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Chicago Wants to Pay Diesel Truckers to Swap for Electric Vehicles

Wednesday, November 28, 2012 - 04:30 PM

(photo by Steve Rhode via flickr)

(Lauren Chooljian - Chicago, WBEZ) Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants to make a deal with diesel truck owners in the Chicagoland area: give up your truck, and the city will give you a voucher that covers around 60 percent of the cost of a new electric one.

Officials say the project could help with air quality and even quieter streets across the city. By next spring, fleets in Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will counties will be able to apply for the program.

“The city is encouraging companies to invest in electric vehicles in order to incrementally improve Chicago’s air quality while helping to advance these emerging transportation technologies,” Chicago Department of Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein said in a statement. “By offering a voucher at the point of sale, rather than as a post-sale rebate, we hope that more companies will be encouraged to participate in the program.”

But not all drivers are jumping at the chance to trade in their truck. Phil LaPalermo, co-owner of All Ways Paving and Plowing, says he's not sure there's an electrical vehicle out there that can compare to the power of a diesel truck. LaPalermo said he likes the idea of using alternative energy sources, but the diesel engine is what keeps his fleet plowing and paving streets all over the city and suburbs.

"We’re hauling a lot of weight, and we’re making a lot of runs throughout the day. They’re very dependable and you get high mileage. I mean a diesel engine, you could get three to 400 thousand miles on a diesel engine," he said.

Samantha Bingham, CDOT Environmental Policy Analyst, said while the plan might not work for plows or pavement trucks, it would be great for a bakery delivery truck.

"There is no silver bullet when it comes to alternative fuels or traditional fuels," Bingham said.

Chicago Department of Transportation officials said they have enough federal funding to support about 250 vouchers to start. According to Joe Schwieterman, transportation professor from DePaul University, the city would need a couple thousand or so to really make a statistical change on emissions.

"At the same time, I think the city's going to show that we're this Midwest Rust Belt town, and we're gonna adopt technologies that you know other cities in the region aren't doing," Schwieterman said.

City Hall has used federal funding for other green initiatives in the past, including the installment of 202 electric vehicle charging stations.

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