Public sector fleet management is much more complex than just running the most efficient operation possible. - Photo: Unsplash

Public sector fleet management is much more complex than just running the most efficient operation possible.

Photo: Unsplash 

I would guess you think politics within public fleet management is unavoidable. After all, many public fleets must follow policies about buying cleaner vehicles, from local businesses, from American manufacturers, etc. Elected officials, in turn, must answer to the public, and taxpayers often don’t trust the government to spend their money wisely. Add all that together, and public sector fleet management is much more complex than just running the most efficient operation possible.

When It’s Out of Your Control

One fleet manager said police vehicle fleet replacement funds had been slashed because public officials were concerned about optics — the public doesn’t see police as deserving of new police cars given the current environment. Another agency, because of anti-police sentiment, delayed putting out dozens of new police vehicles for fear they would be destroyed by rioters. Unfortunately, both policies have negative consequences for the fleet departments.

Many environmentally conscious communities may have goals to electrify their fleets, cost notwithstanding. Others choose to go with a certain type of fuel because their state grows corn, or a manufacturing plant in the city produces a certain type of vehicle. In these cases, there isn’t much government fleet managers can do.

Don’t Neglect the Politics

Trying to run an efficient operation while not being able to make some big decisions is frustrating. But even when something is in your control, it’s essential to think about the politics (or optics) of many decisions.

For example, while a fleet manager may think it would be fun to add a Tesla to their police fleet, and can even make a financial case for it, the politics may give him pause. Would this seem like frivolous spending?

If a department head or your supervisor comes to you making a request you think is unwise and could land on the front page of the local paper, should you do it? Some might just say, “yes, boss,” and move on. But others say that managers must have the skill and ability to talk leadership down from such decisions, and experienced fleet managers may be better able to do so.

Some have said making a case with data and numbers will help you with your cause, whether that’s adding a specific type of vehicle or making a major change. At Government Fleet, we often talk about key performance indicators, return on investment, and data-driven replacement cycles to allow our readers to make better decisions and defend those decisions. While it may work in many instances, it won’t always. Political considerations are often left out of these facts-and-figures discussions, but that doesn’t mean you should — or can — ignore them.

When Elected Leaders Need to Butt Out

Recently, a city council in New Hampshire debated whether its members should have any say in vehicle colors. The debate stemmed around whether it was a policy issue or an operational issue — and whether council members have any say over operational issues. Despite this, most councilors voted to keep a custom yellow color over the objections of two councilors and the Public Works director, who said the custom colors cost more than the factory color and could take months longer to arrive.

To me, this is an example of an operational issue that elected officials should not be deciding.

What are some fleet decisions you’ve made that are politically driven? Or what are some politically driven decisions others made that you disagree with?

About the author
Thi Dao

Thi Dao

Former Executive Editor

Thi is the former executive editor of Government Fleet magazine.

View Bio