This compilation of “bright ideas” focuses on single, simple ideas aimed to reduce costs, improve operations, improve customer service, and more. Fleet professionals explain how they executed their plan, the challenges they faced, and the results they’ve seen or expect to achieve.
1. Improving Productivity
Motivate Technicians Through Inter-Garage Competition
Plan: The County of San Diego, Calif., fleet wanted to increase its 34 technicians’ direct labor hours. After implementing a process to track direct labor hours, fleet management established a friendly competition program among its eight garages in order to motivate technicians. The goal was to improve productivity and increase preventive maintenance (PM) service.
Execution: Fleet staff created two different awards, the Garage of the Quarter and the Garage of the Year, John Manring fleet coordinator, explained. The quarterly award (which includes a group lunch and an award the group keeps for that quarter) is given to the garage achieving the highest percentage of productivity. The annual award is based on productivity, PM completion, and safety compliance. The garage earning this achievement receives a wrench trophy during an all-hands meeting for the Department of General Services. The perpetual trophy has the winning group’s name on it and gets passed along each year to the next winning team.
Challenges: Fleet staff faced challenges in designing a program that was fair for the different locations and the varied staff size. Staffing ranges from one-technician locations to seven-technician locations. To address this, groups are divided by team leaders rather than sites, so that various one-man shops can form one team if they have the same lead. Additionally, productivity is averaged per technician rather than per site to account for different-sized groups.
Results: The fleet has seen an increase in overall productivity by almost 18% from inception of the program to date, about four years. Fiscal year 2013-14 overall productivity average was 81%, which includes all paid benefit hours. The program is still changing through suggestions from those competing, which includes a new addition to measure the percentage of time a group performs jobs faster than the standard time.
Advice: To get buy in for the program, engage staff all the way to the floor level, send weekly result updates, and provide weekly encouragement, Manring said. When they have a stake in the game, they become more involved, and by sharing the numbers with staff, they understand the budget process much more.
Use Wet Vacuum Cleaners to Clean Up Spills
Plan: Every year, thousands of pounds of floor dry and absorbent pads are used to clean up oil and coolant spills only to end up in the landfill, said Gary Lentsch, CAFM, fleet services supervisor, Eugene Water & Electric Board (EWEB) in Oregon. To make the shop more environmentally friendly, the fleet set out to find wet material vacuum cleaners to clean up spills.
Execution: Staff researched the available options online and purchased an air-powered wet material vacuum cleaner from Grainger’s to clean up spills. The 55-gallon tank vacuum cleaners clean floors immediately and when the tanks are full, staff members dump the liquids into appropriate containers for disposal or recycling. EWEB now has three vacuum cleaners so technicians don’t have to clean the barrel out each time they pick up a different liquid. One is used for oil, one for coolant, and one for general sludge.
Challenges: Lentsch reports no challenges with this project. Technicians like the product, and use has been simplified since the three separate vacuum cleaners have been marked for different spills.
Results: The main result is environmental, Lentsch said. Absorbent pads and floor dry are prevented from entering the landfill. It’s faster to use, since technicians had to wait a while when using floor dry, and there are no trip hazards or tracking such as when someone steps on floor dry. The materials picked up by the vacuums are disposed in the fleet’s used oil and coolant tank, and sludge is sent through the truck wash recycler for zero waste.
Advice: “Start with one [vacuum cleaner] and give it a try to see how efficiencies work on it. Depending on your shop size and how many mechanics you have, you may find it might be best to have a couple throughout your shop in different locations,” Lentsch said.
3. Ensuring Accurate Procurement
Perform Post-Delivery Bid Specification Verifications
Plan: After various incidents of new vehicles and equipment not exactly matching specifications, Sonoma County Fleet Operations in California began a post-delivery bid verification inspection process. Inaccurate bid responses by vendors cost staff time, affect grant compliance, and delay the unit from being placed in service, according to Fleet Manager David Worthington.
Execution: Now, a heavy equipment mechanic performs the verification inspection for heavy- and medium-duty units, while the motor pool attendant performs inspections on cars, light-duty trucks, and vans. Both have access to bid specification documents, and verify each spec, line by line. Inspection results are discussed with their supervisors and any issues with the fleet manager.
