In the constantly evolving realm of fleet management, professionals encounter a multitude of challenges, from supply chain shortages to the growing emphasis on electrification. This compilation of insights from seasoned experts sheds light on the intricacies and strategies employed by fleet managers in various regions of Florida.
Fleets have a lot on the mind at the moment. In the dynamic world of fleet management, professionals face a multitude of challenges, from supply chain shortages to the increasing push toward electrification. This collection of perspectives from seasoned experts sheds light on the complexities and strategies employed by fleet managers in different regions of Florida.
Challenges within the Public Sector
Unsurprisingly, some of the biggest challenges for individuals in fleet management include getting parts and vehicles as well as staff retention.
As pointed out by Steven Dewey, section manager running the Fleet Maintenance Division for the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, fleets need to be able to hold on to good employees in addition to finding good employees.
“It’s very tough out there,” Dewey said. “Prior to management, I turned wrenches for 25 years, and trying to find good mechanics is really tough these days.”
City of Panama City Fleet Manager Tim Lamb has been focused on maintenance and finding ways to track the maintenance work being done. The fleet has found an RTA fleet program that they are working on at the moment in order to do just that.
He adds this piece of advice for other fleets: “Always inquire about new equipment and any type of vehicle that you want to buy do thorough research on it.”
The Collier County Sheriff’s Office is also trying to adjust to challenges with the delivery of vehicles along with upfitting based on delivery, and bringing in technicians to ensure work is getting done in a timely manner.
Central Services Director Sean Williams said that a large portion of the fleet’s focus has been on making sure vehicles are available and meet the changing needs around law enforcement trends.
“The challenges that we face right now are really with the availability and timeliness of equipment,” Dave Persad, director of fleet management and mobility, city of Boynton Beach. “It’s getting a bit better but of course, with COVID and supply chain issues, it definitely has posed a great challenge for us and that remains true today. And hearing from suppliers and vendors and manufacturers it will continue to be like that through at least the next year and a half.”
The city of Gainesville is dealing with the challenge of electrification as the fleet is working to bring in the infrastructure needed in order to utilize electric vehicles. Fleet Maintenance Manager Steven Hudson said they are in the process of using more hybrids so that the fleet does not have to do a complete infrastructure overhaul at one time.
“Infrastructure is the big thing, trying to get all of that set up, which is pretty costly. It's not something that can happen overnight. Set up for electrification because it's coming I think it’s here to stay,” Hudson said.
“We're still fighting with the manufacturers to get allocation for our fleets even coming up on model year 24,” said Brent Degel, fleet administrator, Polk County Sheriff's Office. “It's still a challenge to even get anything really, also with parts supplies. It's always a challenge to stay ahead of the curve.”
Miami Dade Water & Sewer Fleet Manager Roddy Gomez pointed out that fleets are still feeling the effects of COVID-19.
“The industry has been impacted overall with the backup of raw material product..which has put a delay on equipment delivery for all of us across the nation.”
Recently, the challenges in vehicle acquisition have also affected the city of Pompano Beach, where the fleet has faced difficulties in acquiring vehicles and supplies. Fleet Operations Manager Forrest Hall said this is an aftermath of COVID and that getting parts in has taken longer than it did in the past. He said that there is the added frustration of vendors not keeping as many parts in stock.
“We have lots of challenges. The first I would say is a parts shortage then also vehicle manufacturers producing vehicles on time,” said City of Orlando Fleet Division Manager Jonathan Ford.
Faced with uncertainty around replacement planning, and what products are available, for Fiscal Years 2025, 2026, and 2027, Leon County Sheriff’s Office Fleet Director Tim Coxwell said that despite a push toward electrification, they have yet to receive any type of confirmation from manufacturers about fleet incentives related to those products.
“We’re missing the information from manufacturers regarding product availability, how allocations will affect our ordering and, to some degree, we’re missing representation with the transition that’s going on in the market,” said Coxwell. “We need that representation from the factory to keep us informed, helping us plan for the future, that’s the biggest challenge. It’s not today, it’s two to three years from now. Are we going to have the right information to give the right guidance to our administration?”
"Infrastructure is the big thing, trying to get all of that set up, which is pretty costly. It's not something that can happen overnight." City of Gainesville Fleet Maintenance Manager Steven Hudson
Goals Within the Fleet Looking Ahead
Port Tampa Bay Fleet Senior Manager Chris Hart said that while they are dealing with challenges of trying to bridge the gap between standard ICE and electric vehicles the fleet is working to see how they can adapt and move forward for the future. This includes trying to stand up their own shop and not lend out to a third party while also getting on board with EVs that are headed their way.
In addition to shop goals, Lamb is working on improved day-to-day operations as the fleet has still been feeling the effects of a previous hurricane season.
“One of the biggest things we’re working on is our working conditions and retooling the shop,” he said. “We’re also making sure the fleet is maintained properly and that we have a good working relationship with everyone.”
Both Hall and Degel emphasize the importance of finding, and keeping, good technicians, as well as keeping up with training for those already within the fleet, especially when it comes to future changes within the industry.
"Being able to get them on board with everything you’re trying to do is a big thing…the better you treat your employees the more they’ll do for you," said Hall.
Additional goals within Florida fleets, like the city of Orlando, revolve around fuel. The Orlando fleet is set to have all of its vehicles 100% alternative fuel by the year 2030. Of course, electrification is still a major part of the conversation when it come to fleet goals.
