Fleet managers need to be able to balance understanding the essentials of customer service, getting it done right the first time, and communication.   -  Photo: Government Fleet via Canva.com

Fleet managers need to be able to balance understanding the essentials of customer service, getting it done right the first time, and communication. 

Photo: Government Fleet via Canva.com

Change is an inevitable part of the fleet management journey. Whether that happens through the decision of management or a shifting industry evolution, fleets need to be able to find ways to meet goals and succeed. No matter where a fleet manager is in the timeline of their fleet, understanding how to implement positive change is a necessity. 

So what areas should fleets be focused on to ensure a positive outcome for the municipality it’s set within? To help answer this question, newly-appointed Boynton Beach Director of Fleet Management and Mobility Dave Persad, CAFM, CEM, looks back at his time as West Palm Beach’s fleet manager and the changes he was focused on bringing about with his team. 

Enhancing Collaboration and Efficiency

Recognizing the importance of teamwork, Persad implemented monthly team meetings involving different departments. These sessions have become instrumental in fostering collaboration and improving overall efficiency. By involving various stakeholders in equipment purchases and embracing new technology, the department has been able to strengthen interdepartmental support and ensure a seamless workflow.

According to West Palm Beach Public Works Operations Manager Leon Pinder, this has demonstrated how teams can best support each other. Having the fleet manager establish relationships throughout the industry is key. It’s helped Persad acquire equipment and vehicles in what Pinder describes as a “timely manner regardless of limitations of supplies,” adding that an example of this would be when Persad was able to acquire eight automated side loaders, four grapple trucks, and four front end loaders this year.

The focus on vendor relations meetings and continuous improvement initiatives has further facilitated innovation and the pursuit of safer and more efficient practices.

Sunbelt Waste Equipment General Manager Drew Weil, who has worked with the city of West Palm for over 25 years as a supplier selling, servicing, and maintaining their refuse fleet and other ancillary support lines, noted that the fleet is now holding vendor relation meetings to discuss key issues as well as things that they would like to see in the future. 

“This is such a contrast to fleets that don't have proper maintenance where every day is a battle just to meet the minimum standards and expectations of the equipment, not to mention those effects on productivity and morale,” Weil stated. “It's a well-known fact that preventative maintenance is much more cost-effective than reactive maintenance.”

Persad noted that some of the key factors that helped the fleet build relationships outside of the organization included:

  • Trust – Creating an atmosphere of building trust with each other with honest and open lines of communication
  • Clarifying Expectations – Ensuring that they are clear with the level of service that is expected
  • Communication – Open lines of constant communication
  • Ensuring that it is a win/win situation so that both parties can walk away happy

Meeting Employee Needs and Increasing Productivity

One of the key factors behind the department's success has lied in leadership being able to actively listen to employee needs. Persad and his team have made it a priority to understand and address the requirements of the workforce. By responding to these needs and purchasing equipment accordingly, the department has been able to reduce injuries and increase efficiency. West Palm Beach Assistant Director of Public Utilities Leighton Walker emphasized the correlation between keeping a fleet updated and being resourceful in leveraging relationships with vendors in the industry and using knowledge of contracts and procurement policy. 

“We have not only become accustomed to the dependable service, but we have also become accustomed to the reliable voices and faces that make up this great team,” Walker stated. 

Optimizing Equipment Acquisition and Maintenance:

A focus on gaining expertise in contracts and procurement policy is instrumental in optimizing equipment acquisition for any municipality. For Persad, having a forward-thinking approach to vehicle replacement has been key to cost-effective decisions. By replacing vehicles earlier, the city has benefitted from reduced maintenance costs and increased trade-in value, ultimately lowering the overall annual cost of the fleet.

West Palm Beach has also continued to upgrade its fire fleet. David Stonitsch, president of South Florida Emergency Vehicles, which does warranty work on the trucks the company sells to West Palm, has been able to look at the fleet’s replacement cycle

“I have been encouraging our fire fleet customers to review what it costs annually to own each emergency vehicle. Our research has shown that earlier replacement of fire vehicles is actually more cost-effective. By replacing vehicles earlier, there is more value in the trade-in money to offset the cost of a new one, plus years of less maintenance costs,” Stonitsch explained. “West Palm Beach, over the last five years, has accelerated that replacement cycle, and I am confident that it will lower the overall annual cost of their emergency vehicle fleet.”

A Focus on Safety and Customer Service

The West Palm Beach Fleet Department has also placed importance on safety and customer service ensuring that stakeholders are well-informed and their needs are met promptly. By minimizing vehicle downtime and providing proactive replacement recommendations, the department has been able to establish itself as a reliable partner in supporting the city's operations.

According to Persad, involving the city`s administration, sustainability, and departments early on to understand the city`s goals and to have a seat at the table was key to aligning the fleet composition with the city`s goals, from a sustainability, eco-friendly, cost-effective standpoint. 

“Looking at options for electrification, alternative fuels, and right-sizing the fleet were all areas that were embarked upon,” Persad stated. 

When looking at the fleet’s changes, West Palm Beach Utilities O&M Superintendent Stephon Harris pointed out that hard work and dedication have “resulted in an impressive improvement in efficiency, safety, and cost-effectiveness to us as the customer and stakeholder.”

“These improvements made an impact on decreasing the apparatus out-of-service (OOS) downtime. In turn, allowing our emergency apparatus to be available (in-service) to respond to emergencies in a more timely manner,” West Palm Beach Fire Department Assistant Fire Chief James Gribble explained. “In addition, Dave has developed a Vehicle Replacement Plan for a 10-year out period, which has never existed in the city of West Palm Beach. This certainly gives our City Commission the financial and fiscal obligation needed to sustain a ‘ready fleet.’”

Keeping in Line with Present Goals

Matthew Williams, who is a West Palm Beach fleet operations supervisor, will be taking on the interim responsibilities until Persad’s position is finalized or filled. Persad made sure that Williams was involved in meetings with suppliers, administration, and other departments to ensure he was able to observe firsthand what types of responsibilities, responses, and expectations are required at the next level.

“Matthew has always been eager to learn and take on additional responsibilities,” Persad stated. “ He has the passion and skillset to flourish at the next level.”

Persad noted the importance of understanding the essentials of customer service, getting it done right the first time, and communication — all things he is confident the fleet team will continue. He added that the team understands the respect for each other and the passion and value that they all bring to the table. 

“These are the roots that will continue to strengthen and ensure that the culture that we started will be resilient for years to come,” Persad explained. 

But what about fleets still laying the groundwork for improvements? Persad recommends starting with communication throughout the organization and stakeholder involvement.

“Any improvement you are desirous of implementing will require buy-in,” Persad noted. “Involving everyone that you will need their input, assistance or approval early on, makes that process easier and seamless to implement.”

About the author
Nichole Osinski

Nichole Osinski

Executive Editor

Nichole Osinski is the executive editor of Government Fleet magazine. She oversees editorial content for the magazine and the website, selects educational programming for GFX, and manages the brand's awards programs.

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