Governments going electric Q&A: John Barlow, NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment.

30 October, 2020

With an overwhelmingly positive experience introducing EVs into their fleet to date, the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment is looking to the future as they tackle the diverse driving needs of their staff.

John Barlow, Senior Manager Fleet Operations with four of the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment’s 14 strong EV fleet.

With a remit to create a strong and liveable NSW including a focus on regional industries, the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE) has its work cut out as it supports communities across the state from its many metropolitan and regional offices scattered throughout NSW.

The Department’s vehicle fleet reflects its diverse responsibilities and totals over 2,400 vehicles, the majority of which are light commercial. Even with the range of different use cases however, this hasn’t stopped DPIE from jumping on board the EV movement with a growing number of electric cars coming online in their fleet, even in some of the more remote parts of NSW.

Driving the Department’s venture into EVs is John Barlow, DPIE’s Senior Manager Fleet Operations. We sat down with John to understand DPIE’s thinking on going electric, what they’ve been up to in transitioning their fleet and what’s next in store for this future focused department.

John, DPIE is charging ahead in integrating EVs into your fleet. How have you secured internal support from management and staff more broadly for the transition?

DPIE is a very progressive department when it comes to initiatives to optimise our fleet.

The successful introduction of EV’s into the fleet is due to the support from senior management to not only lease the EV’s but more importantly agreeing to invest in the infrastructure needed to support the vehicles.

Buy in has come through the benefits identified through the EV’s including reduced serving costs, being zero emissions as well as the driving range of the vehicles when fully charged.

We’ve used a number of different communication streams to support staff in the use of the vehicles. Fleet have made a video about the use of the Kona that has been circulated to staff, information has been placed in all vehicles and we have conducted interviews with different drivers around their experience in driving the EV that have been posted on the department’s Workplace by Facebook page.

What does DPIE's vehicle fleet look like today and how do you expect this to change in future?

DPIE has over 2,400 vehicles in our fleet, with over 60% in the light commercial category.

At present we have 14 full EV’s in our fleet as well as 13 plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.

In regards to charging infrastructure we have placed fast chargers at a number of regional locations where we have large numbers of pool vehicles. This includes Orange, Wagga Wagga, Dubbo, Tamworth, Menangle and Maitland.

DPIE has recently moved into a new government hub in Parramatta that has a number of EV chargers installed. There’s also a new government hub being built in Newcastle that DPIE will be a part of that will have charging infrastructure installed.

We also have trickle charging available at sites in Yanco and Port Stephens.

The access to existing infrastructure and the further rollout of charging stations recently announced in the partnership between NRMA and Transport for NSW in regional locations will see DPIE increasing the number of EV’s in our fleet where we can.

What do you look for when selecting an EV for your fleet and what process do you follow?

As a government department we are required to purchase vehicles that are on government contract. The other critical criteria in selecting a suitable EV to what are predominantly regional locations was the range of the vehicle.

When looking at the vehicles on contract, the Hyundai Kona met all of our requirements, including the ability to travel 450km’s on a single charge.

DPIE’s fleet of Hyundai Kona EVs based at Orange, NSW.

Tell us about some of the challenges you’ve faced in introducing EVs and charging into your fleet.

It’s certainly been an interesting journey introducing the Kona’s into our fleet. Firstly, there was apprehension from staff when driving an EV for the first time. As a number of the vehicles are in regional locations staff were concerned the vehicle would run out of charge and leave them stranded.

To overcome these concerns, we undertook a range of different communications directly to staff including encouraging them to download a suitable app that identifies where charging infrastructure is located.

In Orange we’ve also done a lot of one on ones with staff prior to their trip to point out the features of the Kona and reassure them around concerns they have in running out of charge.

The fact that we have placed charging infrastructure in a number of locations where staff regularly travel means that they can charge their vehicle while undertaking work at the site.

Another interesting challenge that we have encountered is the availability of dealers in regional locations to not only supply EV’s but more importantly to service the vehicles.

Unfortunately, the arrival of COVID has slowed down the process of increasing the number of EV dealers but we look forward to an increase in the number of Hyundai dealers who can deliver and service vehicles in regional locations.

What's next in store for DPIE in zero emissions transport?

It’s an exciting time to be in a fleet role given the number of EV’s that will be introduced into Australia over the next few years.

For a number of years DPIE has used the end of leases as an opportunity to replace passenger and SUV vehicles with appropriate hybrid vehicles.

We took delivery of our first Hyundai Kona EVs in October 2019 and the successful introduction of these vehicles and the acceptance of them by staff ensures we’ll continue to introduce EV’s into our fleet in future.

Given that over 60% of our fleet are light commercial vehicles, I look forward to the time when Australia has EV’s available in the light commercial range.

Finally, any feedback from staff that you would like to share on their EV experience?

I would just like to reiterate how well the EVs have been received within DPIE. There definitely was apprehension with staff prior to driving however once they’ve driven the vehicle they are sold.

The cars have been universally well received – I have had staff come back to tell me that it was the best vehicle they’ve driven. We’ve also had staff who will only book an EV for their next trip so from a fleet perspective that’s been an excellent result.

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