Operations

13 Bright Ideas for Fleet Improvement

September 2016, Government Fleet - Feature

by Roselynne Reyes - Also by this author

Fleet professionals share some improvements they’ve made to their  fleets, how they did it, and how others can do the same.

Expanding Preventive Maintenance

Perform PMs as Thoroughly as Annual Inspections

Since Lee County adopted a strict PM program, the life cycle of many of its vehicles has doubled. Photo courtesy of Lee County
Since Lee County adopted a strict PM program, the life cycle of many of its vehicles has doubled. Photo courtesy of Lee County

Plan: The Lee County, Fla., Solid Waste Division established its in-house maintenance program a little over 10 years ago. When developing its preventive maintenance (PM) program, the department decided to model it after the annual required Department of Transportation (DOT) vehicle inspections to reduce road service calls and breakdowns.

Execution: The PM program is based on a DOT inspection but also draws inspiration from a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) vehicle inspection. It begins with a walk-up visual inspection before following the DOT-inspired checklist. These thorough inspections take time, but cut down on unscheduled repairs exponentially.

Challenges: Public Utilities Manager Jason Fournier said the main challenge was getting staff to buy into the program and training them to more critically identify potential problems before they become failures. He also credited Fleet Superintendent Stuart Schaad for the success of the program.

“During their training, [Schaad] personally mentored and trained new staff members and reviewed all work before the units were released back into service,” Fournier said.

Results: Thanks to these thorough inspections, the life cycle of the department’s vehicles has almost doubled. Before these changes, the expected life for a solid waste heavy-duty truck was five to seven years; now, the minimum is 10-12 years. Heavy-duty trailers are expected to last up to 20 years with a one-time reconditioning around the 10-year mark.

Advice: Fournier said fleet managers should make sure everyone is on the same page and invested in the results. “Working as a team collaboratively and not having that top-down mentality is critical to success,” he said.

Improving Customer Service

Streamline the Upfitting Process

Setting a designated upfit area helped Fleet & Communications' customer satisfaction increase to 80%. Photo courtesy of City of Bellevue
Setting a designated upfit area helped Fleet & Communications' customer satisfaction increase to 80%. Photo courtesy of City of Bellevue

Plan: Historically, the Fleet and Communications Department for the City of Bellevue, Wash., placed top priority on equipment already in service. Upfit and remarketing were dealt with as time permitted, so surplus and new vehicles would sit in the shop and tie up work bays. Customers weren’t satisfied, deadlines were missed, and the division would often run out of shop space.

Execution: The management team consists of four fleet administrators: Patrick Spencer, Tom Wall, Demetri Bergeron, and Sean Pownall, who all worked together on the initiative.

Spencer negotiated with the technician and radio unions to work concurrently, saving time and eliminating redundancies. He also worked with the technicians to identify an area of the shop that was underutilized. It was remodeled and turned into a designated upfit area.

To keep track of projects, Bergeron and Pownall built a scheduling system that better forecasts deliveries and updates customers on the status of their vehicles.

The department holds monthly governance committee meetings and annual customer meetings to discuss customers’ equipment needs and prioritize delivery schedules.

Challenges: One challenge in making the change was communicating the change to customers. Management visited customer departments and gave a presentation outlining the procurement and upfitting processes.

Results: Thanks to these changes, 2016 is the first year that all vehicles have been ordered on time. Customer satisfaction is trending upward from 80% in surveys, and the department was able to set performance measures to keep track of its progress. Some goals include 45 days to remarket vehicles and zero carry overs.

Advice: Wall and Spencer said the key to making such a large change is transparency. “Oftentimes, upper management gets it but they don’t always trickle that information down to the front line staff, causing misguided expectations and a lack of trust,” Wall said.

Boosting Technician Training

Encourage ASE Certifications

The City of Rock Hill, S.C., is one of the few municipalities in the state that is an ASE Blue Seal facility. Photo courtesy of the City of Rock Hill
The City of Rock Hill, S.C., is one of the few municipalities in the state that is an ASE Blue Seal facility. Photo courtesy of the City of Rock Hill

Plan: Gene Jordan, fleet maintenance superintendent for the City of Rock Hill, S.C., and his department began looking into certifications from the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) because some customers would only take their personal vehicles to ASE-certified technicians. The team wanted those customers to know that fleet staff could provide the same quality care and decided to make certifications mandatory.

