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The Tualatin Valley Water District's Firefly vehicle alights in Beaverton

TVWD's new meter-reading van buzzes around during a test of the all-electric vehicle

Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - A Firefly electric vehicle pulls out in the Tualatin Valley Water District lot.

A Firefly has landed in Beaverton.

The Tualatin Valley Water District is testing this all-electric vehicle in its small fleet of meter-reading trucks with the hope that it will help the agency replace the repurposed postal vans it now employs. Customers may see the odd-looking Firefly as it zips quietly through neighborhoods on its rounds.

The gas-powered postal vans that have been the staple of the meter-reading fleet for decades are no longer available to the district, and parts for those boxy white trucks are becoming so scarce that “they’re on life support,” said Mike Etienne, field customer service lead for the district.Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Tualatin Valley Water District meter reader Josh Ayres drives the new Firefly electric vehicle.

“We’re trying to see if (the Firefly) is a fit for us,” Etienne said. “It’s proving to be a good choice so far.”

The district tested an earlier model, made by Good Earth Energy Conservation Inc. of Fort Worth, Texas, and then bought their single unit for $38,000, which includes a battery that easily puts in a full day’s work on an overnight charge, Etienne said.

The Firefly is costlier upfront than the old postal vans, which ran about $18,000 when purchased two decades ago, but the relatively lower cost of electricity and maintenance are expected to make up at least some of the difference. District officials are still evaluating operating costs of the vehicle, which is sold elsewhere for uses including parking enforcement, security and small deliveries.

A bigger deal to the water district than operating cost is the health of their half-dozen meter readers, especially in minimizing the harmful ergonomic forces meter readers endure getting in and out of their vehicles on 200 to nearly 500 stops in a typical day, said Dale Fishback, the district’s field operations manager.Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Under the hood of the new Firefly electric vehicle.

Josh Ayers, one of the district’s full-time meter readers, has taken the Firefly on his routes a number of times during the testing phase in recent months. So far, he said, the vehicle has been easier on his body than the older postal trucks.

“That I can manage to get through a day without my knees hurting,” he said, “I like that.”

Ideally, a meter-reading vehicle needs to reach speeds up to 45 miles per hour to keep up with traffic getting to and from its route area, climb hilly terrain and withstand hundreds of daily stops while keeping drivers safe and comfortable. The district is responsible for meters stretching from West Union Road northwest of Beaverton, south to Metzger and points all across the Beaverton area.

That hasn’t been a simple search.

“If we’ve been able to find it, we’ve tried it,” said Fishback, noting the district’s experiments with all sorts of vehicles, including scooters and Segways. “This is a 15- or 20-year search. This is not a knee-jerk reaction at all.”

The district continues to install automated meters at existing customers' residences, and at new construction to reduce the need for human meter readers, but the high cost of the devices limits replacements to about 2,000 per year in a district of 60,000 water hookups. Human meter readers are still less expensive and likely will be around for decades, Fishback said.

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