Solutions to the Top Challenges Facing Public Sector Fleets
A group of Florida fleet professionals representing some of the top fleets in North America met to discuss the top 10 challenges facing public sector fleets and what they are doing to meet them.
March 2011, Government Fleet - Feature
The cover story for the November/December 2010 issue of Government Fleet magazine was about the Top 10 challenges facing public sector fleets in CY-2011. To find solutions to these pressing issues, a one-day meeting that included some of the "100 Best" fleet managers in North America was held Jan. 20 in Orlando, Fla.
The meeting was primarily comprised of Florida fleet managers. The State of Florida is represented by 15 top 100 Best Fleets in North America for the 2010 competition, more than any other state. It is also represented by five of the Top 20 fleets, four of the No. 1 fleets in the past 10 years, and the 2009 Government Fleet Public Sector Fleet Manager of the Year, Doug Weichman, CAFM, from Palm Beach County. Weichman is currently the 2010 NAFA Fleet Management Association vice president.
These fleet leaders gathered to combine their knowledge for solutions to help solve seemingly impossible problems they and other public fleet managers face. Their attitude was "there is no problem we can't solve together."
Challenge: Zero-Growth Fleet Budgets
One way to compensate for a zero-growth budget is to supplement it with grant monies.
Michael Brennan, fleet manager for Manatee County, Fla., (No. 9 Best Fleet in 2010) obtained a $15.9 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration.
"We were somewhat shocked, but very pleased. Honestly, we're hoping to get some of the requested funds awarded and continue to look for other funding opportunities," said Brennan.
Volusia County, Fla. (the No. 1 Best Fleet in 2007) was able to insource approximately $1.5 million in 2010 without additional staff or overtime.
Sarasota County, Fla., Fleet Manager Greg Morris (No. 13 Best Fleet in 2010) said, "We are relentless in looking for ways to maximize productivity. Our labor costs are down 3 percent from last year. We use Six Sigma to develop meaningful measures, continuously analyze our data, and constantly look for ways to improve."
Sarasota County also insourced work from several cities and fire departments, in addition to selling fuel to the sheriff's department. According to Morris, the County's philosophy on outsourcing is, "if someone else can do it cheaper, faster, and more reliable, we outsource the repair, i.e., engines, tires, towing, mowing, alignments, and windshields replacement/repairs."
Recently, Sarasota County completed a return on investment (ROI) for its parts room and contracted out for parts. The County also rebid all existing contracts and saved $1 million with that initiative. It also has strict service-level agreements with end-user customers.
Weichman of Palm Beach County (No. 20 Best Fleet in 2010) outsources 20 percent of his fleet's budget, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. As Weichman stated, "It all comes down to time and productivity."
Challenge: Relentless Mandates for Cost-Cutting Initiatives
Steve Riley, fleet director for the City of Coral Gables, Fla., designed an audit for public fleets that provides the ability to consider every aspect of an operation for efficiencies and helps counter privatization initiatives. He was able to save more than $450,000 in three months by performing a fleet audit, which led to a subsequent vehicle utilization study. A copy of Riley's public fleet audit can be obtained in the Government Fleet online store for $195.
Dan Croft, fleet management director for Collier County, Fla., another 100 Best Fleet, keeps totaled vehicles, especially ambulances and transit buses, for parts instead of sending them to the salvage yard as was previously practiced. He "cannibalized" more than $30,000 in parts and components from his last ambulance to repair other units. "We were amazed when we started figuring out the savings, innovation, and new processes to help increase productivity," said Croft.
Challenge: Difficulty Maintaining Aging Assets
The 2010 NAFA Fleet Management Association award winner for creativity and innovation in the workplace, David Vasquez from SECO Energy (who was previously fleet manager for Lake County, Fla.), created a one-page vehicle justification model spreadsheet based on a NAFA lifecycle analysis.
The justification model breaks down annual and lifetime costs (down to the cents per mile) and segregates the cost of business use versus commuting use. With just basic information, fleet managers can easily demonstrate the percentage of vehicle cost associated with commuting versus "real" business use. Vasquez used this calculator to reduce 110 dedicated assigned take-home vehicles to 18 in emergency management, code enforcement, and animal shelter for Lake County, saving $38,000 a month in commuting costs.
Two other solutions offered by technology partners are to dispose of aging inventory through an online auction. This was demonstrated by Joe Lane, director of regional sales for PropertyRoom.com, and Ben Bailey, regional account manager for Copart, both online auctions. An online auction also took place in Orlando at the Copart facility where the meeting was held and offered 489 vehicles to 445 online bidders in 24 countries.
Of the vehicles auctioned, 27 percent were sold to overseas buyers. The online auction process handled pre-bid cataloguing, the actual auction, electronically collected resale proceeds, registrations, retitling, audit trails, and provided accurate accounting of assets and financial information.
A department in New York City was able to improve its fleet resale proceeds by 400 percent using online remarketing.
Challenge: Increased Concern for Staff Burnout
Morris of Sarasota County said his staff hasn't had a salary increase in three years and new hiring is frozen. Personnel is its No. 1 cost. Employees agree having a job is "a good thing," but Morris includes additional fun activities, such as a game called "Fish," to keep morale high.
Marilyn Rawlings, fleet manager for Lee County, Fla., (No. 1 fleet in 2004) has scavenger hunts and other fun activities to keep employees engaged.
Bob Stanton, fleet management director for Polk County, Fla., (No. 3 fleet in 2010) gave his employees an engagement survey based on 1 million employees to find out what motivates them to peak performance. He has an open-door policy and agrees with the concept "the only reform needed is a plan to remove obstacles to innovation," and he welcomes strong ideas for improvement."
Fleet professionals can share their input regarding employee job satisfaction through an online survey. The survey is conducted by the Gallup Organization, a research organization, which created a feedback system for employers that would identify and measure elements of worker engagement most tied to the bottom line. The 12-question survey identifies strong feelings of employee engagement and has shown a strong correlation between high scores and superior job performance. The survey can be viewed at www.gfleet.com/engage.
Challenge: Unpredictability of Future Fuel Prices & Political Pressure to Expand Green Fleet Initiatives
In terms of government green fleet initiatives, Morris of Sarasota County said, "pressure has somewhat decreased, but we must do what is right for the environment, the customers, and stay within budget. If alternative fuels are logical, funding is available through grants, and if the environmental impact is significant, it is logical to secure green assets. We purchased hybrid bucket trucks proven to meet all green initiatives for our fleet operators, and customers love them because they are quiet."
Driver training is another low-cost or no-cost way to reduce fuel consumption.
Co-ops for fuel is a trend in Florida and throughout the country to reduce acquisition and operating costs. Outside of Florida, Ft. Worth, Texas, saves millions of dollars per year with its Texas cooperative fuel purchasing agreements.
Vasquez of SECO summed up the meeting when he said, "Be proactive, not reactive. If you don't know every facet of your fleet costs, someone else will figure it out for you and leave you a box to pack your personal stuff."
For more ideas and solutions to the top challenges facing public sector fleet managers today, visit Government Fleet's website at www.gfleet.com and click on the header labeled "Fleet Docs." Fleet Docs provides a comprehensive list of public sector fleet forms, request for proposal (RFP) templates, policies, manuals, procedures, and reports. Fleet managers can also share their own documents by uploading the files online.