Execution: Under the fleet’s new policy, the preventive maintenance specialist and tire technicians must have one ASE certification as well as certification through the Tire Industry Association. Tech I’s need four ASE certifications, while Tech II’s and Tech III’s need at least eight. ASE certifications are also a requirement for promotions. New hires are given a certain amount of time to get their certifications.

Results: Thanks to this program, the department qualified as an ASE Blue Seal Certified facility in July 2015. The department has 100% participation. “It gives a sense of pride that we are one of only three or four Blue Seal Certified municipalities in South Carolina,” Jordan said. “I feel that our customers can see that and have confidence in our abilities.” 

Advice: Jordan said fleets interested in incorporating ASE certifications in their shop should talk to technicians about the change. “Explain to your team that you are doing this to let your customers know that you have a fully competent staff that they can trust with their vehicles and that you can compete with any other repair facility, public or private,” he said.

Surveying Durham's peer cities allowed the city to re-examine its fleet operations and propose a new replacement plan. Photo courtesy of City of Durham
Surveying Durham's peer cities allowed the city to re-examine its fleet operations and propose a new replacement plan. Photo courtesy of City of Durham

Analyzing Performance Through Benchmarking

Consult Similar Agencies to Compare Performance

Plan: After the recession hit, the funding model for the City of Durham (N.C.) was no longer sustainable, and Fleet Management accumulated a backlog of vehicles needing replacement. The department decided to conduct its own fleet study to see how its funding and operations compared to other fleets.

“A consultant will lay out some best practices, but we know the political climate and we know the city’s constraints,” Fleet Management Director Joe Clark said. “We felt that we were in a position to do it ourselves and possibly have better results.”

Execution: Fleet Management developed a benchmarking survey and contacted Durham’s peer cities to see how much money other departments were spending on their fleet. By conducting the study in-house, it didn’t cost any additional money, and the department was able to ask specific questions.

Challenges: The biggest challenge in conducting the study was getting responses. Since fleets can fall under a number of departments, it was tough determining the best way to get a response. However, Clark said working with the budget office helped when reaching out to Durham’s peer cities.

Results: Through the study, Fleet Management learned its utilization threshold for miles driven was lower than others and that the department’s replacement budget was comparatively underfunded. With this new information, management was able to map out the fleet’s needs and develop a new fleet replacement plan. A year into this new model, the department’s funding has increased from $3 million to $5 million and will reach $9 million by the end of the program.

Advice: Clark advised fleets to look into benchmarking programs that offer prepared data. He also recommended communicating with other fleets beforehand. “Build some relationships with these cities that you’re going to reach out to,” he said.

Reducing Idling and Fuel Costs

Post Idle Times for Drivers to See

Posting idle times for every driver helped the fleet lower its idle time from 95.5 hours in March to 24.88 hours in June. Photo courtesy of Canaveral Port Authority
Posting idle times for every driver helped the fleet lower its idle time from 95.5 hours in March to 24.88 hours in June. Photo courtesy of Canaveral Port Authority

Plan: Canaveral Port Authority (Fla.) Fleet Manager Brian Carroll wanted to cut down on fuel costs for the fleet and decided the best way to do so was by reducing idle times.

“I knew the idle times were more than they should be and I needed to do something to reduce fuel waste, reduce unnecessary vehicle wear and tear, and be greener for our community and planet,” Carroll said.

He asked drivers to be more aware of idling, but most did not think they were the ones doing it. He decided to show drivers how everyone contributed to the problem.

Execution: Carroll posted idle times on the shop’s bulletin board. Idle times were listed by vehicle number, so that no driver would feel singled out.

“I was a little surprised that I didn’t have any negative reactions to the posting,” he said. “After the employees saw how much idle time was being accrued, they understood why I was doing it.”

