PHOENIX — Arizona lawmakers want to find out whether every employee who has a state-issued car actually needs one.
Or, more to the point, what’s wrong with getting a ride from Uber.
State senators are on the verge of approving legislation that would require every state agency to go through its records and determine if they really need as many vehicles as they have. The goal, according to Rep Jeff Weninger, R-Chandler, is to cut the size of the fleet by 10 percent.
That would be a significant dent, with the most recent report showing the state owns more than 10,500 vehicles. And that doesn’t count another 1,200 operated by the state’s three universities.
Weninger said it’s more than about the state having to buy expensive new cars and trucks when the old ones wear out. He said there’s also the cost of operating them.
Overall, the state Department of Administration which manages the fleet reports the average vehicle eats up $1,266 in fuel each year. And there’s another $819 in maintenance.
HB2440 does more than set the goal of a 10 percent fleet reduction. It requires the Department of Administration to make effort to reduce the use of state-owned vehicle by finding other ways to get people around. That includes not just renting vehicles as needed but also using rideshare services like Uber and Lyft.
Weninger said the goal is achievable, citing his own experience on the Chandler city council.
“When the recession hit, we looked at our fleet,” he said. “We found a lot of vehicles that were severely underutilized.”
For example, Weninger said there were city employees who were assigned their own vehicles.
“They drove two times a week for three hours each day,” he explained. “But they had their own car.”
The result, he said, was revamping the system so that those who need to go somewhere would check out a car on an as-needed basis. But he said there were no instances where someone who needed a vehicle did not have access to one.
Weninger said he remains convinced the study his legislation mandates will come to the same conclusion.
“Overall, I’m convinced that we have too many vehicles and we could get by with less,” he said.
Weninger conceded that the 10 percent figure is, in some ways, arbitrary. But he said he has been flexible.
His original measure mandated a 20 percent reduction in vehicles for each agency. That got cut to 15 percent during debate.
And the 10 percent figure in the measure awaiting final Senate approval, Weninger said, remains only a goal and not a mandate. He said that ensures that agencies get credit for the moves they already have made.
Even at that, he said that 10 percent is across the board, meaning some agencies might escape with smaller cuts while others might be able to shed more vehicles.
“It’s a far cry from where I started,” Weninger said.
About the only opposition to the legislation came from Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson.
Farley said he is not opposed to what Weninger wants to do.
But he thinks it’s just too narrow. So he sought to add a requirement for the Department of Administration to also look at public transit.
“It would be a lot cheaper if there was a convenient way for state employees to get from one place to another on the bus or on the light rail for them to take that,” Farley said. “It’s going to be a lot cheaper than even an Uber.”
Farley was unsuccessful at attaching the amendment during Senate floor debate, at least in part because he had not secured Weninger’s approval for the change. In general, legislative protocol requires getting the consent of the lawmaker on whose bill an amendment was being attached.
Weninger said he never actually had a chance to discuss the issue, saying Farley only texted him just minutes before the debate.
But he said that what Farley wants is not precluded, saying the list of alternatives to state-owned vehicles includes “other public-private partnerships.” And Weninger said he reads that to include mass transit.
“If the governor’s office and ... different departments see that they’re along the light rail system and they could jump on the light rail and go down Central Avenue and go to an appointment, I don’t think there’s anything that’s going to be preventing them in this bill that’s going from doing it,” he said.
Weninger said he’s not trying to do anything to state employees that he would not apply in the real world.
“It’s what I do in my restaurant business,” said Weninger, part owner of a firm that runs Dilly’s Deli which has several sandwich shops as well as Floridino’s Pizza and Pasta.
“If I can save two seconds on a transaction I’m like a geek and I’m excited about that,” he said.
And this isn’t the end.
Weninger said his next target will be the amount of heavy equipment owned by not just the state but also local governments.
“Why does Mesa need to buy a $300,000 or $500,000 earth mover and Chandler buys one and Tempe buys one, and they all use them 20 or 30 days a year?” he asked. “It just seems insane to me.”