“One of the biggest goals we're facing right now is the electrification of equipment and looking into way sto maximize combustion on vehicles and how to minizmize the impact on the use of gasoline,” said Gomez.
However, the transition is anything but overnight. Hall pointed out that while the fleet is expected to bring in EVs, they won’t be making this transition all at once, rather it will be a slower, more methodical process.
“Electrification is a big push, it’s a sexy topic, it’s something that all of us are responsible for to reduce our carbon footprint and doing right by our taxpayers, residents and cities that we live in,” Hart said, pointing out that “the bigger picture is the infrastructure to accommodate the electrification. So it’s a multi-faceted approach.”
Polk County Fleet Management Director Robert Biller said he is focused on having a standardized preventive maintenance system for the fire apparatus and rescues.
“We want to get something set up where we can have a baseline for times so we have them regularly scheduled a year in advance so we know exactly when we need to bring them in and there’s no guessing about the mileage,” he explained.
The primary goals for the Leon County Sheriff’s Office are completing their replacement planning based on what the fleet’s needs will be if they are able to convert to EVs. Coxwell said some of the questions they need to answer include:
- Will the fleet have the needed infrastructure in place?
- Will the fleet be able to coordinate with the utility provider on the infrastructure from their side?
- Will they be able to find a vendor/partner to help them grow the fleet’s infrastructure on the charging side if needed?
- Is there a product available outside of an internal combustion engine that will deliver the needs for law enforcement fleet?
The Sheriff’s Office patrols 725 square miles and about about of that is dirt road. Because of this, Coxwell said they would need a reliable product, similar in size and range as the Chevrolet Tahoe, that can cover all the fleets needs.
“We want to do what’s right for the environment, we want to do what’s right, mathematically, for our constituents, we want the lowest cost for mile, and we know EVs offer that, but we also know that right now we don’t have all of the bases covered to get us where we need to be to flip a switch and make the transition,” Coxwell said.
All these projects mean the fleets have a lot to plan for down the line. And as Gary McLean, fleet Manager for the city of Lakeland echoed, getting vehicles and recruiting good employees are at the top of that list. However, he is also planning for a shift in the industry.
“Be patient, and don't give up, it’ll get better,” he said before adding “work hard, persevere.”
“People are here to help you be successful and give you the tools and advice you need so that you can be successful.” Chris Hart, fleet senior manager, Port Tampa Bay Fleet Senior Manager
Advice from One Fleet to Another
Fleet leaders understand the importance of staying on top of industry trends and possible changes that could affect the fleet. So it’s no surprise that one of the first recommendations a seasoned fleet manager will make is “get connected.”
As reiterated by both Hall and Williams, networking is key. Taking time to be a part of organizations such as FLAGFA, and attend the conferences, will help to develop a circle of people to lean on when advice is needed.
“Get involved. That was the advice given to me many years ago,” said Hart. “People are here to help you be successful and give you the tools and advice you need so that you can be successful.”
In line with trying to understand when parts and vehicles will be available, having a clear line of communication is an important part of planning ahead.
“Make sure that you have a good contact with the manufacturers and your parts suppliers, with your vendors because they're the ones that are going to help you out when the times are tough to get you what you need,” said Polk County Sheriff's Office Fleet Administrator Brent Degel.
Canaveral Port Authority Fleet Manager Brian Carroll is another fleet manager who has been facing the challenge of being able to procure vehicles. He advises other fleets in a similar situation to hang on to the vehicles they have and refurbish what the fleet has while making sure work is done correctly.
“Watch your vehicles’ life, as hard as it is to come by new vehicles these days make sure you plan well in advance to purchase those vehicles before they get too far gone,” said Biller. “You’ve got to have a replacement program in place and order early and expect them to take two years to get here.”
Coxwell recommends that fleets prepare for the impact of competing for the same resources. He said that current conditions means that there won’t be enough products to satisfy all the demands of law enforcement fleet in an electric platform.
He added that because the industry does not have the traditional ordering structure that fleets have become used to in the last decade there will be a similar panic seen during COVID where people were buying up large amounts of toilet paper, only now it will be buying up as much product as the dealer will sell them to keep their fleet replacement plan going at the optimal rate.
“You’ll have people that place orders and get their fleet products and they get them early and their products get built out and they’re able to get on the road,” Coxwell said. “And then you’ll have someone equally deserving but it was a day late in the ordering process and they get 60% and the next person gets 40%; the demand is high but the availability is low.”
Coxwell said there is also a lot of uncertainty on whether or not those products are going to meet the fleet’s needs, especially on the law enforcement side. Coxwell points to range as an example stating a product may be advertised with one range but once it’s bought it does not get the same range.
“That doesn’t have the driver involved and the driver is the biggest impact on the performance of the vehicle,” he said. “So we need to put those products in the field to be able to plan the remaining replacement cycles…we’re learning how to manage a minimum amount of vehicles on the electric side.”
But for fleets to make the recommendations to take the next step, Coxwell said they have to be able to take delivery of a product and the acquisition cost has to be comparable with an internal combustion engine and the range, recharge have also got to be comparable to an internal combustion engine.
Navigating the transition to electric fleets presents challenges, with Coxwell emphasizing the necessity for delivery capability, cost parity with internal combustion engines, and comparable performance metrics. Amidst these considerations, Gomez advises diligence.
“Be patient and hopefully what we’re facing right now within the industry it’s something that is going to pass,” he said. “And focus on maximizing utilization of equipment across the board of departments and train your technicians and train people on the new technology that’s in the market right now.”