Mayors Tackle High Cost of Gas

The United States Conference of Mayors is holding its annual conference in Miami this weekend. One of the topics of discussion there is how soaring gas prices are impacting city governments. Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert talks about the ideas that are being proposed to curb the use of gas and about what that city is doing to reduce the pinch fuel is having on the budget.

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GUY RAZ, host:

From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Guy Raz.

Plunging property values and skyrocketing gas prices have cast a shadow of doom and gloom over this year's conference of mayors. City chiefs from across the country are in Miami where together they're commiserating over the depressing economic outlook. One of those mayors joins me now on the line from Miami. It's Tom Leppert, mayor of Dallas. Sir, welcome.

Mr. TOM LEPPERT (Mayor, Dallas): Guy, it's great to be with you.

RAZ: Now, first of all, this city of Dallas must own hundreds of cars. So, what does four-and-a-half dollars a gallon for gas mean for your budget?

Mr. LEPPERT: Well, it means millions and millions of dollars. But, Guy, I think we're fortunate because we anticipated some of the changes that have taken place over time and made some long-term decisions that I think have put us in better position.

For instance, we've got about 4,700 vehicles and 25 percent of those operate on alternative fuel. They're hybrid of CNG. And then about a quarter of our heavy vehicles run on biodiesel. So, I think we're in a better position because some of those long-term decisions have positioned us better in today's environment.

RAZ: So, you have almost 5,000 vehicles owned by the city, and most of them still used traditional gasoline.

Mr. LEPPERT: Most are traditional but as you can imagine when you've got a quarter of your fleet that's using an alternative fuel, that clearly cushions some of the increases that we're seeing in the cost of oil and the cost of gasoline.

But with that said, it's still a big increase. We'll see about a 20 percent increase, which as I said reflects on millions and millions of dollars' impact on the budget.

RAZ: So, as you say, a 20 percent increase in cost of fuel. What kind of relief can you look for? I mean, do you look to the state? Do you look to the federal government?

Mr. LEPPERT: Well, first of all, we try to look at actions that we can take that are going to reduce that. And those range from when we have fire vehicles that are in staging on a multiple alarm fire to turn those off. Those sorts of things we've looked at. Even going to GPS systems and installing those on our sanitation vehicles so that we minimize the amount of use and they become more efficient in their use.

RAZ: Have you heard any ideas from other mayors at the conference that you might want to steal and take back with you to Dallas?

Mr. LEPPERT: I think there's a couple of them that are very interesting. Miami has used towards using solar panels and really pushing hard on that to try to offset energy costs at City Hall and other public buildings. I think that's an interesting one. You've got that all the way to the range of a smaller city in Indiana that's moved away from traditional traffic lights and moved to roundabouts, which you see in Europe. When you go around and make left-hand turns by circling around or right-hand turns by peeling off as ways to reduce the amount of energy that's used, just gasoline that's used in their communities. And they are having some good successes on that.

So, I think that's the benefit of a meeting like this, is hopefully there is a good sharing of ideas. I tell you that the mayors, there's a very congenial spirit, there's really a desire to share as many ideas, understanding that we're all in it together.

RAZ: And, I mean, has the cost of gas really sort of accelerated this process of making changes in big cities?

Mr. LEPPERT: It certainly has. And I don't think that's any different from families all across the nation looking at ways to minimize the impact and businesses all across the country. Cities are in the same position, having to deal with the increases and try to find ways to offset it.

RAZ: That's Tom Leppert. He is the mayor of Dallas, and he's attending this weekend's conference of mayors in Miami. Mayor Leppert, thanks for being with us.

Mr. LEPPERT: It's terrific being with you. I appreciate the time.

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