Challenges: “One challenge has been in convincing vendors to take the time to go through each specification line by line prior to delivery,” Worthington said. “Many vendors do a great job in making sure that they are accurate in their bid responses, but not all are as organized or detail orientated.”
Results: The inspection process has been a success in preventing vehicles and equipment that don’t meet bid specifications ending up in service. Some of the vendor errors this process has captured over the last four years include incorrect delivery of UTVs belonging to another buyer; hybrid sedans of the wrong model-year; incorrect trailer GVWR ratings; a non-functioning in-cell camera system in a prisoner transport bus; and keys that did not include programmable fobs. Catching these errors before putting these units in service has saved considerable staff time and expense, Worthington said.
Advice: “Choose a couple of recently delivered vehicles or pieces of equipment and check if they meet all your bid specifications. You may find that they do, or that you have a challenge that you were not aware of before,” Worthington said. “It’s less costly (and time-consuming) to discover a problem early on than to discover it later.”
4. Increasing Biofuel Use
Encourage E-85 Fueling
Plan: The City of Scottsdale, Ariz., fleet encouraged use of E-85 as part of its fuel diversification plan, according to Mel Galbraith, PCFM, fleet director. It installed an E-85 pump at a new fuel site and began educating city employees about the fuel and monitoring voluntary use among flex-fuel vehicle drivers.
Execution: Staff marked flex-fuel vehicles in its fleet software to be able to track E-85 use. Each department receives an automatically generated monthly report via e-mail that shows all flex-fuel vehicles by department, what percentage of total fuel used is E-85, and where these vehicles were fueled with unleaded gasoline. All city departments can see which others are successfully using the fuel.
Fleet management has also educated drivers and encouraged E-85 use through yellow E-85 tags on the key rings, E-85 decals on the fuel gauge, its newsletter, shared articles, and e-mails.
Staff found many flex-fuel vehicle drivers were fueling unleaded gasoline mid-city, and the fleet’s E-85 fueling station was located at the south end of the city. In June, an unleaded gasoline tank and dispenser were converted to E-85 at the centrally located main fleet facility.
Challenges: The biggest challenge relates to cost/benefit, Galbraith said. Since the price difference between unleaded and E-85 doesn’t generally offset loss in fuel economy, there is a negative return on investment. Additionally, with the constant fluctuation in fuel cost, the actual budgetary impact is difficult to tabulate. The benefits to be recognized are on a larger scale, which are mainly environmental as well as reducing dependence on imported fuel.
Results: Based upon voluntary participation, the program has been successful. In the first four weeks of operation, the new E-85 fueling site increased E-85 use by 2.15 times the prior month’s use. Use has more than tripled in comparison to the same month last year.
Advice: “Talk to others who have diversified their fuel program. There is no one fuel of the future. Diversity is the key,” Galbraith said. The city also uses CNG, B-20, gasoline, hybrids, and plug-in vehicles. “People much prefer choice over mandates. When they know the whys, many will join you in choosing the hows,” he added.
5. Improving Customer Service
Add a ‘Serviced by’ Sticker to Every Asset Serviced
The Town of Jonesborough, Tenn., fleet began adding “Serviced by” stickers to units that had been serviced by technicians. The goal of the stickers was to “tether the employee who provided the service to the asset in which they performed the work,” said Fleet Manager Gary Lykins.
At first, staff members weren’t very excited about the idea. “The change came when customers started noticing the stickers and saying ‘thank you’ directly to the person who worked on their vehicle,” Lykins said. When this became a recurring event, technicians began going out of their way to make sure everything was done professionally.
The new initiative only required the purchase of a label-maker, which cost $50.
“Don’t be afraid to do small things,” Lykins advised. “Not every management decision is life or death, and it is often the small changes that make a difference.”
6. Decreasing Maintenance Costs
Add a Satellite Repair Facility at Police Headquarters
Plan: After conducting a review of the maintenance services for the police fleet, officials at the City of Abbotsford, British Columbia, noted that there were some opportunities for greater efficiency associated with the transportation of police vehicles to and from the Public Works facility to be serviced.
