Getting Help from Your Neighbors

November 5, 2014

by Thi Dao - Also by this author

Photo courtesy of City of Gainesville
Photo courtesy of City of Gainesville

Public fleet managers can’t be very secretive. By law, people can get the information they want if they just ask, which leads to a fairly open industry willing to share its ideas and practices. Fleet managers will often share requests for proposal, policies and procedures, spec sheets, and other documents that are time-­consuming to write and easier to adjust. 

While sending over some documents is easy enough, public fleet managers are willing to go the extra mile by visiting each other’s facilities. A fleet manager looking for an opinion about his or her shop can ask a colleague nearby to tour it and see what can be improved.

A visitor can often see very clearly what could be changed about a shop that the host can’t quite see because it has become part of the way the shop functions. Larry Campbell, CPFP, fleet director for the City of Fort Wayne, Ind., often lends his expertise to nearby agencies that request it. Some of the common things he sees that fleets could improve upon are parts piled up around the parts room, making it difficult to keep accurate inventory; unclean shops; and facilities with not enough light.

The Fort Wayne fleet isn’t immune to an untidy facility, but Campbell makes it a point to plan for cleaning time if it gets bad, such as after a bad winter season. Sometimes, a fresh coat of paint on the wall can make a big difference for presentation and morale, he added.

Rick Longobart, fleet and facilities manager for the City of Santa Ana, Calif., has been on a number of site visits with his team. Some potential improvements that he sees at the facilities he has visited include: lack of work space, necessary fuel island improvements, lack of space in the parts room, improvements to the customer service drive-through area, and weak or a lack of policies and procedures.

Some things (such as tidiness and policies) can be more easily changed, while others (such as lighting and space issues) may require more time and outside consultation. Either way, it’s good to know what you can improve so you can provide a better work environment for technicians and make changes to improve operation efficiency.

A Mutually Beneficial Arrangement

Fleet tours don’t just benefit the host facility. They can (and should) also benefit the visiting fleet team. The Santa Ana fleet normally sends between six and eight administrative team members per visit.

“The site visits were priceless for our team as it allows them to observe each operation, put our operation into perspective, and make improvements to our facility,” Longobart said.

Some of the things Santa Ana fleet staff has learned as a result of these visits are: the different ways agencies assign work orders, different facility layouts, best practices at various shops, new technologies, and how others conduct business, Longobart said.

While Campbell tours others’ facilities, he’ll have visitors at his shop as well. The Fort Wayne fleet operates in a 60-year-old building that has been upgraded to have many of the features of a modern facility, and Campbell will often point out to visitors features that make the shop compliant with OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) and ISO (International Organization for Standardization) standards as well as safety features.

I enjoy site visits because it allows me to see the environment fleet managers work in every day. During a tour, I’ll often find out about a technology, tool, or procedure I haven’t heard about before. I think that’s also why our facility site tours at the Government Fleet Expo & Conference (GFX) are also so popular — because who doesn’t want a peek inside another facility to see what others are working with and how they conduct their operation?

What are your experiences touring other shops? What do you notice and what have you taken back to your own facilities?


  1. 1. Steve Kibler [ November 24, 2014 @ 01:40PM ]

    Field trips are a valuable tool that generally yield a significant return on time investment you take to do them. Staff see how others do the same things they do and hopefully notices some diamonds in the rough process opportunities. We also find that staff morale takes an exponential jump after such a field trip.

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