Fleet management staff at the City of Seattle are: (l-r) Dave Seavey, fleet management director; Nanci Lien, fleet administration manager; Chris Wiley, fleet operations manager; and Michael "Vini" Vincent, vehicle mainteance manager.

Fleet management staff at the City of Seattle are: (l-r) Dave Seavey, fleet management director; Nanci Lien, fleet administration manager; Chris Wiley, fleet operations manager; and Michael "Vini" Vincent, vehicle mainteance manager.

At a Glance

The City of Seattle achieved its No. 1 Fleet status through these accomplishments:

  • Investing in staff training.
  • Investing in updated technology. 
  • Right-sizing the fleet through a utilization study. 
  • Providing open communication to all staff. 

Like so many cities across the United States, the City of Seattle has seen its share of economic struggles. The City’s Fleet Management Division (FMD) wasn’t exempt — it shared in the pain of increasingly tighter budgets, seeing profound reductions in labor and resources over each of the last four years.

Despite these challenges, the City of Seattle FMD made a decision: These reductions would not be obstacles. They would not hold the division back from improving its organization and meeting the challenges ahead. Instead, the division employed a long-term strategy: significantly invest in training, education, and technology — and get every member of the staff to think like a fleet manager.

Why this approach? At the core, managers of government fleets are charged with being good stewards of public funds by providing quality fleet services at a competitive price. So to think like a fleet manager is to make the most of the resources at hand, while also delivering high levels of customer satisfaction.

“When you’re on the floor and you’re thinking like a fleet manager, at the end of the day, we’re going to make better decisions today than yesterday,” said Dave Seavey, CAFM, director, Fleet Management Division.

United in this goal, the entire FMD staff, from maintenance to operations to administration, would together employ best practices, pave the way on a few of their own, and ultimately run a model fleet.

As a result, Seattle’s FMD has seen astounding improvements — and has been named No. 1 of the 100 Best Fleets, an award sponsored by INVERS Mobility Solutions and Property Room. Here’s how it got there.

Believing in People
According to Seavey, the core of the fleet’s improvements was investing in the division’s greatest resource — its people. The thinking was this: If it could get everyone within the organization, from employees in the shops to those in finance and operations, to think like fleet managers, it could make a profound change.

“Teaching and training are what turned the tide to get people to see things from a different perspective,” he said. “We made significant investments in our people because we want this to last for a long time.”

View a photo gallery of the City of Seattle's fleet staff here.

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FMD embarked on its training mission four years ago, making it mandatory that all levels of management, supervision, and warehouse staff attend California Fleet News’ Competitive Fleet Management: Run it Like a Business.

Since then, the Division has dedicated itself to training all staff in fleet management and industry best practices. The City’s operations and financial staff have received fleet management training, while also cross training in each other’s areas of expertise.

Now, when FMD, City Finance, and Operations staff get together, they speak the same language — and as a result, they collectively make better business decisions for the fleet.

“Now every time we get together to discuss important issues, we make sure representatives from each area are in the room so that everyone understands the issues,” Seavey said. “It’s all designed to understand each other’s points of view and ultimately make better decisions.”

Since employing this approach, FMD has accomplished a number of major milestones. A few include:

● Investing more than $1,065,000 on training and travel since 2008.
● Active participation by 21 staff members in NAFA’s Certified Automotive Fleet Manager/Supervisor (CAFM/CAFS) program.
● Since January 2011, four staff members achieving CAFM certification and four achieving CAFS certification, and one achieving the American Public Works Association (APWA) Public Fleet Professional Certification (CPFP) in 2009.
● Investing more than $215,000 in information system training.
 
“In the fleet world today, there’s a much greater emphasis on managing assets and financial and business management,” Seavey said. “For a lot of us, those are not our areas of expertise, but we have to acquire those skills to talk at the same level as the finance and business levels of the organization, or we risk not getting what we need to run our business.”

Learning each others’ professions has not only helped FMD make the positive changes it sought, but has also united staff from different departments in a unified goal.

Investing in Technology
In addition to investing in people, the City of Seattle FMD has also invested significantly in technology. “You have to train fleet management and asset management on how to use data — but first we had to get it,” Seavey said. “Well-trained, knowledgeable staff cannot effectively adhere to best fleet management industry practices without first-rate fleet and fuel information systems.”

With that philosophy in mind, the City invested $250,000 in a fuel management system and upgraded the City’s three main fuel sites, which issue 80% of the City’s fuel. The new system tracks all purchases, more accurately captures vehicle miles traveled, provides increased internal controls and accountability, and enhances the City’s preventive maintenance program by supplying accurate mileage data.  

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As a result of FMD’s increased ability to track transactions, it has seen a dramatic reduction of end-of-year inventory variances, from 7% to less than .5%. In the near future, FMD plans to convert additional sites. Once complete, the new system will provide fuel management for approximately 95% of City sites.

