Fleet managers are no strangers to having to make the most of the man power they have while still getting their jobs done and keeping customers happy. John Freuden, fleet manager for the City of Peoria, Ariz., Public Works Department, says some things are worth fighting for, and the battle is won with strong data backing your requests for more techs.
Data Doesn’t Lie
Cities can be hesitant to add staff, no matter how justified requests for extra hands may be. Freuden says having the ability to prove it's more cost effective in the long run will help you make your case.
“Correct staffing lowers our hourly labor rate versus outsourcing. We can do things much cheaper, and we then control the downtime of the equipment. This is very important with lean fleets, but cities tend to put money in onetime costs. They do not like to add ongoing charges, so it really takes years and tons of data to get extra positions added,” he explains.
COVID-19 has made bringing in new talent even more difficult, as cities are experiencing cuts. Currently vacant positions require justification to be filled, and increases are frozen, which is difficult when your workflow currently exceeds capacity.
“Our goal isn't just to keep up and do good work. To be a good operation, you have to have the time to train your technicians because technology is changing so fast. You have to advocate for what you have and champion for what you need.”
Market comparison tools that benchmark operations against similar entities are critical in his requests.
“The cost of this comparative data is invaluable, because it proves the efficiency of our operation. We take tremendous pride in how much work our technicians accomplish in comparison to other similar entities. It is not simply a matter of comparing how many vehicles we have per technician, but how much maintenance the vehicles you have demand because of complexity or use."
One of the most interesting parts of being a fleet manager for Freuden is trying to balance productivity with providing staff with what they need to be successful. Freuden himself started out as a mechanic, so he understands what they are going through and tries to advocate for better benefits for them.
“City fleets typically cannot pay the same wages as the private sector because of benefits, so those are highlighted, but you also have to do other things like push for more functional facilities and try to be flexible in allowing them to use the time off they earn. We never suffer for work, so we have more than we can ever get done, which is a good thing, but difficult to navigate at times.”
Everyone in his office apart from a management assistant has been a mechanic at some point, so they have the background to assist current mechanics and understand what they are going through.
“We manage with experience, which helps.”
He says the sense of accomplishment they all feel at dealing with a heavy workload as a small team and still receiving good ratings on benchmarks is a large reward as well.
A long-term project Freuden has been working on is figuring out how electric vehicles can be used for the city. There are currently no EVs in the fleet and only a few hybrids. The fleet only contains a few sedans, so they must wait until the market produces something that fits their needs, as well as the proper battery life that will help reduce range anxiety.
Infrastructure must also be considered, with facilities that will need to be equipped with the proper charging technology.
“You also have to look at your replacement fund for vehicles, because EVs cost more meaning decisions have to be made several years in advance. You have to stick with what is doable financially and with your capital and facilities.”
One must also plan for how vehicles would be charged if an emergency were to occur and shut down the grid. Freuden is looking into the possibility of using solar charging because it’s not as dependent upon infrastructure.
Along with EV aspirations, the city is looking to have a new facility ready by 2024. It will be twice the size of the current building and better suited to the operation, including tools and space to facilitate EV repair as well as ADAS calibrations.