Like skillful jugglers working to keep all the balls in the air at once while one or two seem destined to fly totally out of control, public sector fleet managers are grappling with budgets assailed by a cascade of unexpected forces: fuel prices doubling, vehicle costs rising, parts and supplies scarcities and labor shortages.
Care to detail, innovative thinking, proactive steps, and networking with fleet colleagues, according to a group of seasoned fleet managers, can help keep those budget balls aloft as smoothly as possible.
In this four-part series, we hear guidance from fleet managers on managing their budgets amid uncertain times.
A 30-year veteran of the city’s fleet organization, Fort Wayne, Indiana, fleet organization, Larry Campbell, CPFP, is a recognized industry leader, having earned a Government Fleet Manager of the Year award, membership in the Government Fleet Hall of Fame, and, most recently the American Public Works Association’s 2022 Professional Manager of the Year for Public Fleets.
Fort Wayne city’s director of fleet operations, Campbell’s staff includes six administrative positions and 21 technicians and parts clerks. With a $10 million budget, the fleet team supports nine municipal departments, everything from police and fire to economic development.
The city’s 2,100 fleet vehicles and equipment are serviced by two maintenance centers and a centrally located fuel site with a total capacity of 30,400 gallons of gasoline, biodiesel (B-20) and DEF fluid. Additionally, fleet partners with a local fuel company in supplying 27 remote fueling locations throughout the city that offer E85 and E30 for cost-effective and environmentally friendly fuels.
Located in northeastern Indiana with just under 270,000 residents, Fort Wayne has experienced growth in population and development over the past decade, especially in the downtown riverfront center.
This growth impacts the city’s fleet operations. “For example, the fire and police departments have expanded,” Campbell explains. The on-the-street police force now numbers 500 each day, which means more police vehicles. The fleet’s growth requires more technicians, for whom space is limited, said Campbell. He is developing plans for a new maintenance center fit for the “fleet of the future.”
Dive into the Details
For Campbell, controlling fleet operations and budgets requires data – to monitor inventories, pinpoint supply issues, determine usage, spotlight possible trends, and reveal potential obstacles. With their feedback and reports, he can track fleet activity and uncover opportunities for improvement and savings.
All the parts must be to OEM specifications or better, and Campbell credits the shop and parts managers in bidding parts at better prices than state and federal cooperatives offer. Parts data is used to construct accurate bid proposals for accurate vendor calculations.
Daily morning data reports reveal dispensed and out-of-stock parts. Seasonal parts and equipment can be forecast, e.g., mowers and winter equipment. Big ticket items – tires, brakes, brake rotors, etc. – are important to track, particularly as steel prices have risen 20-40% in the recent past, says Campbell.
Look at utilization, he advises, to avoid putting expensive tires, for instance, on vehicles that generally record lower mileage; still meet the city and OEM manufactured specs, however. The Fort Wayne public safety vehicles always use name brands and OEM name brands and speed rated tires. “We never compromise the safety of a city used vehicle,” says Campbell.
According to Campbell, “sometimes the best purchase is not necessarily from the brand-name. If you can, use a non-brand-name company for products of equal quality with a warranty at lower prices.”
Stay on top of vehicle orders; establish relationships with major OEMs to avoid potential obstacles, he advises. He receives biweekly updates with running reports on ordered vehicle status, location and expected delivery date. The information also helps parts clerks prepare accurate inventories.
The Fort Wayne fleet generates 30-40 work orders daily. Administrative staff reviews each one to check and balance workloads and uncover orders that have fallen behind the desired service time. The review also catches red flagged issues, for instance an oil change that didn’t include a new oil filter.
Campbell reiterates his advice to stay on top of budgets through cultivating deep data knowledge of every element in fleet fleets services. “Know the usage and inventory volume of every part; track parts uncovered by warranty, get that asset fixed and back on the road; look to failure rates to obtain the best price at bid.”
Above all: “Be proactive, not reactive.”
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