Doc rejects claim EV push compromising safety

As of December 19, the Clean Car Discount scheme had paid out $43.6 million on 6779 electric and...
It was focused on replacing its passenger fleet with electric vehicles (EVs). Photo: Getty Images
The Department of Conservation is disputing a suggestion it has left its fleet of utes to dangerously deteriorate because of a focus on electric vehicles.

An anonymous Doc worker said a strong push by senior management for a green transport fleet had compromised on safety and risked compromising operational capabilities.

"We’re driving around in old clunkers that are essentially at the end of their working life," the worker said.

However, Doc said it ensured its workers had tools that were fit for purpose, but acknowledged global supply issues related to Covid-19 had delayed the replacement of some of its fleet.

It was focused on replacing its passenger fleet with electric vehicles (EVs), but was still replacing its utes with fossil fuel-burning vehicles because of a lack of viable alternatives.

The anonymous worker told the Otago Daily Times he was supportive of efforts to decarbonise the fleet.

However, he saw the continued use of utes in some cases more than a decade old as symptomatic of an out-of-touch senior management team.

"They are refusing to [replace vehicles] up and down the country."

He described the ageing fleet of utes as "clunky" and less safe than modern models.

The situation was representative of the organisation being "stuck in a bit of a greenwashed space" and he believed updating the vehicle fleet with modern, fuel-efficient utes would be more environmentally friendly.

People in the head office were in "La-La land" when it came to appreciating the work frontline Doc staff did, he said.

He believed some of the hybrids being introduced by Doc were insufficient to cope with the demands of the job, which involved driving to isolated spots and working in rough terrain.

Public Service Association national secretary Kerry Davies called the challenges faced by some Doc workers concerning.

"It’s clear that some of the vehicles they’re being asked to use are no longer fit for purpose and the fleet needs updating.

"We all deserve to be safe at work, and every employer should ensure their staff have the tools they need to perform their jobs safely," Ms Davies said.

A former Doc worker who spoke to the ODT had a different view and supported the department’s efforts to replace passenger vehicles with EVs, but said there should have been more of an effort to get models with longer ranges.

He believed Doc’s fleet of utes was generally well maintained.

Doc acting director of business support Paul Simonsen disputed the suggestion it was not replacing enough of its utes.

Regional operational teams prioritised old vehicles to be replaced and 60 utes were due to be replaced in May, and a similar number next year, Mr Simonsen said.

The department was not waiting to replace utes with electric or hybrid vehicles as there were at present "no viable alternatives" to the internal combustion engine-powered utes it used in operational capacities.

Doc was watching global trends towards low- or zero-emission utes and SUVs used in towing roles, and such vehicles would be trialled across multiple operational areas and scenarios before being introduced over a period of years.

Doc expected to complete the replacement of its passenger fleet with EVs by the end of March, Mr Simonsen said.

However, he acknowledged global supply issues had caused delays with ordering both EVs and fossil fuel-powered utes.

Last year, the Government announced $5.127 million in funding for Doc to buy 148 electric vehicles and install charging infrastructure.

That was matched by Doc, which put forward the same amount from its budget.

It was estimated the shift towards EVs would save 4900 tonnes of carbon emissions over a decade and contribute to a projected decline of 26% in the Doc fleet’s emissions compared with the 2018-19 financial year.

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