The District of Columbia fleet is slimming down, economizing, and working to reduce carbon output. It recently started removing 360 passenger vehicles from its fleet, the difference made up by a menu of alternative transportation choices, including:
• A citywide motor pool and a vehicle sharing program, both managed and
controlled via the Internet.
• Increased use of MetroRail and MetroBus systems.
• Mileage reimbursement.
• Taxicab vouchers.
• Vehicle stipends.
The idea is to reduce fleet size, not employee mobility, and promote alternative modes of moving about the city, said Ralph Burns, vehicle control officer in the city administrator’s office.
Changing Employee Mindset
“I have a car” — a mindset for many District employees who have had vehicles at their disposal for years — “will become a thing of the past,” said Burns.
Now District employees are asked to think of alternatives to driving, even if they have the option of a vehicle.
Burns asks his employees to “pretend you don’t even have a vehicle. Walk outside the building and look around. There’s the bus. The Metro system in D.C. is really robust. We have agencies using that system and more agencies moving toward it.”
The reduction plan is projected to yield net savings of more than $1 million per year, $6.6 million over five years, and a decrease in carbon output of more than 700 metric tons, said Greg Butler, senior managing consultant with Public Financial Management (PFM), a consulting company in Philadelphia that worked with the District on its fleet reduction plan.
The District is implementing the plan, removing nonessential vehicles gradually, with most expected gone by the end of April, although a few units will be kept until their leases expire in the summer. The reduction amounts to approximately 17 percent of the fleet’s passenger vehicles, or 8 percent of the entire fleet.
Making Change Happen
Preparation got underway in the spring of 2008, after the District of Columbia retained PFM.
“The main impetus for the fleet reduction initiative stemmed from the mayor and city administrator’s office looking for the best ways they could spend taxpayer dollars,” Butler said. The District’s goals: reduce the fleet size, save costs without diminishing service levels, and reduce the fleet’s carbon output.
According to Butler, PFM has a standard process it follows. In the District of Columbia, that process began with the creation of a steering committee, comprising District department managers and PFM personnel.
The group analyzes passenger vehicle use to determine how many could be culled without compromising service.
The effort focused on passenger vehicles because “we strongly suspected that’s where we could see some of the greatest savings,” Butler said. Alternatives to passenger vehicles include public transit, readily available in the city.
The consultants interviewed District staff over a four- to six-week period to pinpoint how passenger vehicles were used and combined that information with mileage on each vehicle to reach a “reduction target” for each agency.
Among the agencies involved in the project were the Department of Public Works, Office of Property Management, and Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs.
Deciding What to Cut
The calculation of reduction targets involved the use of a full-time vehicle equivalent (FTVE) of 4,500 miles. One passenger car per 4,500 miles driven was the formula for determining how many vehicles an agency needed.
The Office of Property Management, for instance, had 43 passenger vehicles. Of those, 23 had been driven less than 4,500 miles in the 12 months between Jan. 31, 2007, and Jan. 31, 2008. The total for the 23 vehicles came to 42,346 miles during that period, according to District records. Dividing that mileage total by 4,500 results in an answer of 9.4, which project managers converted to 10. Subtracting 10 from 23, they arrived at a reduction target for the Office of Property Management: 13 vehicles.
The approach was designed to avoid compromising service levels, and Butler emphasized “recognizing that even in the case of a low-usage vehicle, the vehicle is still being used, therefore, there is still some demand for it.”
Tiffany Wan of PFM and other consulting company staff developed an Excel-based decision tree designed to guide users — managers or analysts in each department — through a sequence of approximately 15 questions to identify alternative means of transportation.
If a manager drove an SUV daily, but only 3,000 miles during the year, for example, the decision tree might generate alternatives such as: two motor pool hours per day; two car-sharing hours per day; or two MetroRail or MetroBus roundtrips per day.
Those options would be entered into an Excel-based “Cost Calculator,” also developed by Wan and others at PFM, which orders the options according to cost. In the case of the SUV-driving manager, the calculator would show that a purchased vehicle or a Metro option were among the low-cost leaders, with MetroBus the least expensive, Wan said. Barring other considerations that might make relinquishing the vehicle impractical, the SUV could be replaced with Metro passes.
The Excel-based tools were e-mailed to District staff in August. Proposed reduction targets for each department with 10 or more passenger vehicles, with documentation supporting the targets and instructions on using the Excel decision tree and cost calculator, were presented in a meeting attended by the city administrator and senior staff, Butler said.
A “negotiation phase” of about six weeks followed, during which the various departments met with PFM and District managers to discuss reduction targets. The majority of departments found the targets feasible and used the information and tools provided to hit them, according to Butler.
“Some actually gave up more,” he said. “Some resisted, which was expected.” Managers who objected to relinquishing a vehicle were required to write up a rationale.
One example was a van with just 1,000 annual miles. “Why keep that?” Butler asked. It turned out the van was used to transport prisoners within the grounds of a prison. It was retained, there being no practical alternative.
Phasing in Alternative Transportation
Meanwhile, the phase-in of transportation alternatives is ongoing. Burns noted the motor pool and vehicle sharing programs are expected to enhance efficiency and yield savings in large part because they can be managed efficiently and securely via Web sites and the use of cell phone communications.
The online management and reservation system for the motor pool — called DCFleetShare — and for a separate vehicle-sharing program are provided by Cambridge, Mass.-based Zipcar.
Zipcar’s vehicle security setup consists of a card reader on a window inside each vehicle. The card reader works with a modem that controls the door and ignition locks in the vehicle, Burns said.
District employees authorized to use the motor pool are issued a vehicle access card with a unique number, which they use to make a reservation on a Web site maintained by Zipcar.
The autos are parked in dedicated spaces on city property or leased property, in areas of dense populations of city employees.
Upon reaching the vehicle, the employee holds the vehicle access card above the card reader. The door and ignition locks open because the unique number has been transmitted to the vehicle’s controlling device. The keys are inside the vehicle on a retractable cord attached to the dashboard. Upon returning the vehicle to the designated parking space, the employee restores the keys to the retractable cord and locks the vehicle.
In fiscal-year 2009, the motor pool is expected to grow to 100 passenger vehicles, Burns said. The vehicles are marked with the DCFleetShare logo, rather than the markings of a particular department.
Using the Zipcar Web site, motor pool managers can evaluate demand and transfer vehicles to a different location as needed, Burns noted.
The vehicle-sharing program works in much the same way, but is a Zipcar business that provides passenger vehicles for consumers, business people, district employees — anyone who wants to rent a vehicle for hours or days.
Burns expressed hope the vehicle reduction initiative might develop a momentum of its own. “Some agencies are saying once DCFleetShare is launched citywide, they might like to give up some more cars,” he said, the attraction being that fewer vehicles translates to reduced responsibility for security and maintenance.