Lynchburg was named the Number One Mid-Size Leading Fleet for 2023.  
 -  Photo: City of Lynchburg

Lynchburg was named the Number One Mid-Size Leading Fleet for 2023. 

Photo: City of Lynchburg

Amid a growing city and an expanding fleet, the past year has posed a variety of challenges for the Lynchburg, Virginia, fleet. But it has been the fleet’s commitment to finding ways to overcome those challenges that has propelled them forward even landing them the Number One Mid-Size Leading Fleet award for 2023. 

From direct involvement during overtime periods to addressing communication gaps highlighted by diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, the team has proactively tackled operational challenges. Simultaneously, they've initiated projects aimed at enhancing efficiency and integrating cutting-edge technology, reflecting an ongoing pursuit of improvement.

Overcoming Challenges: A Reflection on the Fleet's Wins Over the Past Year

Asked about challenges faced by the fleet, Lynchburg Director of Fleet Services Charles “Chuck” Cramer, CAFM, first points to the city's population and fleet continuing to grow while staff numbers and facility remain the same. According to Cramer, the fleet reached “full-staffing” twice in the past year, and at a full-staff, they encountered numerous unplanned shortfalls, including illness, injury, and other circumstances that kept them from “getting ahead.” 

"We’re pulling together even more, and unfortunately have had to endure some overtime," Cramer noted, adding that he and the operations supervisor left their desks and worked out in the shop with the technicians during the six days of overtime.

Another challenge they targeted was consistent and effective communication. This was unearthed via a DEI initiative the department installed. While the initiative was city-wide, the fleet ended up conducting its own. 

As a result, several processes have been put in place, which Cramer explained has made great progress and is ongoing. 

Charting the Fleet's Current Projects and Their Impact on Future Operations

Regarding projects, Cramer exclaimed, "Wow, do we have a lot of projects going." It's a full list that consists of the following:

  • Continuing to onboard the fleet's data analytics platform (through Utilimarc). 
  • Working on up-fitting all of the fleet vehicles with telematics (the fleet had to extend the current provider’s contract, which means the process has been slow-going). 
  • Working on initiating the fleet's Ford in-house warranty (the fleet was finally approved a month ago and now focuses on training employees). 
  • Switching gears on procurement of certain vehicles (contemplating lease-purchases). 

Another project that has been in the works is PM cycles and scheduling. The fleet has combined certain PMs, transitioned to all synthetic fluids, and extended or revamped certain cycles according to high/low usage patterns.

All of the fleet's projects stem from the team's hunt for continuous improvement; from setting up to collect data, to the clean collection of the data, and on to the in-depth analytics, which provides them with the best tools and strategies to get better. 

"We’re really trying to make most, if not all of our decisions based on concrete data," Cramer explained. "The problem comes in when you have roadblocks like bad data, long contract negotiations, and lots of people out for varying reasons."

Communication is key for the Lynchburg fleet team.   -  Photo: City of Lynchburg

Communication is key for the Lynchburg fleet team. 

Photo: City of Lynchburg

What Makes a Successful Team and How to Achieve That from a Fleet Management Perspective

As Cramer puts it, "Good communication is one of the most important skills that a team can have."

He considers the ability to actively listen before speaking a close second. Lynchburg has an open-door policy where fleet management tries to ensure everyone knows this and remembers that it applies to them.

Fleet Journey Technician JD Gordon is the newest member of the Lynchburg fleet team.   -  Photo: City of Lynchburg

Fleet Journey Technician JD Gordon is the newest member of the Lynchburg fleet team. 

Photo: City of Lynchburg

And while in the past, this was always said to be the “policy” it's now actually in writing, which leadership believes has made a big difference for some.

Then there's employee input. 

"I think that good, honest, and hardworking individuals make a successful team...people willing to do this job and not complain and show respect for each other even in the hardest of times" Cramer explained.

Alongside this, it's been important for the fleet to have a shop manager and director who fully trust their technicians to make the right decisions and do a good job, which in turn has made it easier for the technicians to do their jobs effectively.

Making Progress with Technology Adaptions within a Fleet Program

Lynchburg's next major steps in technology involve upgrading the fuel system and implementing telematics fleet-wide. Despite facing delays, Cramer affirms they are still on track."

"We are always looking to implement new technology," he pointed out. "Budgetary concerns sometimes prevent things from happening when they should.

One of the fleet's biggest victories has been implementing a Utilimarc data analytics platform. It has already uncovered opportunities for improvement and has provided the resources for the fleet program to implement multiple dashboards and reports for departments. Once the application was presented to customers, it was game on. 

As one employee put it, "Our fleet is constantly changing and new model vehicles are being added all the time; with that comes advancements in technology that will require inevitable training and special equipment. Our fleet has made it very clear that any training or special equipment that may be required will be made available one way or another."

Customer Satisfaction and Steps to Become More Successful in Fleet Services

For Cramer, customer satisfaction goes hand in hand with employee input. While he explained that having a means for allowing customers to communicate their thoughts is a good first step, that does not matter unless the fleet is willing to make changes.

Over the last few years, this has become more of a priority for the fleet, from inviting multiple points of contact from departments when building vehicle specs to hearing thoughts on vehicles and optional equipment, to daily scheduling and roadblocks; each has made a significant difference in satisfaction.

"I take pride in getting the drivers back their vehicles as quickly and efficiently aspossible without sacrificing quality," Master Technician Myles Ritter stated. "The company I used to work for put an extreme emphasis on customer satisfaction and I still hold myself to those standards to this day. Working for the city is much easier in regards to 'customers,' but I still do not forget that customer satisfaction is still important in any business."

Guidance and Key Focus Areas for Leading Fleets Application Success

“With hard work and dedication, all things are possible.” That’s how a team and a fleet are built, according to Cramer. As for the Leading Fleets application, he advises following the guidelines and being specific.

Each area asks for many things, and you need to cover them all, he noted, adding fleets should be honest about their struggles.

He lays out a few more pieces of advice that include:

  • Build a team and ask how they think we’re doing at the beginning of the award year.
  • Utilize the same team (or change it up) to go through the application and provide ideas and advice.
  • Unless you know & admit your weaknesses, you will have a hard time improving upon them.
  • Sweat the details ... state when, why, how, and what the results were.

Cramer explained there were many things the team did but they never made the application because no one remembered. Having multiple participants providing input from varying fields of view helped them avoid leaving things out and became a way to get new ideas for the next application.

"After the process is over and you know you’re the new number one, spend the time to receive feedback from the judges," Cramer added. "This was a definite help to our organization. They tell you where your gaps were, and how you can improve."

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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