Those fleet managers went on to talk about vehicle inventory issues that they said are still a factor, although for some fleets, availability and delivery times are improving. And they said the labor shortage remains a factor, although some said that is improving, as well.
But the conversation always came back to electrics and alt-fuel vehicles.
And that’s especially the case for the city of Sacramento fleet. Alison Kerstetter is fleet manager for the City of Sacramento Department of Public Works, and she said the requirements of California’s Advanced Clean Fleet regulation are an ongoing issue for her fleet.
“It’s really difficult to fund those purchases because electric vehicles are typically between two and four times as much as a regular internal combustion engine vehicle,” said Kerstetter, whose department oversees about 2,600 vehicles and pieces of equipment along with six maintenance shops. “We need to buy these vehicles, but we don’t necessarily have the funding or the infrastructure for them.”
Alternative fuel “continues to be a hot topic” for the fleet at Collier County, Fla., said the county’s fleet director, John King. He joined the Collier County fleet about a year ago after 26 years as assistant fleet administrator for the city of Columbus, Ohio. When he left Columbus, about 80% of the refuse fleet was CNG.
“Here in Collier County, it’s even one step better than that,” King said. “We use Waste Management for refuse collection, and their fleet is mostly all CNG.”
Electric also plays a major role for another Florida fleet, the Leon County Sheriff’s Office in Tallahassee. All of its administrative and detective fleet vehicles are either Toyota Camry hybrid, Toyota Highlander hybrid or Toyota RAV4 hybrid. The sheriff’s office in 2021 also brought on three Tesla Model 3s for its detective fleet.
But on the topic of government fleet management trends, Leon County Sheriff’s Office Fleet Management Division Director Tim Coxwell said he is seeing some vehicle manufacturers “waffle a little bit on their commitment to EV.” “Production delays along with rental car fleets remarketing EVs in favor of ICE vehicles give agencies on the fence cause for concern,” he said.
That causes some difficulty in the procurement process, he said, because the command staff must be convinced to introduce those vehicles into the fleet.
“On the law enforcement side, they don’t typically want to necessarily go with a non-traditional brand like Tesla that doesn’t have a local dealership,” Coxwell said. He oversees 474 vehicles for the division, which includes eight service bays and seven technicians. “They want to go with a Ford product or a GM product, and those two companies can’t seem to get the ball rolling to where people can put their toe in the water and try it out.”
Inventory, Tech, Labor, Safety
Again, EV isn’t the only thing on government fleet managers’ minds.
“Everybody’s predicting a somewhat return to normalcy in the ordering process,” Coxwell said. “We haven’t had a clean year of ordering, availability, and reasonable delivery times in several years. I think we’re stuck with the new normal for a little while.”
Budgeting is another challenge for the Leon County Sheriff’s Office and Coxwell. A dollar simply doesn’t go as far as it used to, said Coxwell, who oversees pursuit-rated vehicles, and other vehicles including a canine unit, and a school resource unit. The fleet also includes administrative and detective vehicles that are either Toyota Camry hybrids, Toyota Highlander hybrids or Toyota RAV4 hybrids.
And of course, the cost factor has been amplified: A vehicle that cost $40,000 in recent years costs $50,000 today, Coxwell said.
“That is a significant hit when you have to replace totaled vehicles, and the residual value or pre-cash value of those vehicles is not as strong as it has been the previous couple years,” he said.
For King at Collier County, who oversees about 3,200 pieces of equipment that includes about 1,250 pieces of rolling stock, technology has been a top area of focus as the county has worked to move from the FASTER Windows-based platform to web-based.
With the web-based program, King said, “We can do a lot more functions that aren’t so antiquated. Many of the steps that we do with the Windows version are very back and forth and time-consuming, so going to the web-based version, we’ll be able to be a little more efficient and hopefully lessen our keystrokes, if you will.”
He said the FASTER program includes a vehicle replacement module that offers data to help the county make fleet vehicle choices. Fleet personnel still has to go through that data, sort through any anomalies, and talk to the drivers for additional input.
King sees technology advancements in areas such as GPS platforms and dash cameras, noting that OEMs are producing the vehicles with the equipment already installed.
“Some of them like Ford are being very aggressive with their whole fleet management-type portfolio where you can schedule maintenance and everything else with their Ford Pro system,” King said. “And then I see some other trends ... in fleet management software, different things about hubs and ... what systems we use to manage our fleet.”
