Inside the City of Mesa, Winner of the Leading Fleets Award

July 2014, Government Fleet - Feature

by Shelley Mika - Also by this author

Photo courtesy of City of Mesa.
Photo courtesy of City of Mesa.

The new Leading Fleets awards represent the best in the public fleet industry, and the awards program recognizes high-performing operations in the areas of fleet leadership, competitiveness and efficiency, planning for the future, and overcoming challenges.

While there were 50 Leading Fleets, judges named the City of Mesa, Ariz., Fleet Services Department the No. 1 overall fleet. Pete Scarafiotti, CAFM, CEM, CPFP, fleet director and automotive engineer, City of Mesa Fleet Services Department, accepted the award during The Honors Celebration at the Government Fleet Expo & Conference (GFX).

"It's a humbling experience when you consider the great effort made by my colleagues in the competition. I know many of these fleets and their dedication and innovation within the industry," he said. "It is very gratifying to know that we are heading in the right direction; this industry award validates that our mission, goals, and direction are spot on."

The fleet approaches fleet management from all directions — taking challenges head on, dedicating itself to superb customer service, focusing on cutting costs, being an active participant in the community, and developing its own staff. Behind it all? Innovation. It continually seeks out new ways to improve its operation and actively embrace change.

"We are dedicated to innovation, looking within the organization to find all areas of opportunity, and then formulating action plans and goals to complete them," Scarafiotti­ said. "We have a culture that does not fear taking risks; we often branch out into untested waters to see if a new program or approach is both doable and rewarding for our customers. With fear of failure removed, we have become more emboldened to try new approaches. This might seem a bit risky, but we measure the risk, monitor our progress along the way, and know when to back out or move forward."

Overcoming Challenges

Like other fleets during 2008, the recession hit the City of Mesa hard. The city manager challenged each department to cut costs, and fleet decided to do so by reducing its size by 250 units. When planning this, Scarafiotti and his team aimed to see how they could make the most of the change.

"When we hit the bottom of the recession and reduced the fleet by 250 units, we had the foresight to look at using the reduction vehicles to replace vehicles that were soon scheduled for replacement; hence, we replaced vehicles that would have been purchased new with used vehicles that still had a number of years of life left to them," he said.

Fleet staff also placed low-utilized reduction vehicles into the daily rental pool to allow them to gain more utilization. And finally, staff took the residual units and sold them for badly needed revenue. "We learned hard lessons from the recession but at the same time used initiative and good business practices to morph the department into a more competitive operation," Scarafiotti said.

With operational and capital funding remaining as challenges, the fleet was again challenged with becoming a leaner operation. In the last year, the city reduced its fleet by 150 vehicles and identified another 200 potential low performers in the areas of cost and utilization.

Fleet staff also paired a number of other strategies with right-sizing. As the fleet reduced the number of units, it right-sized staff as well. It also partnered with other government fleets to assume their work, allowing the Mesa fleet to spread its costs over more units and thus reduce costs for internal customer departments.

Likewise, management took a close look at what work the internal operation could perform most efficiently, then moved other jobs to vendors that offered a cost advantage. And finally, by leveraging a third shift, it increased efficiency by providing more available labor hours during a 24-hour cycle, reducing a need for spare vehicles and equipment.

Catering to Customers

The City of Mesa's focus on operating a leaner, more efficient fleet didn't distract it from another important goal —providing superb service to customers.

"Customers seem to have two major concerns: cost and how long it will take to complete a repair," Scarafiotti said. To address both concerns, the fleet consistently benchmarks its performance to the private sector and publishes its statistics monthly so customers can follow its performance. To create better visibility into repair status, the fleet also provides an online utility that lets user departments see the progress of its repairs daily, and in a real-time environment.

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