The city of West Palm Beach, Florida has been taking a rigorous approach upgrading and adding to the city’s fleet. This was spurred on after witnessing the tremendous growth, economic development, and an influx of people and businesses relocating to the area, especially over the last couple of years.
For West Palm Beach Fleet Manager Dave Persad, CAFM, CEM, this decision has been a way to stay ahead of the curve of sustained growth and still provide the same exceptional service that residents have known.
A few of the key recent purchases and additions in fiscal years '22 and '23 include:
- Ford Transit T350 with a CUES TV equipment package
- (6) 2023 Ford F550 Super Duty Dump trucks
- (2) Cat 440 Combination Backhoe
- (1) Cat 304 Mini Excavator
- (2) Cat 259D3 compact track loader
- (7) Mack LR Residential ASL refuse trucks
- (6) Mack LR Commercial Front Load refuse trucks,
- (5) International & Mack Grapple trucks
- (1) Mack / Altec 18T Crane
- (3) Sutphen Pumper Apparatus
- (7) International/ Horton Rescue Units
- (1) KME Tractor Drawn Aerial Apparatus
- (2) Global M4 Air Regenerative Street Sweepers
- Administrative support vehicles for Fire department, Code Enforcement, Building Inspectors, Public Works, Public Utilities
Challenges When Expanding Fleet
The process of accommodating growth and adding additional fleet equipment has been, in a word, streamlined, for West Palm Beach.
“It’s a tailormade process that we put together,” Persad says. “We have to get stakeholder involvement and engagement along with end user input. We make sure that they have a seat at the table when we handle the specification and build process.”
For Persad, it’s vital to keep all parties involved every step of the way. He points out that despite challenges such as limited manufacturer allocations and vehicle cancellations that have posed a challenge to fleets nationwide, the key to success within West Palm Beach’s fleet has been cultivating successful relationships with their vendors and suppliers over the years.
“Without those relationships, our ability to upgrade and add to the fleet at the aggressive rate we’ve been doing would not be possible,” Persad adds.
Despite the new additions the fleet has seen, infrastructure changes to accommodate the growth have been on a small scale for the time being. Persad explains a key reason for this is to allow them to take a multifaceted approach to ensure infrastructure changes or improvements satisfy engineering, environmental and financial aspects.
However, not all additions come without change, especially in the electrical vehicle (EV) department. The city added several charging stations at the city parking garages for public use and to accommodate charging for the motor pool fleet of electric Chevy Bolts. The city also added several electric buses for the Parks and Recreation division. The city was able to make infrastructure upgrades to install charging stations with a partnership with the local power company.
“As the wave of EV is coming, we’ll need to look at the big picture,” Persad says, adding that he expects those infrastructure changes are “going to be significant.”
Part of planning for that future means collaboration with the sustainability department, Public Works and Engineering teams, as well as engaging our local power companies to look at the most practical ways to upgrade the infrastructure and develop an electrification road map.
External Industry Factors
While West Palm Beach’s acquisition plan has been running successfully, there has still been a degree of frustration and uncertainty with supply chain issues, OEM cancellations, and allocation limits, all of which Persad says have played a part in how much he and his team are able to do and how quickly.
There’s also the growing demand for technicians. Something Persad sees not only in his area but across the nation. He noted that they’re not seeing the same number of individuals entering the field, an issue that isn’t helped by technicians who are retiring.
“We are faced with stiff competition from the private sector that offer more lucrative compensation packages and that causes existing technicians and potential candidates to move away from it from the public sector,” Persad says.
Making Changes in Fleet
Taking what he calls an aggressive approach to upgrading the fleet as needed, Persad says that he is focusing on the areas where there are availability allocation constraints in order to plan ahead. Currently, this includes exploring options to refurbish some of the city’s specialized fleets. This will help bridge that gap with chassis availability and OEM allocations, with the goal of bringing in new additions to the fleet that will maintain city needs until allocation and supply chain issues return to a more consistent pace.
Persad has also taken it upon himself to speak with other municipalities to see what actions they are taking while demand is high. He wants to better understand what options are available for specialized units, such as refuse trucks, to see if refurbishing those vehicles already in use is the best route and how many additional years this would get the city while waiting for supply chains to open up.
When it comes to the technician shortage, Persad is also trying to take a proactive approach to attract and retain people in this field. His department has taken it upon themselves to meet with trade schools to meet with students. Persad is also actively involved in fleet associations at a regional level and assists with providing scholarship opportunities to local students.
They have also invited interested candidates from the Automotive Technology and Diesel Program from the local schools to a “Fleet Open House” to see how the city’s fleet works and chat with technicians while having a hands-on look at the trucks and equipment.
“We had a question and answer session with them to talk everything, from career progression to benefits,” Persad says. “It was really good.”
Several individuals ended up applying to positions after this. It is a true win/win situation Persad says, noting his department is focused on creating trainee positions to bridge the gap with people who are interested in this field but maybe don’t have the necessary experience. He concludes, “If we can do it here at West Palm Beach…we can certainly do this on a much larger level.”
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