Results: When Carroll first posted idle times in March, the fleet had 95.5 total hours of idle time for the month. By June, that number decreased to 24.88 hours. Plus, this small change cost nothing to the department while making a huge impact on the fleet.

Advice: “Check with your supervisor or department head, Risk, and Human Resources and make sure to get approval first,” Carroll said.

Improving Fleet Communication

Automate Dispatch Systems

Operations Supervisor Arlanda Freeman works on the next day’s schedule. Photo courtesy of City of Milwaukee
Operations Supervisor Arlanda Freeman works on the next day’s schedule. Photo courtesy of City of Milwaukee

Plan: The City of Milwaukee, Wis., first looked into automation for its salt trucks. When snow and ice built up, four dispatchers were tasked with calling a little over 100 drivers to come in. This process often took two hours, sometimes longer.

Execution: Fleet Services found a messaging system that sends out automated phone calls to drivers. A dispatcher records a custom message and the system calls each driver and records any response. The system worked so well that Fleet Services looked into automating its day-to-day dispatch as well.

A dispatcher uploads the next day’s activities and the system begins calling all 400 drivers at 3:15 p.m. Before, drivers would have to call in for assignments, which flooded the system every afternoon. Now, they know when to expect a call.

Challenges: With such a major change, buy-in can be a challenge, especially with employees who aren’t as technical. Communications Systems Manager Jill Price said the best way to reach everyone is to customize training. “We are teaching multiple generations who learn differently, so it’s important to realize who your visual learners are and create step-by-step instructions with screen shots,” she said.

Results: Before automation, the fleet would spend $30,000 a year on pagers for every driver. Now, the department only pays a few dollars for basic flip phones for every driver and $0.05 per minute.

Advice: Fleet Services Manager Jeffrey Tews, CPFP, advised fleet managers to find the products that will help meet your fleet’s specific needs rather than choosing a default package. “I warn against doing what the vendor says,” Tews said. “See what your department actually needs and ask a lot of questions.”

Increasing Training

Create Incentives for ASE Certifications

Technicians receive $10 in incentive pay for every ASE certification they gain. Photo courtesy of City of Conroe
Technicians receive $10 in incentive pay for every ASE certification they gain. Photo courtesy of City of Conroe

Plan: Erik Metzger, fleet manager for the City of Conroe, Texas, said his department began to look at certifications from the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) once it realized its liability without them.

“If there’s a lawsuit, the judge is going to ask, ‘who did the brakes, and were they certified?’ It doesn’t matter if you have 20 or 30 years of experience,” he said.

The department added mandatory ASE certification requirements for all technicians. However, the department wanted to add an extra incentive for earning these certifications.

Execution: Technicians receive $10 incentive pay per month for every ASE certification they gain. Each incentive pay appears as a separate line item on paychecks so that it doesn’t affect salary or retirement and can easily be removed if the technician does not renew his or her certification. Technicians are also reimbursed for certification test fees.

Challenges: There was a challenge in motivating employees who become stagnant and stop working toward certifications once they reach the minimum requirement. But management emphasizes that certifications will only benefit technicians in the future, regardless of whether they stay with the city.

Results: Conroe’s oil industry tends to threaten employee retention, but Metzger said the incentive for certifications has helped build loyalty among staff. “If you build them up and get them what they need, they recognize that and stay with you,” he said.

The department has also received ASE’s Blue Seal of Excellence.

Advice: Fleets should look at similar cities and counties as well as outside industries and local shops when proposing a similar program. “Use the liability angle when presenting to your council,” he said. “The ramifications of one lawsuit would outweigh the cost of implementing this program.”

The agency now keeps tires stocked on wheels with sensors in place and nitrogen pre-filled, saving time and money. Photo courtesy of Leon County
The agency now keeps tires stocked on wheels with sensors in place and nitrogen pre-filled, saving time and money. Photo courtesy of Leon County

Eliminating Downtime

Keep Your Parts Shop Stocked

Plan: The Leon County Sheriff’s Office in Florida wanted to cut costs to prepare for upcoming retirements. About 20 employees were expected to retire within a year, and many had worked there for decades, costing millions in retirement benefits. To offset the cost, the agency decided to expand its preventive maintenance (PM) program to extend fleet life cycles and service tires in-house instead of using a vendor.

