Utility Fleet

Northwest Utilities Band Together for Benchmarking Initiative

The Pacific Northwest Utility Fleet Managers Association is open to both public and private fleets. The Association's biggest project is a benchmarking study that will allow members to effectively compare their operations.

June 2012, Government Fleet - Feature

by Thi Dao - Also by this author

Idaho Power Company, one of the members of the Northwest Utility Fleet Managers Association, operates a fleet of 900 units that include this bucket truck.
Idaho Power Company, one of the members of the Northwest Utility Fleet Managers Association, operates a fleet of 900 units that include this bucket truck.

At a Glance

Some topics of discussion at the Pacific Northwest Utility Fleet Managers' Association meetings include:

  • CSA 2010 compliance.
  • Standardizing equipment.
  • Best practices.
  • Technology implementation.
  • Vehicle spec'ing.

Fleet associations come in all varieties, and the Pacific Northwest Utility Fleet Managers Association, in comparison to other local associations, seems almost like an undercover group. Founded in 1990 and servicing utility fleet managers in Washington, Idaho, Montana, and Oregon, the association, unlike most others, has no officers, no website, no logo, and no corporate members. Rather, it’s a get-together of like-minded utility fleet managers who want to learn from each other.

There’s a friendly atmosphere at the meetings, said Jerry Olson, fleet manager from the Idaho Power Company. The group restricts its meetings to just fleet manager members, although rarely, it will have someone come in for a presentation. Fleet managers sometimes bring other fleet employees, or they’ll have a new member, but usually, the faces at meetings are familiar.

From discussions about regulations, to sharing ideas, to a new benchmarking project, the 43 fleet managers from fleets that are investor-owned,  co-op, municipality, and public utility districts have come to rely on the face-time and education the association’s quarterly meetings provide.

More Similarities than Differences
While public and private fleets may face separate challenges, the association’s members find they have more similarities as utility fleets than they have differences.

Frank Castro, CAFM, transportation manager for Snohomish County Public Utility District (PUD) #1 in Everett, Wash., said one of the main reasons for these similarities is the type of equipment they manage.

“We’re all running the same types of equipment: aerial devices, digger derricks, cranes,” Castro said. “We have similar issues as far as maintenance, costs, and reliability.”

“The top priority for every fleet is safety,” Olson said. “If a bucket truck fails and it’s 50 feet in the air, the outcome is usually death. For everybody, that’s our top priority. What are you doing on your inspections? How are you making sure that you’re compliant? How do you know your truck is really safe?”

And then of course, these fleet managers face the same types of problems that all fleets face, utility or otherwise: pleasing customers and providing them with the vehicles that best match their requests, Castro said.

One noted difference between the public and private agencies is recordkeeping for Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations. Because many privately owned utilities are larger and cross state lines, they’re included in FMCSA regulations that include extensive record-keeping. Smaller regional utility companies with smaller service territories may not fall under the same requirements. This is a current topic of discussion for the association.  

Another difference could be accounting schemes, Castro pointed out, although the line isn’t necessarily drawn between public and investor-owned. As he sees it, unlike most city or county government fleets set up as internal service funds, most utility fleets in the association use cost-clearing accounts and  don’t charge the customer department directly.

Initiating a Benchmarking Project
The group’s biggest project right now is a benchmarking study among association members. The initiative began three years ago, and it continues to evolve.

“We all do things differently, and [we’re] trying to develop a methodology that is somewhat consistent among the utilities here so it’s easy to do the benchmarking,” said Mike Richardson, manager, Fleet Services, Puget Sound Energy.

Because the group’s diversity can make this a cumbersome project, the group elected to start with six basic key performance indicators (KPIs): preventive maintenance (PM), compliance, planned versus unplanned work, productivity, direct versus indirect labor, and road calls.

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