Despite safety concerns, House approves bill to reduce state vehicle fleet

Hank Stephenson//February 22, 2017

Despite safety concerns, House approves bill to reduce state vehicle fleet

Hank Stephenson//February 22, 2017

Uber ridesharing620

Lawmakers and state employees could soon be taking an Uber or taxi to work instead of driving state vehicles under legislation approved by the House Tuesday.

Republican Rep. Jeff Weninger of Chandler says the state has too many cars, and state employees could save taxpayers money by using alternatives.

So his HB2440 would require the Department of Administration and other agencies that maintain independent fleets to reduce the number of vehicles in their fleet by 20 percent by 2020. Weninger had originally sought to cut the fleet by 40 percent, but amended his legislation to address concerns from opponents.

The bill would also require the agency to come up with a plan to use more third-party ride providers, such as temporary rentals, taxis or ride share companies like Uber and Lyft. And it would direct the Department of Administration to study which options are the most cost-effective.

Several Democratic lawmakers noted that not all state employees would be comfortable with taking rides from strangers, especially with unregulated services like Uber.

But Weninger said he didn’t want “to go down that road of trying to codify into law every little nuance of what somebody might object to today.”

“I don’t think state government is going to put anybody in danger and make them ride in an Uber or a cab if they’re not comfortable,” he said.

But Democratic Rep. Athena Salman of Tempe said he shouldn’t be so quick to brush off the risks of ride-sharing.

“As a state employee, as a woman, I think this is something that shouldn’t be just overlooked. I’ve read incidents and reports of passengers being harmed in ride-share programs,” she said.

Roughly 5,000 vehicles are covered under the fleets Weninger is targeting, meaning the state could cut 1,000 vehicles under the bill.

Weninger noted that the vehicles cost an average of $21,000 to purchase or replace, meaning the state could save up to $21 million, not including insurance and upkeep and all the other affiliated costs.

Weninger modeled the idea after a measure he pushed as a member of the the Chandler City Council, which greatly reduced the city’s costs both in buying and maintaining vehicles, he said.

The Joint Legislative Budget Committee has not evaluated the bill’s possible savings to the state, but Weninger estimated it could be “millions and millions of dollars.”

The state vehicle fleet became a hot topic last year, when the Arizona Capitol Times published a report detailing how use of the state fleet had skyrocketed by top Republican lawmakers and staff in the House.

That report led former House Speaker David Gowan of Sierra Vista to repay the state more than $12,000 for wrongfully-claimed mileage and per diem reimbursements.

It also forced former House Majority Leader Steve Montenegro of Litchfield Park to repay the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council for a travel stipend he received from the organization to cover expenses that he never incurred because he drove a state fleet vehicle rather than his own car to the organization’s conference in San Diego.

But Weninger said the bill had nothing to do with his colleagues’ escapades. And he acknowledged that abuse of taxis and Ubers would likely cost the state more than if an employee abused privileges to a state-owned, but noted that the bill orders the Department of Administration to study which methods of travel are most cost-effective, which would likely route out abuse.

“In fact, I was maybe going to run this (bill) last year but I didn’t run it because I didn’t want people to think it was about that. Like I said, I dealt with this in Chandler. I’ve been passionate about this for a while,” he told the Capitol Times in January.

After the House’s increase use of state cars came to light, the Department of Administration began to scale back the size of the state fleet and started a pilot program with Enterprise to rent cars to state employees. Weninger said he sees his bill as an extension of that effort, and a way to put teeth into the push to scale back the state fleet and find alternatives.