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Best Practices for Managing Fuel Consumption and Cost
1. Use Alternative Fuels
With public sector fleets under government mandates to comply with legislated alt-fuel programs, data on fuel savings from these less-traditional fuels and hybrid technologies has begun to mount.
This data, plus consideration of such factors as total lifecycle costs, vehicle application, infrastructure, government rebates etc., all play a role in determining the alt-fuels and technologies right for each fleet’s specific needs.
2. Track Fuel Spend
Available as in-house or vendor-supplied systems to buy fuel at retail outlets, purchase cards help establish accountability at the employee level, tracking card transactions by individual employee and vehicle. Cards can be programmed to limit fuel type and non-fuel or other unauthorized purchases.
Data management systems now allow sophisticated exception report tracking, pinpointing occasions of non-authorized use for further investigation.
For example, Illinois Central Management Services monitors reports and requires periodic and annual agency review for security and oversight. Approximately $20,000 worth of fuel card theft or potential theft has been discovered since 2006.
Some fleets blunt the effect of rising costs through fuel contracts that lock in prices. Colorado Springs, Colo., for example, has saved approximately $1 million in fuel expense since 2005.
3. Cut Back on Idling
As fuel prices surged over the past few years, most fleets have instituted anti-idling policies. Tactics range from programming engines to shut off upon reaching an idling time limit to installing heater systems to pre-heat trucks in cold weather.
City of Moline, Ill., fleet vehicles have been equipped with GPS technology, e-mailing daily exception reports to Fleet Manager J.D. Schulte. “This has been a huge tool in enforcing our idle reduction policy,” he said.
4. Right-Size Vehicles
By closely matching power needs and vehicle size to application, public sector fleets have cut fuel costs by millions of dollars.
With lifecycle numbers and annual utilization reports for every fleet vehicle, Volusia County, Fla., right-sizes vehicles with less than 25-33 percent of the median miles per class. Lifecycles for lesser-used units have been extended to maximize utilization. Replaced or right-sized vehicles in the best condition are placed into the motor pool or cascaded to other departments to replace older units. The efforts amounted to one-year savings of $400,000.
Another right-sizing tactic is automated motor pools, which can eliminate underutilized vehicles.
5. Properly Maintain Vehicles
A standard, scheduled preventive maintenance program, requiring employees to bring vehicles in for maintenance such as engine tuning, air and fuel filter replacements, and manufacturer-specific tire inflation, helps boost fleet fuel efficiency.
Streamline Records & Track Data with Technology
Web-based data collection and tracking programs provides location-based fuel management. Fuel transaction data can be imported from an outsourced vendor into a fleet’s management program.
The Fairfax County, Va., fleet organization provides customer agencies a miscellaneous code to obtain fuel for uses other than vehicles (such as park mowers, chain saws, etc.). To prevent misuse, the County changes the PIN code every six months.
Ronald Kritt, operations support for the City of Coconut Creek, Fla., reports the city fleet uses Fuel Master readings, creating charts in Microsoft Excel for each vehicle showing mileage and gallons of fuel used. The data is tracked monthly and every facility maintenance employee can see his or her usage compared to others. A fuel management program should have a measurement standard and a way for the employees to take ownership and be responsible for their own mileage figures.
5 Steps to Creating a Fuel Consortium
The City of Fort Worth, Texas, established a fuel purchasing consortium for the price-cutting benefits of volume-buying. Wayne Corum, director of equipment services for the City, offers the following tips in forming a consortium:
- Hire a fuel industry expert, skilled at writing contracts and understanding fuel industry statistics.
- Identify local fuel suppliers offering the best discounts.
- Determine the right contacts in neighboring fleets willing to collaborate and pool fuel requirements in a consortium arrangement.
- Promote the program to potential partners, demonstrating its cost-saving benefits.
- Create a formal agreement signed by all participants.
Led by Bob Stanton, director, the Polk County, Fla., fleet department developed an employee incentive program to boost fuel efficiency, expected to save the County an estimated $250,000 in annual fuel costs. The savings pool will be split evenly between the county and employees who drive county-owned vehicles on a daily basis.
Stanton and his team provided drivers anti-idling education, encouraged alt-fueled vehicle use, and offered eco-driving training.
Eligible employees each could earn a $100-$400 annual bonus. They must agree to follow program guidelines. Stanton expects participating employees will improve their mpg by at least 5 percent.
"Equipping fleet vehicles with an electronic powertrain calibration tool can help achieve better fuel economy while limiting vehicle top speed. These tools (available commercially) also limit wear and tear on drivetrains and other components."
— Gright Ideas urvey respondent (anonymous)
"All-electric vehicles (EVs) can cut much of the petroleum load from regular fleet vehicles for uses such as parking enforcement parks patrol, utilities meter reading, etc."
— “Pure Electric Vehicles Go to Work in Government Fleets” (GF May/June 2008)