Pictured here are some of the City of Boston's 38 fleet staff members. Technicians at the City's fleet now collectively hold 70 ASE certifications, including six Master technician designations.

Pictured here are some of the City of Boston's 38 fleet staff members. Technicians at the City's fleet now collectively hold 70 ASE certifications, including six Master technician designations.

At a Glance

In two years, the City of Boston made significant improvements to its fleet. These include:

  • Enacting a vehicle replacement program
  • Remodeling and updating aging facilities.
  • Incentivizing technicians to earn ASE certifications.

In September of 2010, when Jim McGonagle came on board as director, the City of Boston’s Central Fleet Management (CFM) was in critical condition. The fleet operation had experienced several years of serious neglect and required a complete overhaul, mandated by the City’s Public Works Commissioner Joanne Massaro.

A study by Mercury Associates identified critical issues in the fleet operations, and consultant firm Fleet Counselor Services worked with McGonagle and his team to pinpoint specific improvement areas and strategies to implement changes.

“The main challenges we faced were a largely obsolete and run-down vehicle fleet, no organized preventive maintenance program, unacceptable service times, old and neglected facilities, outdated fleet and fuel management systems, and an inefficient parts department,” McGonagle detailed.

Furthermore, the fleet operation lacked a definitive vehicle replacement policy, and the motor pool was underutilized. “Overall employee morale was extremely low, and we were understaffed,” added McGonagle.

A Fleet Revitalized
Just two years later, the CFM turnaround has been astounding. A vehicle replacement program will replace 140 vehicles in fiscal-year 2013. Staffing has been completely reorganized. Facilities are undergoing remodeling and updating.

More than 93% of preventive maintenance (PM) servicing is completed within 24 hours. Vehicle repair histories are being built. A successful vehicle-sharing program, FleetHub, now serves City employees, replacing the motor pool.

Technicians earn Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certifications. Partnered with NAPA, the improved parts department runs smoothly and cost-effectively. Advanced technologies have been implemented for fleet and fuel management systems.

How did McGonagle and his staff revitalize the faltering CFM in 24 months?

Building Success
Team building was a foundational principle in the CFM turnaround. “We made it clear to everyone that we’re all in this together, and that it would take everyone working together and being on the same page to get our operation where it needed to be,” said McGonagle, a 24-year fleet veteran who holds CAFM, CPFP, and ASE Master Automobile Technician and Master Medium-Heavy Truck certifications.

McGonagle spent much of his first six months at CFM on the shop floor assessing strengths and weaknesses, gathering input from employees. His open-door policy made him accessible to staff and technicians. During newly instituted weekly meetings, key staffers — managers, shop foremen, service writers, and administrative support — could now freely discuss improvement issues. “Morale was so low because they weren’t being heard” about shop conditions and other operational flaws, said McGonagle.

“As the crew saw positive changes made, they took ownership of the process,” he noted.

Staff reorganization was an important early step in transforming the CFM. These changes included redefined job descriptions, the elimination of posts dedicated to a single function, and the establishment of service-­writer positions. Previously, ­McGonagle said, a secretary with no automotive knowledge wrote service orders.

The fleet also instituted three technician levels linked to earned certifications. “We sat down with the union that represents the majority of our employees and, through collective bargaining, we started rewarding our technicians for getting ASE certifications,” McGonagle explained.

The official encouragement to earn certifications, which included pay increases, paid off. In just one year, the number of certified technicians went from zero to 18; these technicians now collectively hold 70 ASE certifications, including six Master technician designations.

Throughout the staff realignment, Mc­Gonagle filled key positions with experienced people who embrace change. “To inspire change, we needed people who wanted to change,” he said.

In the new comprehensive PM program, most PM servicing is performed during the evening shift, allowing drivers to leave their vehicles after work and pick them up the next morning.

Aging and underperforming fleet vehicles are replaced with new, fuel-efficient and hybrid units in the newly implemented vehicle replacement program. “We target replacement candidates by doing a study in conjunction with the City’s Budget Office that takes into account vehicle age, usage, and repair costs,” McGonagle said.

Remodeling in the three CFM repair shops includes improved lighting, better drainage, new flooring, repainted interior walls, and overhead lubricants. A supply of new and upgraded tools has been provided.

With new dedicated fleet management software, each technician is assigned a notebook computer to view repair orders, record vehicle histories, track lifecycle costs and inventory, and update time sheets.
Drivers now use vehicle-specific electronic fobs when fueling for accurate mileage logs, while all new vehicles are equipped with automatic fuel, odometer, and engine hour recorders.

Leveraging Success
McGonagle credits the CFM turnaround to “unparalleled support” from top City officials, including Mayor Thomas Menino, Commissioner Massaro, Deputy Commissioner Elmo Baldassari, Public Works Chief of Staff Matt Maryl, Human Resources Director Mary O’Neil, and the Budget Office.

“The other key ingredient was the CFM staff; they really pulled together,” said ­McGonagle.

Not only are City vehicles in better shape and CFM services vastly improved, but ­McGonagle and his team have been able “to parlay our success to get additional funding to further improve our operation…[with funds] for new vehicles and equipment, new tools, complete shop renovations, and even a slated vehicle/equipment wash facility.”

The positive trajectory of CFM’s turnaround should continue as McGonagle and team leaders track operations at monthly performance meetings. McGonagle also holds quarterly fleet management meetings with customer department representatives to maintain open lines of communication, resolve issues, and explain operational changes.

CFM’s future goals include Certified Fleet Management Operation (CFMO) status, given by the Government Fleet Management Alliance (GFMA), and CLEANFleet designation, awarded by the Coalition for Green Fleet Management (CGFM).

McGonagle advises other fleet managers facing similar turnaround challenges to involve all parties in the process.

“Bring everyone together, from the lowest levels to the highest. Be sure to establish good relationships with senior staff. Without their ownership in the process, it’s extremely difficult to make changes in a timely manner,” he recommended.

Profile: City of Boston Central Fleet Management

The City of Boston (incorporated as a town in 1630) is home to more than 617,000 residents and encompasses a land area of 48.4 square miles.

In addition to maintaining and repairing all City-owned vehicles and equipment, the City's Central Fleet Management operates and maintains eight fuel sites, GPS hardware and software, radio equipment, and the FleetHub vehicle-sharing program; tracks more than 2,000 vehicle registrations; specs and orders department vehicles; handles graphics applications; runs a vehicle surplus program (contributing more than $250,000 to the City's general fund); and conducts an employee driving school for commercial driver's licenses (CDL's) and hoisting license exams.

  • Operating Budget: $2 million
  • Staff: 38
  • Vehicles/Equipment Total: 1,027
  • Reporting Authority: Boston Public Works Department
  • Departments served: 19
  • Facilities: Three shops -- Light Repair for light- and medium-duty vehilces, Heavy Repair for heavy-duty units, and Communications for radio and GPS equipment repair and maintenance.


  • Jim McGonagle, director, Central Fleet Management, City of Boston
About the author
Cindy Brauer

Cindy Brauer

Former Managing Editor

Cindy Brauer is a former managing editor for Bobit Business Media’s AutoGroup. A native of Chicago but resident of Southern California since her teens, Brauer studied journalism and earned a communications degree at California State University Fullerton. Over her career, she has written and edited content for a variety of publishing venues in a disparate range of fields.

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