Execution: Fleet Maintenance Manager Timothy Coxwell started bulk ordering filters, brakes, and other commonly replaced parts, utilizing volume-incentive rebates. The agency also bought a tire changer, wheel balancer, alignment machine, and alignment rack to prepare tires in-house. The shop keeps tires stocked on wheels with sensors in place and nitrogen pre-filled so technicians can change four tires in the time it takes to remove and tighten 20 lug nuts, he said.

Results: The sheriff’s office previously sent tires out three or four times a week and paid $70-100 for alignment, $60 for balancing, and $4 for tire disposal every time. Now, after initial investment costs, the shop only pays 14 cents per valve stem.

By extending fleet life cycles, bulk ordering parts, and servicing tires in-house, the agency has saved $500,000 since making the change in January 2014. There’s also the opportunity cost. Deputies are paid hourly, and they can spend more time patrolling instead of waiting at the tire shop for hours. Bulk ordering also cut down on invoices, which reduces clerical time.

Advice: Coxwell recommended other fleets look into bulk purchasing, especially if they spend most of their downtime waiting on parts. “Look at why you’re down,” he said. “Is the car down because you’re waiting on a part you’re going to buy 50 times this year?”

Working as a Team

Take Suggestions From Staff

Fleet Manager Gregory Morris once scheduled a Pike Place Fish Market-themed training and the 5-ft. fish has since become the team's mascot. Photo courtesy of Sarasota County
Fleet Manager Gregory Morris once scheduled a Pike Place Fish Market-themed training and the 5-ft. fish has since become the team's mascot. Photo courtesy of Sarasota County

Plan: Sarasota County (Fla.) Fleet Manager Gregory Morris, CEM, said that his department is always looking for improvements to its operations. “If you’re not moving forward you’re standing still,” he said.

Fleet services has made brainstorming a part of its fleet meetings. The team discusses suggestions for implementation of new ideas, reviews the costs, and estimates the benefits.

For one fleet meeting, Morris scheduled a Pike Place Fish Market-themed training and the 5-ft. fish has since become the team’s mascot. “The stuffed fish became the catalyst to begin an honest open work environment,” he said.

Execution: Suggestions from the team helped make fleet services’ preventive maintenance (PM) program more efficient. The team checks the air conditioning and battery, replaces wiper blades, and performs a bumper-to-bumper safety inspection at every service.

Results: Checking air conditioning at every PM service has made the largest impact on the fleet. Morris said that the additional service requires little manpower and has saved thousands in A/C repairs. A/C repairs have dropped more than 70% and continue to improve as new vehicle replacement assets are brought into the fleet.

Advice: Morris said there are a number of potential challenges — buy-in, upper management, cost, coordination — so it requires a lot of work to implement ideas. “Do your homework, brainstorm, and get buy-in,” he said.

Adding awnings to the shop’s doors gave technicians more room to work in the shade. Photo courtesy of Orange County
Adding awnings to the shop’s doors gave technicians more room to work in the shade. Photo courtesy of Orange County

Working More Efficiently

Reorganize Shop Space

Plan: The Orange County (Fla.) Fleet Management Division was looking for ways to be more efficient with its existing resources. “We’re not getting any more space and we’re not getting any more people,” said Fleet Manager Bryan Lucas. “We’re trying to maximize that usable floor space as best as we can.”

Execution: Lucas and his team decided to make a number of small changes to make the shop more efficient. The shop was reorganized more vertically, giving technicians more space on the shop floor. Awnings around the shop’s entrances gave technicians more space to work. Work orders were changed so that each section of the shop manages its own work orders.

Work orders are even printed on different colored paper every month, adding a visual cue that helps technicians easily see which work orders are older than others and whether they’re running behind or on time.

Results: The biggest change Lucas has seen in these changes comes from reorganizing. Before, bays were so close together that technicians could only fit one piece of equipment in it. Now that technicians have more space to work, Lucas said three or four pieces of equipment can fit in each bay.

