How to Start a Motor Pool

January 2018, Government Fleet - Feature

by Roselynne Reyes - Also by this author

Illustration: Getty Images
Illustration: Getty Images

A common solution for agencies interested in increasing fleet utilization and reducing vehicle count is to pool vehicles together, allowing users to share assets instead of assigning them to specific users or departments. But setting up a motor pool can be a daunting task, especially if it means taking dedicated vehicles away from user departments. And once a motor pool is established, when is it successful?

Government Fleet spoke to fleet managers who oversee motor pools and compiled tips on how to start a motor pool and keep it running efficiently.

Before You Start

Is your fleet ready for a motor pool? Before starting one, it is important to determine need. Michael Scacco, fleet maintenance manager for the City of Stamford, Conn., noticed that some user departments were always low on vehicles, while others left vehicles sitting in their lot all day.

Steven Patterson, fleet manager for the City of Norfolk, Va., said his fleet looked at utilization records and staffing before deciding whether there was a need. The city didn’t need to add positions when launching its motor pool late last year. But it did make sure staff was ready to take on the additional work, including fuel, regular inspections, and washes.

Illustration: Getty Images
Illustration: Getty Images

Choose the Right Vehicles

When pooling fleet vehicles, the goal is to maximize utilization. Amanda Wilson, CAFM, fleet manager for Indiana University, suggested choosing vehicles that can be widely used. The university motor pool is open to faculty, staff, and students, and includes sedans, vans, service trucks, and even a 14-passenger mini bus. But eight- or nine-passenger SUVs are the most popular models.

It is also important to consider needs. Patterson noted that, if he were to start over, he would stick to hybrid vehicles, as plug-in vehicles require infrastructure investment.

The Experts

Steven Patterson
fleet manager, City of Norfolk, Va.
  • Motor pool consists of 6 vehicles: 3 hybrids, 2 electric vehicles, and one cargo van
  • Open to city employees
  • Started in: November 2016
Michael Scacco
fleet maintenance manager, City of Stamford, Conn.
  • Motor pool consists of 29 vehicles
  • Open to city employees
  • Started in: June 2016
Amanda Wilson, CAFM
fleet services manager, Indiana University
  • Motor pool consists of 40-45 units, including sedans, SUVs, vans, and service trucks
  • Open to faculty, staff, and students
  • Insourced in: 2010

Utilize Technology

Times have changed, and the motor pool attendant with a key box filled with loose keys just isn’t efficient. Scacco recommended an automated key system, which eliminates the need for an on-site attendant and keeps everything organized.

“Whether you have 100 cars of 1,000, it can be tough to track utilization,” he said. “It takes out a lot of human error and it’s painless.”

The City of Norfolk also utilizes an automated key locker, but Patterson noted that fleet staff still serve an important role in the motor pool. Staff members conduct biweekly inspections for fuel, damage, and cleanliness inside and out.

Start Small

There is a time commitment in setting up a motor pool, but there is no minimum amount of vehicles required to start one. The City of Norfolk’s pool consists of six vehicles, which has allowed the agency to analyze what works and what does not. So far, the motor pool has received positive feedback, and Patterson envisions expanding the fleet moving forward. For now, the focus is on staying manageable.

It may be tempting to add vehicles if the pool is successful, but it is important to move slowly. Indiana University supplements its motor pool with rented vehicles when demand is high rather than adding vehicles to meet a short-term need.

Illustration: Getty Images
Illustration: Getty Images

Adjust as Necessary

This is not a static project. Once a motor pool is set up, fleets should see what does and doesn’t work. Wilson said the university fleet regularly surveys customers to see what they think about motor pool operations. Customers will regularly offer comments on specific staff members or on specific vehicles. In the past users did not like the handling of a certain vehicle, for example, so fleet chose different models moving forward.

The City of Stamford has also made major changes over time. The city began tracking utilization and found that, in some instances, several employees would check out vehicles and drive to the same conference instead of carpooling. Making stakeholders aware of how the fleet was being used increased city awareness about cutting fleet expenditures and reduced the motor pool from 89 vehicles to 29 vehicles over a year and a half.

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