The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly of Centralizing Fleet

The City of Columbus, Ohio, fleet organization centralized operations in 2008. The fleet manager’s first-person account relates challenges, pitfalls, and rewards experienced in the process.

January 2010, Government Fleet - Feature

by Kelly Reagan

Fleet centralization undoubtedly leads to positive results. But don’t think a fairy-tale ending is indicative of the whole story — along with the good comes the bad and even the ugly. When time came to centralize our fleet, the City of Columbus, Ohio, we jumped in with both feet, excited to have a new facility, a better opportunity to train our technicians, and the likelihood we’d be running a much more efficient operation. However, we weren’t prepared for what came next.

We experienced many unforeseen challenges in the process of centralizing a fleet management operation. But, if fleet managers know what to expect, they can plan accordingly for these growing pains. Through our story — the good, the bad, and the ugly parts — we hope fleets can see the power of centralization and learn how to better tackle the challenges that come with the process.

The Bad: Challenges Before Centralization
Before we centralized, our six operational facilities were undersized, inefficient, and extremely out of date. Each facility supported a specific city division, and even though a new facility could better service every agency’s vehicles, those agencies didn’t want to lose their perceived control at their existing facilities.

Other divisions were upset by increased travel times to bring vehicles to the new facility. Although turnaround times would be faster after centralization, with the Columbus city limits at 227 square miles and  a population of 780,000 citizens, towing to only one facility seemed too burdensome.

Complicating matters further, labor unions were apprehensive about the transition to a new facility; getting buy-in from union leadership and dispelling misconceptions became critical to the project’s success.

Despite these initial challenges, our new, state-of-the-art, 150,000 square-foot fleet maintenance facility became a reality in 2008. However, these initial challenges were only the beginning. We’d conquered the bad, but then we faced a worse reality — the ugly.

The Ugly: Difficulties at the New Facility
Once the new facility opened, the true challenges began. On the actual day of “move-in” and facility consolidation, a major snow storm hit, dumping more than 14 inches of snow on Columbus. This act of Mother Nature caused increased breakdowns and very quickly taxed the facility to its limits, before we’d even broken it in. We should have recognized the situation as an omen.

Remember the agencies that opposed the new facility? That attitude didn’t change once the consolidation began, and we started rolling facilities together into the new site. In fact, some agencies decided to test fleet operations — to teach us a lesson, of sorts — by submitting many repair requests immediately. For example, front-line emergency apparatus would normally have no more than 8-10 pieces down for service during any given day of the week for one division; but within the first two weeks of operations, fleet was consistently presented with more than 40 down units daily.

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