Record-high gas prices are making it much more expensive for the City of Santa Maria to operate its fleet of vehicles.
"Like everyone else in the city, the city participates in the same economy," said Brett Fulgoni, Interim Director of Public Works for the City of Santa Maria. "Our pocketbooks get squeezed, we need to find the money somewhere, just like anyone else would with their own family."
Santa Maria Public Works has seen a 24 percent increase in costs this year, prompting the department to ask some of its staff to cut back on travel and other expenses.
"We've been preparing over the years, we've acquired 45 hybrid vehicles since last time we had a spike in fuel prices and we're preparing to go electric," said Fulgoni. "So I can't say that it's a surprise that fuel prices are gonna go up, but this level of increase is certainly surprising."
Between cars, trucks, and equipment, the city goes through an average of 576,000 gallons of gas a year.
The high cost of filling up is prompting cutbacks and a switch to electric buses and other vehicles.
"There's always been the environmental case for transitioning to electric vehicles, being zero-emission," said Santa Maria City Transit Manager Gamaliel Anguiano. "But with the increase in fuel prices, the economic side makes even more sense. It's quite expensive for a transit system where charging vehicles is much more cheaper and effective."
The city will buy two electric buses this year. The goal is to eventually make the full switch to electric. The city is now working to build charging stations for those buses.
"It's not as easy as doing a one-for-one replacement of a diesel bus for an electric bus," said Anguiano. "There of course needs to be the electric charging infrastructure in place. That is certainly something that is in development for Santa Maria that we hope to have up and ready by the end of the year."
The city plans to make the full switch to electric buses sometime in the near future.
California is requiring all public transit agencies to make the full switch to electric vehicles by 2040.
Santa Maria says it will meet that goal well ahead of schedule.