How Ambulances Are Helping Reduce GHG Emissions: Ottawa’s Green Municipal Fleet Plan

Did you know the “municipal fleet” of vehicles is more than just those City of Ottawa trucks and vans you see around town? Garbage trucks, fire engines, buses, ambulances – these are all part of Ottawa’s municipal fleet, and they all represent opportunities for energy savings.

Public transit could be subject of its own story – many of its own stories in fact (some in the current edition of the PEN). Given that transportation accounts for 40% of the GHG emissions in the City of Ottawa (second only to the building sector – including heating and cooling – at 49% ***), public transportation is an obvious way to make an impact, but of course there are other kinds of vehicles the city relies on to function day to day.

“Fleet services is always striving to reduce our carbon footprint,” says Luke Senecal, who manages Fleet Lifecycle and Safety for the City of Ottawa.

Indeed, the roots of the current Green Municipal Fleet Plan (GMFP) can be traced back to 2002, when Ottawa introduced its first fleet emission reductions strategy. At the time, this included researching into things like zero-emission public transit vehicles, but in 2008, municipal reorganization resulted in public transit and city fleet vehicles being grouped separately. Staff pushed for an expanded scope to the municipal fleet portion, eventually resulting in the GMFP.


To accomplish its goals, the GMFP focusses on three key areas: researching and acquiring alternative vehicle types (such as hybrid and electric), doing the same for alternative fuel types (such as biodiesel), and implementing vehicle telematics. Vehicle telematics combines GPS tracking and on-board diagnostics to tell how efficiently vehicles are being operated, and identify and correct specific problems such as idling (think of it as similar to remote building monitoring, as performed by the BEEM unit, except for things that move).

Taking into account work done by the City of Ottawa before amalgamation, early reductions from the first fleet emissions reductions strategies, and adjustments to align municipal targets with federal and provincial recommendations, the GMFP ends up targeting a GHG emissions reduction of about 1% per year. Early evaluations were discouraging, showing an increase in GHG emissions rather than a decrease, but on further consideration it turned out that an unusually warm baseline year (think “less snow removal needed”) and failure to account for GHG savings of sustainably produced biodiesel were skewing the numbers. After adjustment, the GMFP has achieved a 6.3% reduction in GHG emissions for City operated vehicles since 2013 – exceeding their target.

In 2017, 11 new hybrid vehicles were obtained, options for refitting existing vehicles Progresswere researched, 21 telematics devices were installed in trucks, and 77 anti-idling devices were installed in ambulances. Why ambulances? It turns out that due to their need for a variety of life-saving (but temperature sensitive) medications, ambulances were being idled nearly all the time in order to maintain a stable temperature for drugs and medical equipment. By retrofitting ambulances with smaller climate-controlled compartments for the storage of these supplies, the need for most of this idling was eliminated.

This might seem like a small step towards reducing GHG emissions from City operated vehicles, but it is a novel and innovated solution that can be replicated across many different municipalities, ultimately resulting in substantial energy savings.

Considering that the GMFP is just one component of many strategies being used to reduce GHG emissions from transportation in Ottawa, the future is certainly looking more sustainable. For more details on Ottawa’s GMFP, see the complete IESO Case Study conducted by Sustainable Eastern Ontario here.

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