“The time it took to bring vehicles in and then return them (about 30 minutes total) was often longer than the time it took to perform some of the services,” Greg Brooks, manager, Fleet Services, said.
City staff began looking at what it would take to open a repair facility at the police station. However, because of the lack of physical space at the site, staff decided instead to set up a one-man satellite facility in the police parking lot.
Execution: In 2012, the City opened its one-bay facility at police headquarters. The enclosed structure has light, heat, a phone and computer, an oil storage system, a hose reel system, a vehicle lift, and one full-time technician reassigned from the main shop. The technician at the site works on preventive maintenance and minor repairs for light-duty police vehicles. The entire project cost less than 25,000 Canadian dollars ($23,000).
Challenges: To capture used oil to comply with environmental regulations, staff constructed a mobile lube unit on a pick-up truck that carries 40 gallons of new oil and can take up to 40 gallons of used oil. A lube rack inside the tent is connected with the mobile oil unit, which feeds new oil and takes away used oil. The truck goes back to the main shop about once a week for pick-up and drop-off. Another challenge the fleet had to overcome was the installation of a vehicle lift with a concrete pad big enough to support the weight of the lift and vehicle. Engineering staff provided the details, and a special engineered pad was created.
Results: “Our unit price-per-service has definitely gone down because we don’t have added cost of pickup and delivery. For every job our technician does at the satellite facility, we save between 30 and 45 minutes,” Brooks said. “And, with a total of 87 units and each of the patrol and Emergency Response Team vehicles being driven about 46,600 miles per year, the technician has plenty of work, without spending some of it driving back and forth.”
Advice: For fleets looking to open a satellite shop, Brooks said having it pre-constructed in the building of the user department would be best. However, if they choose to go with a newly constructed site, “make sure to comply with the environmental regulations,” he said.
7. Improving Customer Service
Designate Specified Areas & Paint Parking Lines in Lot
The parking area at one of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works’ facilities had faded lines, and employees, fleet drivers, and drivers from other departments seemed to be parking anywhere they could find an open spot. This not only looked messy, but caused confusion.
Dean TedTaotao, shop superintendent, worked with other supervisors to determine the parking area boundary line, and fleet staff cleared the parking area of vehicles. Staff divided the lot into separate sections: a ready line, a repair line, employee parking, shop truck parking, motor pool parking, and forklift parking. The paint striping crew came in at the end of their day and painted diagonal parking lines for parking spaces.
“Everything seemed cleaner. You could tell if a vehicle was out of place, if it got dropped off overnight. That simple step streamlined everything,” Tedtaotao said. It fixed other problems as well: Now, drivers can always see if their vehicles are ready for pickup, and technicians have an easier time locating vehicles for repair and moving them out of parking stalls.
8. Ensuring PM Compliance
Reduce PM Costs to Encourage Drivers to Come In
Plan: Franklin County, Ohio, fleet hourly rates were projected to rise $10 across three years at a time when departmental budgets were frozen or shrinking. The fleet was aging due to tight budgets, and it was imperative that drivers come in for preventive maintenance (PM). Fleet management wanted to incentivize user departments to come in for PMs, Charlotte Ashcraft, director of fleet management, said.
Execution: Fleet management got approval from the Office of Management and Budget to continue with the scheduled hourly rate increases on all fleet services, but to reduce the rate on PMs by $20, a 31% discount.
“In discounting the cost, the departments will have an incentive to bring the vehicles in for regular services to reduce cost. In performing these services on a routine basis, we will be able to eliminate larger, more expensive problems or breakdowns,” Ashcraft explained.
Staff promoted the discounted cost to departments and explained the benefits of regular service. They provided department heads with a list of vehicles and when they were due for service as well as monthly reports about which vehicles would soon be due for service.
Challenges: Due to an aging fleet, higher mileage vehicles have begun to break down despite improved PM. Staff members educate the driver and fleet contact about what happened and determines if it was something that should have been caught during a regular service or if it was unavoidable.
Results: There have been fewer emergency repairs, and departments have been able to budget better. Most fleet work is now planned and scheduled, and technicians catch most items during service inspections and can schedule repairs around driver schedules.
