County hopes to cut fuel usage

LAWRENCEVILLE - Gwinnett County government officials are taking steps to conserve fuel as gas prices peak this summer.

Police officers are asked to turn patrol cars off instead of idling, firefighters are taking fewer trips to public events and staffers are working flexible schedules in an attempt to save money and gas.

"We're encouraging department directors to make the best use of their resources to provide services to our citizens efficiently and effectively, while keeping environmental factors such as conservation and cost-saving efforts and opportunities in mind," County Administrator Jock Connell said. "We will certainly continue to explore and implement additional fuel-conservation initiatives where we can."

The government's fleet of 2,675 vehicles and equipment includes about 1,905 on-road vehicles, which are driven about 73,330 miles a day or 2.2 million miles per month, Support Services Director Steve North said. Each day, staffers use 18,137 gallons of fuel, worth about $56,017.

According to the county's gas contract, for the week of May 21, diesel prices increased 75 percent over last year and unleaded gas increased 23 percent.

Through the conservation program, the county hopes to reduce fuel consumption by about 5 percent.

"We're doing a lot of little things that we hope will add up," North said. "We've seen a reduction. We're still working on it."

In nine departments, a total of 217 employees have taken advantage of the flexible hours, which were offered through the county's participation in the Clean Air Campaign, a press release stated. Some employees are working two-week cycles of five nine-hour days the first week and three nine-hour days and one eight-hour day the next week. That means one extra day off each two-week period, while others are working four 10-hour days to stay home an extra day each week.

Officials are also encouraging employees to participate in the Clean Air Campaign's Commuter Rewards Program, which provides incentives such as monthly drawings worth up to $100 for employees who use carpools, transit and other congestion-reducing methods. Representatives from the nonprofit are expected to host an information session in July to sign up new participants.

The conservation program even includes police, firefighters and utility workers.

Police officers have been instructed to reduce idling, and to turn off patrol cars for at least 30 minutes each shift. The department has also asked officers to handle some cases via a telephone call, either by going to a police or fire station or using their own cell phones.

Gwinnett police spokesman Cpl. David Schiralli said the officers would likely use standing radar equipment for traffic enforcement to help with the fuel measure.

"We like to do proactive enforcement to keep roadways safer," he said, adding that the officers should be able to comply with the anti-idling policy. "Some shifts are busier than others."

In the fire department, crews have been asked to consolidate or eliminate discretionary driving travel. That means firefighters will stop by a gas station after responding to a call instead of making a special trip.

The department has also asked crews to reduce vehicle idling and has scheduled staff training and apparatus repairs at the stations to reduce travel. Special events visits have also been limited, although officials said engagements scheduled for the next month will be honored.

The Department of Water Resources joined the fuel-saving effort by increasing its three-man work crews to four-man crews. This reduces the number of vehicles by one for every 12 employees. The department also reduced vehicle idling except in circumstances where safety is an issue.

For more information about the Clean Air Campaign's programs and ways to conserve fuel, visit www.cleanaircampaign.com.