Baltimore's aging fleet of city-owned vehicles in recent months has been cut by 415 -- including more than 100 so-called "take-home" cars -- an effort that officials say will bring the city $1.1 million after all are sold.
In addition, officials are estimating the city will save another $1.1 million through the fleet reduction and by replacing 328 vehicles with newer, cheaper-to-maintain vehicles.
"The goal is a more manageable, better maintained fleet," said Michael R. Enright, the city's first deputy mayor, who has helped coordinate the effort.
Nearly a third of the recent cuts of the city's fleet of about 4,600 vehicles have come from the "take-home" cars that officials have been surrendering reluctantly.
Mayor Martin O'Malley announced in November a plan to collect nearly 100 city-owned cars from employees. Despite some early resistance, the effort has yielded more cars than O'Malley had hoped for.
The number of employees with take-home privileges has been nearly halved, from 260 to 127, for a savings of $318,000. The city's health commissioner, labor commissioner and personnel director are among those who have turned in their take-home cars, and other employees have had to justify their need for take-home cars or turn in the keys.
"To say that you've always had one isn't a justification," O'Malley said. "A lot of people came to regard this as something they got as a condition of their employment. So there has been a lot of resistance."
Some officials have been reluctant to give up cars assigned to their departments, prompting tow-truck crews -- dubbed the "midnight raiders" -- to seize them after hours.
"It's been very difficult for some to accept the fact that it's being run like a business now," said Charles Krysiak, the chief of fleet management.
The city also is selling off scores of old or surplus vehicles. Last year, it sold the 1967 robin's-egg-blue Cadillac convertible and golf cart that had been part of the mayor's 16-car fleet, which now is down to seven.
And in a few weeks the city will try to sell a half-million-dollar crane that has sat idle for most of the past five years. Officials hope to get $360,000 for the 50-ton crane, which was purchased in 1996 for $555,515 to demolish vacant rowhouses.
"I'm not sure it's been used that often," Enright said.
Officials have been surprised by some of the rusting cars and trucks they've found at city sites. The city's repossession crews found a utility truck that had been in the same spot for four years, a rusting 1986 Dodge K car with 20,000 miles on it and a police department Corvette with a seized-up engine.
Of the 743 vehicles cut from the fleet since July, 328 have been replaced with newer vehicles. Most of the new purchases were trash trucks and ambulances, to replace 10- and 12-year-old vehicles that regularly broke down.
The average age of the city ambulance fleet has since been cut by about a year, from 4.83 years to 3.82, and the average age of the trash trucks called "load packers" has been cut by about 18 months, from 5.83 years to 4.29.
Enright said the newer vehicles will reduce maintenance costs as well as overtime costs. Some city workers, such as trash collectors, have racked up overtime while waiting for repairs to their vehicles.
Since July, the city has held four auctions to sell off its extra vehicles, and four more auctions are scheduled during the next four months, including one just to sell the crane. That's twice as many auctions as in years past.
Most of the returned take-home cars -- 61 of them -- were from the Police Department. Public Works officials returned 29; the Housing Department returned 17; the Fire Department returned 16. City Health Commissioner Dr. Peter L. Beilenson turned in his car, as did former Personnel Director Jesse E. Hoskins.
In addition to 61 take-home cars, police have turned in 40 surplus vehicles found gathering dust, including an old military ambulance that at one time apparently had been used for surveillance.