Advice: “Make sure the employees understand what you’re trying to do and understand the big picture,” he said. “They’re out there working; let them have a say in it. It helps with the buy-in but they also have great ideas.”

Increasing Driver Safety

Warn Against Distracted Driving

Fleet Operations placed decals in its motor pool vehicles to discourage theft and distracted driving. Photo courtesy of Orange County
Fleet Operations placed decals in its motor pool vehicles to discourage theft and distracted driving. Photo courtesy of Orange County

Plan: Sonoma County’s Fleet Operations in California was tasked by a county supervisor to reduce distracted driving in response to so many millennials joining the workforce.

Execution: The department developed an outreach program to teach county employees about driver safety. As part of the program, Fleet Operations designed decals to be placed on the dashboards of motor pool vehicles. One warned against distracted driving and another discouraged theft, warning that the vehicle was equipped with telematics.

Results: Fleet Manager David Worthington said that the department’s message has spread to county employees’ families. “The more we can spread the message about the dangers of distracted driving, the more pressure can be placed on people to change their habits while driving and make the roads a safer place for everyone,” Worthington said.

Advice: “As fleet professionals, we directly and indirectly communicate with a lot of people on a daily basis through the use of the vehicles and equipment we manage,” Worthington said. “Be proactive about distracted driving and help spread the message of the dangers of not concentrating fully when in control of a vehicle.”

Buying the Right Equipment

Reconsider Your Fleet’s Needs

Sam Houston State University’s new front-loading solid waste trucks can accommodate larger volumes of waste and reduce personnel injury. Photo courtesy of Sam Houston State University
Sam Houston State University’s new front-loading solid waste trucks can accommodate larger volumes of waste and reduce personnel injury. Photo courtesy of Sam Houston State University

Plan: Sam Houston State University (SHSU) in Huntsville, Texas, manages its own solid waste sanitation and fleet maintenance operations. Occasionally, Fleet Manager G.H. “Chip” Bounds III would help the solid waste crew and noticed that the university’s 3-yard waste containers weren’t meeting demand.

SHSU’s sanitation operations used two rear-loading sanitation trucks and four personnel. The crew would often have to roll the containers up to the truck, which meant they couldn’t use larger containers.

Execution: Bounds worked with the university’s Planning and Construction team to work out logistics for a new front-loading truck, including equipment access and overhead clearance issues, and aligned the transition with the department’s existing replacement plan to offset costs.

Results: The university’s new front-loading trucks removed the need for manual labor, reducing the risk of injuries and decreasing staffing requirements. It also allowed the department to use 8-yard containers and assign personnel to other duties.

Advice: For any fleets considering a similar change, Bounds said to prepare for the long haul. “Involve all parties impacted by the transition early in the process and research possible equipment variations that can address specific or unusual needs,” he said.

Keeping Track of Fuel Use

Use a Fuel Management Software

Senior Equipment Operator Casey Cuthbertson prepares the fuel truck before driving it to smaller fuel sites. Photo courtesy of City of Fort Worth
Senior Equipment Operator Casey Cuthbertson prepares the fuel truck before driving it to smaller fuel sites. Photo courtesy of City of Fort Worth

Plan: The City of Fort Worth (Texas) Fleet Management purchases multiple types of fuel — including diesel, unleaded gasoline, and propane autogas — and noticed a discrepancy in its fuel operations.

Somewhere between the warehouse and the vehicles, the department was losing fuel. Many of the city’s fuel sites are single-pump facilities, and not automated to collect usage data. Management needed a solution to keep track of its fuel across the city’s fuel facilities and fleet fuel cards.

Execution: Fleet Management worked with the city’s IT department to develop a fuel reconciliation program.
The custom-built software keeps track of beginning inventories, bulk fuel purchases, transfers between fuel tanks, and ending inventories for the city’s 63 fuel sites. Using this information, management can calculate fuel usage more accurately.

Results: Although the program is still in its final planning stages, management expects to gain better fuel management, allowing it to have more internal control over its fueling operations.

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