Due to the state of Florida’s susceptibility to such natural disasters as hurricanes and tropical storms, state fleet managers may have a longer-than-average list of potential concerns, including how to clean up after a catastrophic event, and how to better prepare for the next one.
One worry Florida fleet managers share with their counterparts nationwide is the ever-present menace of budget constraints and increasing gas prices. Facing budget shortfalls, the state of Florida found a way to make the best of its circumstances while preparing for the worst by implementing a fuel card services program.
By placing fuel purchasing cards in the hands of drivers and giving control of card use to fleet managers, Florida can now closely monitor fuel expenditures and secure better prices on gasoline.
Comparison Shopping Ends
Florida’s fuel card program was a result of the collective effort of a number of Florida agencies interested in easing budget constraints.
"The program came together through the efforts of several key departments that were charged with balancing fiscal limitations in an era of ever-fluctuating fuel costs," said David Bennett, transportation and energy contracts team lead for Florida’s Department of Management Services. "The concept is based on leveraging the most advantageous pricing possible through the combined volume of the public sector fleets in Florida."
By implementing a statewide fuel card program, Florida agencies take advantage of wholesale pricing based on a weekly average Oil Price Information Service (OPIS) rack price for four geographic regions of the state, plus an agreed-upon vendor markup. That means no more shopping around for the best price per gallon — no matter where drivers stop. When they use the fuel card for gas purchases, they are guaranteed the same price per gallon as every other station in the region. In addition, the Comdata MasterCard is accepted universally, so drivers are never limited to specific stations.
Card Use is Flexible
Florida’s fuel card program also allows fleet managers more flexibility. While the Department of Management Services oversees the program — handing out cards and assigning driver identification numbers — each fleet manager chooses which specific controls are placed on drivers’ cards.
"With the Comdata MasterCard, the state has a vast array of controls that allow agencies limitless flexibility to carry out their assigned duties, while remaining consistent with the business rules of each agency operation," said Tom Gustin, national account manager for the Comdata Corporation. "Cards can be restricted by location, time of day, day of the week, pay inside or pay-at-the-pump only, by dollar amounts, or the number of transactions."
In addition, fleet managers can see these transactions as they happen, rather than waiting until the end of the month to balance their budgets.
"Fleet managers have the ability to directly manage fuel and fleet expenditures and observe vehicle performance and driver behavior by viewing purchases in real-time, as transactions occur," Bennett said.
That means no budget surprises when statements arrive at the end of the billing period. Fleet managers can check on driver purchases as often as needed. This ability helps fleet managers minimize lost dollars that may otherwise be spent at higher-priced stations or unauthorized purchases of food and beverages for drivers.
Furthermore, the card isn’t just for gasoline — it covers other fleet expenses such as maintenance and repairs, streamlining fleet maintenance and fuel purchasing processes. Rather than dealing with several cards and their related databases, fleet managers track just one card.
"Efficiencies are achieved by using a single card for all of our fuel and fleet-related purchases — including vehicle maintenance — and the ability to purchase fuel from aviation and marinas as well," Bennett said.
For some, adopting a statewide program might seem both unwieldy and impractical — how can one system work for everyone? Due to fleet managers’ ability to choose controls, each agency is free to use the card in a manner that achieves its specific goals.
"Each department fleet has specific needs based on the agency’s mission statement. However, price, ease of use, security, and minimizing exposure to loss are consistent throughout all agencies," Bennett said. "For instance, law enforcement fleets run 24/7 and need the ability to purchase fuel when and wherever they need it, as do first responders in emergency situations."
Despite having multiple drivers, using fuel cards can even be an appropriate solution for motor pools.
"A number of state agencies operate motor pools, and with all of the security features available on the card, we are able to maintain consistent controls with multiple driver assignments," Bennett said.
Preparing for Emergencies
In addition to implementing an efficient fuel card program, Florida has also made great strides in preparing for future emergencies. By extending the partnership with Comdata to include TransMontaigne, an industry leader in fuel supply chain management, the state receives the best pricing now on gasoline. In the future, it will be able to allocate fuel resources where they’re needed most.
"As a registered ultimate vendor and reseller of fuel in all 50 states, TransMontaigne is responsible for exempting applicable taxes and applying the wholesale pricing detailed in the contract," Gustin said. "TransMontaigne offers security of supply in times of emergency. The company owns eight fuel terminals and currently delivers more than 25 million gallons of refined petroleum products each month to a diverse customer base. Additionally, TransMontaigne operates several tanker trucks strategically positioned throughout the state, which affords efficient management of distribution capacity."
Now when disaster strikes, Florida state leaders can make informed decisions about where fuel is needed most — and can be confident it will get there.
"If, for example, the threat of a hurricane is imminent and the governor issues an executive order declaring an emergency, Comdata and TransMontaigne would be on-site in Tallahassee with the emergency response team assisting in dispatching fuel to the various first-responder agencies. We have the ability to prioritize loads of fuel to the areas and agencies that have the most critical need of supply," Bennett said. "This provides a strong and reliable chain of supply to ensure delivery of emergency services when disruptions in fuel supply would prevent these agencies from carrying out their missions."
"The card program is a win-win situation. Drivers benefit through the ease and convenience of universal acceptance; merchants benefit through the use of a low-cost MasterCard with rates lower than proprietary cards in the marketplace, and agencies are able to account for their fuel expenditures more easily on a single card platform," Bennett said. "The program has been a proven success in saving money, offering ease and convenience of use, and providing efficiencies across the board in how the public sector purchases and processes fuel and related services, offers security, and minimizes exposure to loss."
While Florida may not be able to control Mother Nature, it can control the response to natural disasters — and the fuel card program is a step in the right direction. In the meantime, Florida’s fleets will run more efficiently.