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City of Indianapolis ends problem-plagued Vision Fleet deal

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.-- The administration of Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett has signed a “Wind-Down and Termination Agreement” with a Colorado firm to end the over-promised, unverifiable, ill-suited and problem-plagued 2014 Vision Fleet contract for an electric municipal vehicle fleet.

The deal was signed by Hogsett’s predecessor Mayor Greg Ballard, but a new pitch for alternative fuel vehicles proves the City is still looking for cleaner and cheaper ways to power its municipal fleet.

During his last years in office, Ballard envisioned a 400-vehicle municipal fleet, running on electricity or a hybrid-gasoline option, at a cost of $32 million through 2021 at which time the city would buy the aged cars from Vision Fleet for $1 and become responsible for their scrapping and safe disposal.

Instead, the deal signed this week between the city and Indy-Vision Funding I, LLC, finds the cars, “do not sufficiently meet the vehicle needs of various agencies of the City,” and, “certain disputes have arisen between the Parties as to the extent and quality of services provided…”

The vendor disagrees.

“Vision denies the efficacy of the City’s claims, and does not admit to liability for any of the City’s claims,” reads a clause in the agreement.

Under the agreement the City will gradually return 200 cars to Vision Fleet by January 1, 2019, retain 12 vehicles and pay $500,000 for the 43 charging stations that were built at five sites on city-owned property.

In 2012 Ballard, a Marine Corps veteran who served during the first Gulf War, pledged to establish a municipal fleet run on electricity to lessen the City’s dependence on foreign oil.

Projections at the time predicted gasoline might reach the cost of $5 per gallon.

A 2016 audit by Hogsett’s office found that the Ballard Administration undertook a self-serving analysis to justify the electric fleet option.

“Vision Fleet was formed from the entity that performed the fleet analysis,” the audit reported, “however, according to the Department of Public Safety, the selection of vehicles offered by Vision Fleet is unsuitable for use by many of its functions.”

Indy-Vision Funding I, LLC, “was contracted to implement the program in the form of a lease agreement to supply vehicles, related hardware, and certain fleet management services,” to the City.

Ballard used the lease agreement to sidestep City County Council approval of purchases and to push the Vision Fleet contract through the Public Works Board.

From the start, the agreement was marked by secrecy and claims that could not be verified.

The 2016 audit reported, “the program to be ineffective…and plagued with misrepresentations and noncompliance.” The analysis led auditors to, “question the accuracy and validity of the various contracts, vehicle data, and billed costs.” The report determined it to be, “infeasible for the City to verify costs and reported program data,” and, “the agreements and activities stray(ed) from the expressed premise and representations from which the program was derived. This is manifested as a lack of performance, and/or unacceptable performance from the vendor, as well as agreements and actions that fail to satisfy essential objectives. Due to the nature of the agreement and its execution, these deficiencies ultimately pose a risk to the City.”

The audit also determined that the Ballard Administration circumvented Council oversight, suggested changes to preclude such maneuvers in the future and that the City itself was ill-suited to monitor and maintain such technologically advanced vehicles that were a vast deviation from the traditional municipal fleet.

The six Vision Fleet contracts, sometimes backdated, altered and changed, were often in conflict with one another.

“It was done by Mayor Ballard on his own accord,” said Councilman Frank Mascari, a democrat from Beech Grove. “He just did it on his own and the original contract, when we received it, was all redacted. They wouldn’t even allow us to look at some of the information that was happening.

“Honestly, it was not a good deal for the City. It couldn’t have been. $32 million contract for seven years? That would have bought an awful lot of cars.”

Monthly leasing costs on the 212 cars that City did eventually accept delivery of ranged from $343 for plug-in, hybrid-powered vehicles to $650 for electric-powered units.

Sources indicate that because of a lack of suitable charging stations and the inability to fulfill promises to permit officers to charge cars at their homes, many vehicles were taken out of service or fueled by gasoline which negated the fleet’s promised cost and environmental advantages.

IMPD accepted assignment of half the fleet in a limited rollout.

“The cars were not police cars,” said Mascari. “Cars that had stickers on them that looked like meter maids, they were intended for police officers, but they couldn’t use them for police officers’ cars because there was no place to put their equipment.

“The officers or anybody that had these cars, they were not able to charge them, so the intentions were good, but if you can’t charge these cars, you’re not saving a dime. They were running on gasoline only.”

City Controller Fady Qaddoura issued a statement on behalf of Hogsett that read, “This early termination will let the City move forward with a comprehensive program to replace its aging fleet and better deliver services to Indianapolis residents.”

Both Ballard and Indy-Vision Funding of Boulder, Colorado, did not return a request for comment.

The Vision Fleet plan, redubbed “Freedom Fleet” by Ballard, was intended to be a showcase example for the start-up company to take its municipal fleet operations nationwide, an ambitious but so far unfulfilled dream.

Indianapolis now has a Request for Information from vendors to provide the City with, “Sustainable Fleet Solutions” to replace the soon-to-be returned Vision Fleet vehicles.

“City of Indianapolis seeks to reduce its reliance on petroleum imports for its fleet, “ states the RFI issued Wednesday, and Indianapolis is, “seeking ways in which it can transform its fleet from engines using traditional petroleum fuels to those that are powered by alternative fuels such as biofuels, electricity, and renewable diesel.”

The City is asking manufacturers to step up with proposals for EV and alternative fuel vehicles.

While Indianapolis is seeking information on the feasibility of providing such vehicles over the next ten years, General Motors announced last year it was discontinuing the Chevrolet Volt line in 2020.

The City specifically indicates it is not interested in home charging options at the residence of its employees, a proposal that was promised but not delivered as a solution to the Vision Fleet fueling dilemma.

Along with replacing the City’s current gasoline burning fleet, the RFI seeks to spur, “new EV and alternative fuel development,” as well as diversify, “fleet fuel supply sources and creating sustainable fueling and power systems.”

Job creation is also a goal of the RFI while the City recognizes, “there are fewer viable EV options at this time for fleet vehicle classes above sedans,” as the municipal fleet also utilizes light and heavy trucks and vans.

Compressed Natural Gas –fueled vehicles are also an option under the Request for Information.

New maintenance programs, which were a stumbling block under the Vision Fleet plan, are also anticipated in the RFI.

Manufacturers and potential vendors have until Feb. 23 to respond to the City’s request.