Being named #1 Government Green Fleet in North America is an accomplishment for a fleet that once operated out of what Equipment Maintenance Manager Paul Condran refers to as "Quonset huts."
But with one of the largest compressed natural gas (CNG) fleets, a staff whose efforts earn consistent rankings among the top 100 best fleets in the U.S., and a fleet manager deemed by Government Fleet magazine an Environmental Leadership Award recipient and finalist for 2009 Public Sector Fleet Manager of the Year, the title is just one highlight in a series of honors awarded to the Culver City (Calif.) Equipment Maintenance & Fleet Services Division this past year for outstanding environmental efforts.
Changing 'Garage' Mindset
Culver City Equipment Maintenance & Fleet Services Division has come a long way since its days as a "garage," according to Condran, a 24-year veteran fleet manager and one of four finalists (of 31 nominees) for GF's 2009 Public Sector Fleet Manager of the Year.
Prior to joining Culver City's fleet operations, Condran began his automotive career as a technician, then later became a service manager, and also worked in the parts distributor area at a Ferrari dealership - a much different environment than fleet, he admitted.
"Going from high-end technology vehicles to fleet vehicles was a difficult transition," said Condran, recalling what a "different world" it had been.
Condran described Culver City's original fleet administration as essentially non-existent, with mechanics working out of Quonset-like huts and no real vehicle management taking place. Overcoming his initial anxiety upon taking the job, he soon took charge to change the mindset from a "garage" (somewhere to park cars) to equipment maintenance & fleet services.
"We are not a 'lube center'," Condran said.
Emphasizing quality, Condran steered fleet away from conditions in the early days when scarce attention was paid to quality of service or cost, to focus on total asset management. "It's much more than vehicle maintenance," he said. "It ranks hand in glove with customer service and safety."
Today, the City fleet operation employs sustainable workplace practices and is certified by the State of California as a Green Model Shop under the Department of Toxic Substance and Controls (DTSC). (See sidebar on "Becoming a Green Model Shop.")
The division operates as a full-service fleet organization providing equipment maintenance, repair, welding, and asset replacement services for the City of Culver City, managing the equipment acquisition and utilization process, and monitoring and analyzing accidents and incidents involving city vehicles. In addition, it is responsible for the maintenance and support of the City's transportation facility, as well as assisting in the management of the City's underground storage tank (UST) program for city-operated fueling sites. The current facility has been in service since 1999.
CNG Attracting Awards
CNG has been Culver City's fleet fuel of choice for more than a decade. The City runs a considerable amount of CNG-powered vehicles as well as gasoline or diesel. With 605 on-road and 15 off-road units, the fleet comprises refuse and public works trucks, standard autos, and buses. Approximately 80 percent of the refuse fleet is CNG-powered, and slightly more than 20 percent is diesel-powered.
After initially deploying 20 CNG buses in 1998, the Culver City bus fleet eventually replaced its entire diesel bus fleet by 2004, becoming the first 100-percent CNG transit fleet in the South Coast Air Quality Management District and second in the state of California. Culver City has also worked with OEMs to develop a custom CNG sewer truck, a CNG asphalt repair truck used to repair potholes and cracks, and a street light repair bucket truck. The CNG fleet fuels at the City's dedicated CNG station, completed in 1998 and redesigned again in 2008. Condran said the City receives good rates from Sempra Energy, its natural gas provider.
Nationally recognized for its use of CNG, Culver City was presented the 2009 #1 Government Green Fleet in North America award by the 100 Best Fleets Program and the U.S. Clean Cities Coalition at Bobit Business Media's (BBM) second annual Green Fleet Conference in Chicago last October. Open to all federal, state, and local government fleets in North America, 40 public sector fleet organizations were recognized for outstanding contributions and leadership in the advancement of alternative fuels, establishing and maintaining a green facility environment, and demonstrating consistent sustainability practices throughout their operations.
"It was very humbling. We are very proud," said Condran. "We received a $1,000 check and the staff got a standing ovation from everyone, including our City Council and City Manager."
Using CNG as its primary source of fuel has also helped the City displace more than 800,000 gallons of gasoline and diesel fuel, and saved fleet operations more than $1.2 million annually.
In addition to the green fleet win, Condran himself was among 20 public sector recipients of BBM's first-ever Environmental Leadership Awards, honoring individuals for significant contributions in promoting environmentally responsible fleet operations.
