in its fleet and runs all diesel vehicles on biodiesel, a mixture of diesel and processed vegetable oils. San Mateo County’s fleet includes 88 hybrid Priuses and Honda Civics, two hybrid Chevy Silverado pickup trucks, two electric Ford Rangers, six Neighborhood Electric Vehicles and one street sweeper that runs on compressed natural gas.

"If it’s practical, I certainly wouldn’t mind us seeing us use the alternate-fuel vehicles," Foster City Councilman Rick Wykoff said. "I’m hopeful for whatever we can do to promote the reduction of greenhouse effects."

Keeping with Foster City’s conservative fiscal practices, Miller said the city is waiting to make sure alternative-fuel technology is stable and presents a definite benefit to the city.

While electric and natural gas vehicles can cut down on emissions in the city, City Manager Jim Hardy said many of the vehicles still cost more than their traditional counterparts.

"We’ve done the research and there are stumbling blocks," Hardy said. "It’s a combination of availability and cost."

While the vehicles are relatively easy to purchase, fueling stations for compressed natural gas vehicles are not readily available in Foster City, and the city does not have funding at this point to convert maintenance vehicles to run on biodiesel.

One common blend — with only 20 percent vegetable oils so as not to corrode fuel lines and rubber products — would have to be investigated, Miller said.

The study session will begin at 4 p.m. on Monday in council chambers, 620 Foster City Blvd.

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