Tracy Ochsner oversees about 1,500 vehicles and pieces of heavy equipment as assistant director of operation services for the City of Fort Collins, Colo.
However, Ochsner said the department’s people are its most valuable resource.
“We take pride in acquiring good mechanics and retaining them,” Ochsner said.
The department invests in that valuable resource. One way is through training. Mechanics must participate in 40 hours of training per year, which can be in the form of online training, manufacturer training, or in a classroom setting.
The fleet’s 45 staff members are also proud of their environmental commitment. The vehicles use about a million gallons of fuel each year. About half of that is compressed natural gas (CNG), and 20% is biodiesel.
“We have jumped into the electric vehicle program now, where we have logged over 500,000 miles,” Ochsner said. “Every fleet organization today has a responsibility to the environment.”
The department’s commitment to training and environmental initiatives are two main factors that resulted in the City of Fort Collins’ fleet being named the nation’s No. 1 Leading Fleet, an award produced by Government Fleet Magazine and the American Public Works Association (APWA) and sponsored by Ford.
Focus on People, Training
Like many fleet organizations, the department considers itself in the customer service business.
“We feel like investing in people will pay huge dividends in our customer service experience and the quality of repairs our mechanics perform,” Ochsner said.
What are some of those dividends? One is the fact mechanics stay with the city. Average tenure for the city’s mechanic staff is about 14 and a half years compared to an organizational average of seven years.
“We are really proud we can recruit and keep good people,” Ochsner said.
The department surveys customers to measure how they feel about the timeliness and quality of its service.
The survey shows customer satisfaction improving every year. The last survey showed 75% of customers were satisfied with the department’s timeliness. When it comes to the department’s overall quality of work, 70% expressed satisfaction.“That says almost three-quarters of the customers that walk through the door walk out happy,” Ochsner said. “That’s where I would say the employee engagement and training make our team a strong organization.” For additional employee engagement, the fleet department hosts an employee appreciation week every year with a lunch, dinner, and ice cream social. The department also hosts a fleet recognition awards ceremony.
The city pays for its mechanics to take their ASE certification tests from the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, and that has resulted in the fleet maintenance department becoming an ASE Blue Seal shop.
The department also requires supervisory training for all first-level supervisors. Ochsner said mechanics who get promoted to a supervisory role are usually very mechanically skilled and knowledgeable.
“Sometimes, though, from the supervisory standpoint and leadership standpoint, they haven’t had that sort of role in their careers yet,” Ochsner said. “We put them through a three-day course on leadership.” The city provides the course, which is called “Managing at the City.”
As for the fleet department’s customers, Ochsner wrote in his Leading Fleets submission that “Customers are the reason we exist.” The mission statement for the department is, “To be a leader and provide world-class service to our customers.” The department does this through activities such as the development of a portal in which customers can schedule appointments and view vehicle costs and history. An internal website allows customers to use interactive online tools to view vehicle information, fuel consumption, and sustainability goal progress.
Focus on the Environment
Ochsner provided additional detail on the city’s electric vehicle (EV) program, noting the fleet includes about 40 EVs. Most of those are passenger cars such as the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Bolt.
Not included among those 40 are 78 Toro Workman GTX Series utility vehicles the city calls “Utility Trucksters.” All of those are EVs, and city crews use them for park maintenance. The fleet also includes an Olympia electric ice re-surfacer that has earned high marks from the city recreation department.
The city recently received a $2.5 million grant for two electric buses and six chargers for its municipal bus service. Most of the bus fleet currently runs on CNG, and Ochsner said his department is working on charging infrastructure for the two new electric buses. The department will participate in a competitive bidding process to purchase the buses. The department is seeking to implement more consistent environmental processes and is going through another initiative to become ISO 14001-certified. Part of that initiative involved a six-month process to learn the standard and develop a framework to manage environmental impacts. The department worked on areas such as internal and mobile fueling, tire management, and CNG fueling, and hopes to gain certification by 2021. It is also looking to put together standard operating procedures and corrective action reports (CARs).
“Once a month, we get together as an environmental management team and have what we call a CAR wash,” Ochsner said. During the CAR wash, staff review corrective action reports submitted for that month and determines what short- and long-term actions to take on them. Staff then follows up on those CARs, and if they have been resolved, a department head signs off on them to close them out.
The fleet reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 20% in 2020 compared to 2015 levels, and Ochsner said the fleet is working toward an 80% reduction by 2030.
Focus on Cost Cutting: Tires
The department in 2019 noticed a trend that its tire costs had increased over a four-year period. The fleet team found some customers were requiring tire replacement before it was due.
“We put together a policy keeping safety in mind,” Ochsner said.
As part of that policy, the department only replaces tires if they meet certain criteria on wear. If a customer requests the tire replacement, or if a city mechanic observed during a preventive maintenance service that the tires were below that wear threshold, a supervisor would sign off and the tires would be replaced.
“Unless the supervisor actually took a look at it, we were not just replacing tires,” Ochsner said.
That and other policies came about as a result of collaboration between Ochsner and his team. Even in the current challenging times, Ochsner said he and other city leaders place an emphasis on employee engagement, realizing the market is tight for qualified employees.
“If our employees are not engaged, they are likely to look at another organization,” he said. “Everyone knows when you lose people, the cost and time to replace them can set your fleet organization back.”
Focus on the Industry
Various organizations have asked the city’s fleet department leaders to speak at conferences and meetings, and Ochsner said his department receives regular calls from fleets in other cities asking how the City of Fort Collins fleet handles certain issues.
Ochsner also appreciates industry organizations such as FleetPros and Clean Cities.
“Those professional organizations provide a wealth of networking and experience-sharing functions we take advantage of,” he said.
Because of the City of Fort Collins’ work with the industry and in developing its own fleet staff, Ochsner said his fleet is recognized as “a progressive and innovative fleet organization.”
“We are 100% committed to our employees, the environment, and the customer service experience,” Ochsner said. “We feel if we can get all three of those items right, we’ll have one of the best fleets in North America.”