When it comes to providing the technological tools associated with more effectively managing the City’s fleet, FMD stayed true to its original goal: The City’s economic problems have not prevented the Division from investing in technology to improve operations, create efficiencies, and reduce organizational costs. Other examples include:  

● Investing more than $200,000 to automate and expand the City’s motor pool.  Doing so allowed the Division to expand motor pool operations, discontinue manual reservations, redeploy two staff to perform other duties, increase motor pool vehicle usage, and increase customer satisfaction. Automating the motor pool also directly resulted in the elimination of 21 vehicles from the City’s fleet, saving more than $525,000 in replacement costs alone.
● Investing more than $350,000 in a long-standing computer upgrade project, including providing computers, laptops, and docking stations for all technicians. This project modernized the way FMD schedules and tracks maintenance repairs, and created more efficient data recording by eliminating paper work orders and payroll time sheets.  
● Buying enterprise purchasing and work order management modules. These allow warehouse staff to create part requisitions and purchase orders directly tied to work being performed on a specific vehicle or equipment. The work order management module now provides a more efficient way for shop supervisors and crew chiefs to manage staff assignments, work order completion, and work flow through the shops.
Today, the Fleet Management Division has established a culture where “data matters,” and it relies on the AssetWorks Suite for assistance, including the Fleet Anywhere, Fuel Focus, and KeyValet applications.

Saving Millions Through Right-Sizing
In addition to significant investments in training, education, and technology, the City also saved millions of dollars through a concerted effort to right-size its fleet.

With the assistance of Mercury Associates, FMD conducted a citywide vehicle utilization study to right-size the fleet and eliminate underutilized units. Mercury recommended the City immediately eliminate 132 vehicles and equipment and to not replace another 32 at the end of their life­cycles.  The City’s reductions exceeded those recommendations, and FMD eliminated 255 vehicles, trucks, and equipment in 2011 and identified an additional 17 fleet reductions at the beginning of 2012.  

Other significant accomplishments as a result of the study include:

● Recovering more than $1.1 million through the sale of 255 surplus vehicles.
● Saving $720,000 by cutting capital, maintenance, and overhead rates from fleet reductions.
● Avoiding future replacement costs of $7.3 million.
● Refunding $1,187,000 from FMD’s Capital Reserve Fund to the City due
to fleet reductions. Since 2009, the City overall has reduced 10% of its fleet; it now consists of 4,012 units.

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Seattle's Alternative-Fuel Fleet
The City of Seattle FMD's on-road, alt-fuel vehicle makeup consists of:
Diesel/Biodiesel 1,203
Electric 49
Dual Fuel (CNG/Unleaded) 12
CNG 2
Flex Fuel 244
Hybrid 551
Total 2,061


Sharing Good Ideas
The final element rounding out FMD’s fleet management approach is a tactic that actually costs very little money: open communication.

A key element in FMD’s communication plan is a weekly report sent by Seavey via e-mail to all staff. The report provides an update on current and future projects in all areas of the Division, including fleet administration, vehicle maintenance, green fleet, warehouse operations, fuel management, and special projects.

“There’s nobody in our organization who doesn’t know what we’re doing. It’s completely transparent,” Seavey said. “We open ourselves up to be criticized and questioned, and it makes them part of what we’re all trying to do. The theory behind sharing all information is simple: If we want to have staff ‘think like a fleet manager,’ they have to be provided all the information regarding fleet operations.”  

As a result of open communication, Seavey doesn’t just disseminate information — he gathers it, too. Often, he hears creative ideas at conferences and fleet seminars, and through trade magazines, other fleet organizations, staff, and customers.

Namely, he’s an advocate for leveraging the ideas of others. “I think everyone is grasping the fact that it’s all about best practices. I’ve never been ashamed of copying someone’s good idea. We’ve never had a problem with sharing ours, either,” Seavey said. “It’s okay not to be the expert in your field, but it’s not okay to not go out and find out who is and get them to help you.”

A Humble Round of Thanks
Although the reasons for the City of Seattle’s recognition as the No. 1 Fleet are clear, when Seavey heard the news, he described the experience as humbling. “I know a lot of the other fleet managers, and I’m aware of all they do. Being measured with all of them is really satisfying. It helps us know we’re heading in the right direction. It validates that we’re doing the right thing,” he said. “If there’s anybody to thank, it’s the whole group, because we look to them for ideas for how to improve the fleet.”

Seavey also credits the fleet’s success to every member of his staff. “I’m fortunate to be surrounded by people who share a commitment to training, education, and improvement,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of people from top to bottom and in all departments who want to do well and take a lot of pride in what we do. When you have that, and I was blessed to have that when I came here, things just start to fall into place.”

View a photo gallery of the City of Seattle's fleet staff here.


SOURCE:

  • Dave Seavey, CAFM, director, Fleet Management Division, City of Seattle.
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