Advice: Ashcraft advised fleets to find a balance between costs and driver safety. “Fleet is responsible for keeping the vehicles on the road, but ultimately we are responsible for keeping the employees safe and mobile,” she said.
9. Reducing Required Paperwork
Become a Non-Generating Facility for Hazardous Waste
Plan: When the Lee County, Fla., fleet became classified as a “large quantity” generator for hazardous waste under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifications, the paperwork fleet staff had to do became overwhelming. To combat this, Fleet Manager Marilyn Rawlings, CEM, looked to decrease the fleet’s hazardous waste generation and move it into a smaller generating category.
Execution: She and staff worked with the county’s pollution prevention program manager, Dale Nottingham, who helped determine which products the fleet would need to re-evaluate and how to best dispose of waste. The fleet uses fewer toxic products in mechanical repair processes, and any hazardous waste is now reused, reworked, or recycled. Used oil is sold to a recycler, the parts cleaner is certified non-hazardous, and antifreeze is recycled. There is a procedure for disposal for potentially hazardous materials such as batteries and oil filters. The fleet uses the principals of the EPA’s Environmentally Preferable Purchasing. Purchased parts go through parts room staff, and they check the material safety data sheet (MSDS) to determine if the part fits the fleet’s standards.
Challenges: At first, the number of changes that staff had to make was overwhelming. “You look at it and you think, ‘How in the world can I accomplish all this?’ ” Rawlings said. “But then you start weighing the benefits.”
Results: Across five years, the fleet moved into the “small quantity” generator category, then “conditionally exempt,” and finally, “non-generating.” Representatives from the state’s Department of Environmental Protection and the EPA arrived unannounced to verify what Lee County claimed it had accomplished, and they determined the county fleet wasn’t generating hazardous waste. While it was a difficult task, Rawlings said it has definitely been worth the effort — 10 years later, staff still doesn’t have to fill out the burdensome paperwork, and the practices have become routine.
Advice: “It’s an overwhelming task when you first start,” Rawlings said. Fleets looking at a similar program can seek help, as Rawlings did with Nottingham, when implementing the program.
10. Ensuring Continuing Education
Encourage Technicians to Become Trainers
Plan: When budgets became tight and training budgets tighter, Tucson Fire Maintenance in Arizona began a special training-teaching program for its emergency vehicle technicians. A technician attending a training session would lead a presentation at the shop about what he had learned, allowing others to expand their skill set, said Jerry Drake, CAFM, equipment maintenance superintendent.
Execution: In 2011, when the fleet sent a technician to diagnostics training, Drake asked the technician if he would lead a presentation for his peers. The technician spent three to four hours preparing, learning Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, and making handouts. Participation is voluntary, and six presentations have been conducted since the program began. The classes start in the training room and end on the shop floor with a hands-on demo followed by a Q&A session.
Challenges: “One of the challenges is in scheduling time to allow for training while maintaining vehicle availability,” Drake said. The fleet currently has five of nine positions filled, so it’s difficult to send technicians out for multi-day training sessions. Additionally, all technicians are required to achieve and maintain Master ASE and EVT certification status in multiple areas due to the diversity of the fleet and standards for repair of emergency response vehicles.
Results: The program has been a great team-building activity that promotes personal growth and boosts technicians’ self-esteem, Drake said. Technicians get to learn new skills, such as computer programs and public speaking. Retraining means not all technicians are out of the facility for multiple days, and teaching multiple technicians the same skills means they don’t have to wait for a specific technician to perform a repair. Teaching others also solidifies what that technician learned during his training class, Drake said.
Advice: “Encourage employees and support them,” Drake said. The program started because of a budget crunch, but it has been a win-win situation for both management and employees.
11. Preparing for Snow Season
Prep Snow Removal Equipment Early
Plan: Many public agencies aren’t prepared for snow events, especially when they come earlier than expected. Sam Lamerato, CPFP, fleet superintendent for the City of Troy, Mich., set out to solve this problem by ensuring all snow removal equipment would be prepped and ready by Nov. 15 every year.