Culver City was also one of five recipients of the 2009 National NGV Achievement Award, recognized by NGVAmerica and the Clean Vehicle Education Foundation for its outstanding contributions to the advancement of natural gas as a vehicular fuel.
While Condran is a strong advocate for CNG, he believes fleets deploying alternative fuel technology should do so at a 100-percent capacity. "It's very difficult to manage various types [of fuel]," he said. "For now, for us, natural gas is the best approach. More capital expense, yes, but the benefits far outweigh the cost."
Noting alt-fuel use needs political buy-in, Condran said Culver City's success "demonstrates we make CNG work."
Striving for Excellence
Becoming an award-winning fleet operation hasn't been an overnight process for the City; Condran and his current staff of 39 work hard. Most staff members have been employed in fleet for 3-6 years, with one of the longest-working fleet employees a 28-year veteran with the organization, Condran estimated. In the hiring process, Condran said, "Attitude is first, technical ability is second."
In 2002, the City began the certification path process with the help of Fleet Counselor Services.
"Embracing the concept of continuous improvement," Condran met with staff to come up with new goals and objectives to improve operations. "They're performing the work, not me," he said. Involving staff helps provide a sense of ownership and pride and cultivates excellent morale, Condran noted.
Employee morale is a big factor in Culver City's operations. To keep staff motivated, the division offers a number of incentives such as barbecues, t-shirts, incentive programs, and the opportunity to attend City Council meetings.
"The City Council is very proud of us," said Condran, explaining the fleet's successful efforts have helped boost Culver City's green image. "[The staff who attend] hear accolades and that permeates like wildfire," he said. Those individuals take that well-deserved recognition back to the rest of the fleet team, spreading even more positive energy and reasons to continue to work diligently.
"The great staff is really the 'nucleus' of the operation. I always challenge them," said Condran, who empowers employees to organize staff meetings. "The key is to be consensus-building and flexible," he said. "All-sides communication is the key."
In 2004, the fleet was first listed as one of the 100 Best Fleets within the program. That year, Culver City was also recognized by the California Highway Patrol (CHP) for its successful and consistent passing of rigorous CHP inspections. The process involves CHP inspecting 20 percent of fleet and reviewing all records. No defects were noted, indicating all pieces came back "clean," Condran said proudly.
In 2005 and 2006, Culver City placed #7 in The 100 Best Fleets program. In 2009, the City rose to fifth-best fleet in North America. "Our goal is to eventually be the #1 best fleet in the country," said Condran. "I'm not the kind of person satisfied by status quo."
Condran stays on top of industry developments using a number of resources, including publications such as Government Fleet and Fleet Solutions, as well as serving actively in professional organizations. He is a 16-year member of NAFA Fleet Management Association and a NAFA Alternative Fuels Committee member.
In addition, Condran served as president of the Municipal Equipment Maintenance Association (MEMA) for eight years, 1994-2002. He is also heavily involved on the transit side and is a member of the American Public Transit Association (APTA) and the California Transit Association. Condran is even helping to pioneer a long-standing change in the spare ratio rule and initiated his first white paper with help from his California peers at Foothill Transit and Long Beach Transit.
Surviving Industry Obstacles
While an effective shop team and fleet manager are critical to fleet success, support from upper management and preparations for the future are also important. With 100-percent support from executive management, Culver City is a "big proponent of giving back" and is working to implement an apprentice program, said Condran.
"This is a great career for anyone [of any gender] interested in the automotive world," said Condran. Culver City has partnered with the Los Angeles Community College District and worked with Santa Monica Community College for three years.
The programs reach out to high school students, and especially local colleges, to provide automotive education awareness and soft skills (office programs and software), technology, plus supervisor training.
Moving forward, Condran knows fleet will continue to face challenges, citing budget, technology, the availability of alternative fuels, and the consequences of the GM and Chrysler bankruptcies. "The auto industry keeps changing overnight," he said, "and you must be on your game."
To be successful, the right attitude is fundamental, said Condran. "You have to come to work everyday and walk the walk. While important, you can't allow the issues to be the primary cycle of discussion. You must remain positive. The key is to come to work everyday with the right attitude and perform a good job. This should be more than your work - this is your vocation. We are part of an industry. We work for a great city," he said. GF