Although judges identified 50 Leading Fleets, only one took home the title of No. 1 overall fleet: the City of Boise, Idaho, Fleet Services. Craig Croner, CPFP, administrative services manager, and Dennis Falconer, CPFP, vehicle maintenance division manager, accepted the award on behalf of the fleet at the Government Fleet Expo & Conference (GFX) on June 10.
“There are a lot of big players in the industry, and we are beyond humbled to be among them, to receive this award, and to be recognized for all the hard work our staff has put in throughout the years,” Croner said. “The application process let us reflect on our organization and gave us an opportunity to call attention to what our employees do individually to support our ‘one city, one team’ motto.”
The Leading Fleets award program, sponsored by Ford and organized by Government Fleet magazine, recognizes high-performing government operations with innovative leadership, efficiency, and community contributions.
The team sets the bar high with regard to education, exceeding requirements for the ASE Blue Seal of Excellence and enhancing community initiatives. Other accomplishments include employing a skilled management team, responding swiftly and sustainably to budget setbacks, using a myriad of tools to measure performance, and refining its work culture.
The City of Boise was ranked No. 2 Leading Fleet last year. “Our continuing commitment to excellence is the basis for our success this year,” Croner remarked.
Educating Staff and the Community
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the city’s fleet operation is its dedication to education. It has earned the ASE Blue Seal of Excellence, in which a minimum of 75% of the shop’s technicians must be ASE certified. The shop must also cover all ASE certifications that pertain to the areas of service it offers on site. At the City of Boise’s fleet operation, 100% of the technical staff is certified. Eight technicians are also master certified, and four are dual-master certified.
“When I came on board in 2008 and conducted an evaluation of the fleet services division, I found out they had already been an ASE-certified organization and my job became much easier,” Croner said. “I realized this was one of the most highly skilled work forces I’ve ever been associated with.”
Both Croner and Falconer themselves are recognized by the American Public Works Association as Certified Public Fleet Professionals (CPFPs). Less than 100 people in the country hold a CPFP.
A leader in edification, the City of Boise hosts training seminars at least four times a year. Technicians come from all over to participate in order to complete continuing education, increase their certification level, and keep their certifications valid.
“As technology changes every day, it’s important to be prepared and unafraid to go back to school or to the factory to learn new skills,” Croner said. “You have to stay ahead of new advances.”
For example, the City of Boise recently procured an additional aircraft rescue and firefighting apparatus (ARFF) that its technicians needed to learn how to operate and maintain in the event of an airplane crash. Employees are also continuing to familiarize themselves with police car technology, which has made significant advances and will continue to do so.
“Training is never compromised,” Croner continued. “Even when our budget was reduced.”
Community education is just as important to the fleet team. Education efforts have recently been expanded to reach high school students. Falconer spearheaded “Go On Idaho,” a well-received campaign to recruit young men and women to the industry and to expose them to what fleet jobs are like and what’s required to keep a fleet running.
“It is an honor to use our fleet program to encourage the youth of our community,” Falconer said. “It was created to catch the eye of students early in their educational experience. You never really know the positive impact these endeavors have on students.”
Revamping the System
Amid the recession, 2008 was a difficult year for any government agency. However, the City of Boise was determined to come out of it stronger, using the period as a time of significant consolidation and restructuring of its fleet. After an internal audit, the city saw a need to centralize all fleet operations and hire one fleet manager — Croner — to execute a strategic plan produced by government fleet consulting group Mercury Associates Inc.
The plan included 27 separate suggestions ranging in nature from procurement to policy. A fleet advisory team was also created to help with implementation and coordination.
“We looked at everything from regulations on how you procure a piece of equipment to who’s in charge of setting standards for preventive maintenance [PM],” Croner said. “We tried to cover everything that goes into making a good, solid fleet management operation with defined protocols.”
The city rearranged departments, moved fleet technicians to different divisions, and chose to not fill a handful of retiree positions. Only one employee was laid off during the consolidation, which was a three-year effort. Since 2008, the city’s total staff was decreased by 25% and the administrative motor pool fleet by 20%.
Croner said the key to its success in such large undertakings is good leadership, which starts at the top. “We have an active and engaged mayor. When he came into office, one of his goals was to take care of fleet operations, and he challenged the chief of staff to look into improving overall efficiency.”
Not only did this restructuring reduce taxpayer dollars, but it also led to greater productivity. The city keeps tabs on all aspects of its operation by managing the bottom line daily. Over the past few years, the city was able to take on additional responsibilities, including new fire stations, a second golf course, and two public works sewer districts.
The fleet’s management team has continued to focus on a unified implementation strategy as well. “We try hard to communicate effectively and remain transparent to all employees,” Croner said. “We put information on charts to share with everyone, explain the positives of consolidation, and above all, make employees feel secure in their jobs. Everything is done under one management structure.”
According to Croner, if you can’t measure something, you can’t effectively manage it. This philosophy has helped the city better analyze its own trends and become a leader in functionality. The city fleet management team worked closely with the IT department and implemented technologies that help them manage to the bottom line.
The City of Boise’s fleet operation uses FASTER to manage assets, Agile Fleet Commander to manage the motor pool, FuelMaster to manage bulk fuel, and an APWA metrics system to measure technician productivity and chargeback rates.
The real-time data collected is shared with technicians, user departments, the fleet advisory team, senior management, and elected officials. Analyzing these results contributed to a successful staff reduction while still maintaining good customer satisfaction.
Daily monitoring and monthly reports that measure staff productivity allow management to discern how many hours technicians should be able to fill on any given day.
“It all goes back to fleet management information systems and tracking work orders,” Croner said. “We take great pride in when that vehicle leaves one of our facilities, it doesn’t come back until the next PM service is scheduled. Having a highly skilled workforce that can make the right repairs the first time is the key to efficiency and customer satisfaction. I attribute it to the skill and expertise of the technicians.”
The city also uses an internal performance-based rating system. It allows individual supervisors and employees to work on specific goals tied to an overarching city-wide goal. Supervisors keep track of their status, but employees are encouraged to document their own success as well. The system helps the management team recognize contributions and determine increases to employee compensation accordingly.
Another example of successful measurement for the City of Boise includes investigating the potential savings of leasing versus purchasing major equipment. Fleet staff concluded that leasing equipment would free up budget in the short run, and, in today’s low-interest environment, result in only a slightly higher total cost of ownership over the lease period.
This strategy eliminated spikes in the budget and created additional cash flow for other city-wide capital projects. The fleet had to actively engage with the mayor, city council, and its own legal team. The successful use of lease funding created cash flow savings of $739,000 in the first year alone.
Keeping an Open Door Policy
The City of Boise’s management team has a strong open door policy. Whether an employee has an idea for improvement or a problem within the agency, feedback is taken seriously and evaluated closely.
“This shows staff they are valued and appreciated and results in productivity gains — no one knows the way to do it better than the ones who do it every day,” Croner explained. “We want to be open, have an open mind, and make sure we’re creating an open environment where everyone feels safe to express their feelings.”
Croner said creating a work culture that encourages openness sets the standard, and from an employee standpoint, eliminates fear of retribution.
Feedback from customers is shared with the technicians so they can better understand and serve their customers.
“We always give the customer many opportunities to tell us how they are feeling,” Croner said. “Everyone makes mistakes, but at the end of the day we’re judged on how we rectify those mistakes and prevent them for the future. That’s the kind of leadership we try and demonstrate to our customers.”