Execution: He developed a snow prep checklist with technicians, looking at the failures and breakdowns common with the equipment. Technicians use this checklist beginning in May, starting with the dedicated equipment, and work their way through the city’s 54 pieces of snow removal equipment. Technicians go through about 70 entries on the checklist, spending 40-60 direct labor hours for inspection and repair on each unit.
Challenges: Finding the time to thoroughly go through each unit while keeping other vehicles on the road is challenging. Lamerato said staff members try to have one or two trucks in the shop at a time to make sure the department hits its deadlines.
Results: This process has resulted in fewer breakdowns during snow events, reduced technician overtime by 60-70% during winter months, and ready and reliable vehicles during a snow event, Lamerato said. The fleet department is never scrambling during a snow event. It doesn’t need to have technicians working around the clock during winter storms — they cover their regular shift (the shop is open for two 10-hour shifts) and may get called in if there is a breakdown, but Lamerato said this is rare.
Advice: “Sit down with the crew and review breakdowns during and after each storm,” Lamerato advised. “Be proactive. Make a list of where vehicles and components are failing and begin to develop a list.” He recommended fleet managers include all technicians, including preventive maintenance staff, since they have trained eyes and are the ones who can spot worn and failing components that will need to be replaced or repaired.
12. Improving Safety
Install Fall Protection Equipment for Technicians Working on Large Trucks
Plan: The City of Tampa, Fla. challenged its employees to focus on safety in 2014, and the fleet division set up its safety committee. One of its initiatives is to focus on the safety of technicians servicing large trucks, to make sure technicians working on top of the trucks aren’t in danger of falling, said Connie White-Arnold, chief of operations, Fleet Management Division.
Execution: Working with the city’s Risk Management Department, fleet assessed the risk factors, researched fall protection devices, and secured training and demonstration of various harnesses and lanyards. Lanyards have already been installed in the truck line, and a company has come out to demo harnesses. Management is currently working with Facilities Maintenance on installation of lanyards in the heavy equipment area and will also add them to the lube rack and fire maintenance work centers. The fleet’s goal is to have fall protection devices in each of the four areas that services larger trucks.
Challenges: Technicians are happy with the new safety features, and funding has been set aside for the project. The one challenge may be in the lube rack area. Risk Management has approved other workspaces for fall protection installation, but not the lube rack area. Some retrofitting or construction may be needed before lanyards can be installed.
Results: “The expected result is that we won’t have any accidents and that we will give our technicians an extra layer of protection and safety as they perform their jobs,” White-Arnold said.
Advice: White-Arnold believes this safety mechanism should be more common for fleets that service large trucks. “I challenge [fleets] to take a look at the safety aspect when your technicians are performing maintenance on top of an oversized truck,” she said.
13. Improving Customer Service
Work with Drivers to Improve the Motor Pool Experience
Plan: The City of Boise, Idaho, fleet created a consolidated motor pool in 2012. Later, based on feedback from users, fleet management discovered the initial set-up and configuration of the vehicles was confusing, and they set out to make the experience more user-friendly.
Execution: The assigned car number did not match the number of the key slot in the key box, and the cars, although parked in one general area, were not assigned to specific parking stalls, Craig Croner, CPFP, administrative services manager, explained. Fleet re-configured the entire system so all three numbers matched. Now Vehicle No. 3 has its key in slot No. 3 in the key box and is parked in the assigned stall marked No. 3. A crew of volunteers installed signage identifying each parking space, installed oversized number decals on the dashboard of each vehicle, and put the vehicle number on stickers on the front and rear of each car for quick identification.
Challenges: The Motor Pool is heavily used every work day. All re-numbering had to be performed after work hours while the vehicles were not in use. The signage and stickers had to be produced, new key tags printed, and key rings reconfigured. Fleet had to match specific size vehicles to the appropriate spaces, as not all parking spaces are the same size. Finally, fleet had to notify users of the changes.
Results: The re-numbering project generated positive feedback, and users see the new numbering system as straightforward and easy to use.
Advice: “Do it right the first time,” Croner said. “The basic key to our success was listening to our users and realizing that we needed to reconfigure the system so it made sense from a user’s viewpoint.”