King and Collier County have experienced the effects of the ongoing labor shortage, but the county has taken steps to ease its effects. King said the shortage had affected employee morale when he started with the county about a year ago, as those employees worked overtime and the pool of qualified candidates to fill open positions was low.
The county addressed the situation by “doing a major revamp of the pay scales,” he said. The fleet worked with the Florida Association of Governmental Fleet Administrators, the Municipal Equipment Maintenance Association, a local technical college, and the county veterans’ department, and that has helped increase the pool of candidates.
Kerstetter said a labor shortage has taken place at the City of Sacramento since before she became fleet manager there in 2022. Two of the city’s operations general supervisors have spoken at job fairs and speaking at events to educate people on the role of the fleet management department.
The number of job applicants has begun to increase, and the department has filled more positions over the past year than it did over the previous two or three.
“You still have people leaving or you’re promoting from within, which is fantastic to do and I love to do that, but then you're still down a position. It’s just a different classification,” she said.
Safety is another issue as Coxwell at the Leon County Sheriff’s Office said the department is teaching the National Association of Fleet Administrators’ risk management class to all of its lieutenants to help them understand the importance of coaching driver behavior.
“When they understand the principles of risk management and why it’s important to have those conversations with drivers about unacceptable behavior and why it’s important to complement drivers [who] exhibit good driving behavior, you know it’s beneficial to the operation of the fleet and the agency,” he said.
Fuel is one of the fleet’s largest expenses, so Coxwell said limiting idle time can be a big help.
“An hour a day is big savings throughout the year across our entire fleet, and if we can get them to work on their hard accelerations, work on the hard braking, and eliminate the unnecessary speeding, then we’ll typically wind up with less crashes and less maintenance costs,” he said. “One of our focuses this year is adding that training session where we spend basically four days with a group of lieutenants going through the risk management class and having them test out in the end so they can see where they stack up.”
But Again, the Conversation Turns to EV
Upfitting the shops to be able to work on electric vehicles safely has been a challenge for the city of Sacramento, as well as training for its technicians and service workers to be able to work on those vehicles. And the labor shortage compounds the situation.
“It’s going to be a longer training period than just a new product with a diesel engine, so the shop upfits and the training for our mechanics is definitely something that it is going to be a heavy lift for us, as well as getting the infrastructure that we need in order to charge those vehicles,” Kerstetter said. “Everything seems to be surrounding electric vehicles or zero emission vehicles these days, especially here in California, so there’s a lot of things that we have to think about, and think about the best way to go about funding those things as well as implementing them.”
The city recently installed its own compressed natural gas station, and Kerstetter said that’s a big deal because the city’s entire refuse truck fleet of about 140 vehicles runs on CNG. The fleet has used other filling stations farther away from the city, and drivers have had to wait for up to two hours to fill.
“So now that we have this station at our refuse maintenance location, it can fuel up to I believe 100 trucks, so they slow fill overnight and the trucks are ready to go in the morning, instead of the drivers having to go and wait for fuel and then start the route,” Kerstetter said. “So that has been super-exciting and super-helpful, and more efficient for our solid waste staff.”
Coxwell said he was hoping for strong EV availability for the Leon County Sheriff’s Office and that enough Chevrolet EV Blazer PPVs would be available.
“We haven’t decided where we’re going to assign them yet, but if I had to guess it would probably be in an unmarked capacity with detectives,” he said.
Coxwell’s department put together an aggressive plan in 2022, foreseeing price and interest rate increases and buying three years’ worth of vehicles.
“So we went ahead and ordered as much as we could get our hands on and borrowed the money at a less than 3% interest rate, and it allowed us to catch up on our fleet replacement plan, so we haven’t had an urgent need to buy anything other than replacing totaled vehicles from crashes and when we create a new position,” Coxwell said.
Coxwell also mentioned politics and the November election as a top issue for fleets, but he noted that fleet managers are “not Democrats and we’re not Republicans.”
“We are really focused on cost per mile, and so if we don’t get caught up in the politics of things, we just make our decisions based on where the math leads us, then we’re going to continue to be successful regardless of who’s in the White House or who’s in the Senate or who’s in the governor’s office,” he said. “So you know it’s a big political year. It’s all you hear about on the radio and the news and read on the Internet, but from the fleet management side of things, if we just stick to the math and we follow our lowest cost per mile, we’ll make the right decisions.”