15 Bright Ideas to Improve Your Fleet

Photo: Getty Images

One benefit of the fleet community is the ability to learn from each other’s good (and bad) experiences. Every year, Government Fleet collects the most effective initiatives that others can try out. The fleet managers behind these initiatives share what worked, and offer guidance on the challenges they faced along the way. 

Offset Costs with Insourcing

The City of Conroe, Texas, handles maintenance for six other fleets. Insourced work makes up about 20% of the work done in Conroe’s shop. “Even if we don’t perform the job in house, we will facilitate the sublet then get the unit back to the customer,” explained Erik Metzger,  CAFS, fleet manager. 

Ninety-five percent of the city’s insourced work is for light-duty vehicles. Labor is charged out at $70 per hour (compared to $60 for city-owned light-duty vehicles) and parts and sublets have 15% and 5% markups, respectively. 

In FY-17, the city billed out more than $88,000, enough to cover one full-time technician. Considering insourced work takes up a small percentage of the shop’s operation, Metzger sees this as a huge benefit.

Keep Purchasing Options Open

Rather than choosing one purchasing method that works, Osceola County (Fla.) keeps its options open. When purchasing new vehicles, the county always issues a full solicitation (which is open for 30 days), collects the make and type of the winning vehicle, and compares pricing to the state contract. With this strategy, the county saved $200,000 on procurement in FY-18.

“We found that you do not always get the lowest bid on the solicitation, and also the price on the state contract is not always the lowest one for the same product,” said Hector Sierra Morales, fleet manager.

15 Bright Ideas to Improve Your Fleet

Photo: Getty Images

Add Daily Shop Meetings 

The City of Milwaukee is cutting down its monthly shop meetings and building up the team with daily shop huddles. For about five minutes every morning, the team does a brief team-building exercise, discusses progress on current repair goals, and addresses any issues.

Justin Groeschel, fleet repair supervisor, said the daily meeting is intended to serve as preventive maintenance for the team, rather than “repairing” issues at the end of the month. 

The goal is to ultimately phase out monthly meetings. For now, the number of items covered in each monthly meeting has been greatly reduced.

Establish Service Level Agreements

When fleets have hands-on customers, it’s a good idea to get in writing who decides what. After a new Chief of Police took office in Wichita (Kan.), the agency looked for more control over vehicle replacement decisions. The Police Department and Public Works & Utilities developed a service level agreement (SLA) to provide an allowance and establish decision-making authority. 

The two departments meet regularly to discuss ideas, issues, or concerns. The increased communication has gone a long way toward addressing service concerns. 

Fleet staff calculates an allowance, reserving a portion of the fleet budget for the Police Department, and a fleet employee is assigned to serve as the primary liaison to the Police Department. Spending controls established in the SLA ensure that spending remains at appropriate levels. 

This approach will hopefully serve as a model to address the unique issues of other customer groups. But Troy Tillotson, fleet manager, noted that managing SLAs can be time consuming, and the Police Department rotates administrative staff more often than other departments, which can cause a strain in ongoing discussions. In addition, the fleet is considering a new rate model to more transparently communicate fees and rates.

Raise Awareness with Hard Numbers

Idling is a problem across many types of fleets, but it especially affects those whose drivers use their vehicles as mobile offices. The Ada County Sheriff’s Office in Idaho is targeting idling by keeping officers informed.  Don Walker, CAFM, fleet manager, continually explains to officers that odometer readings aren’t even close to miles based on engine hours.

It’s one thing to tell people and another to show them — Walker gives specific numbers so they understand the significance. Calculated miles are actually 2.5 times the odometer reading, and one hour with the motor left running equals about 33 miles. 

“It makes them much more aware of the need to curb idling and comply to the maintenance schedules I’ve set,” Walker said.

Keep Fuel Handy

When it comes to emergency planning, fuel is key. The City of Orlando, Fla., is working with a fuel provider to make sure it is stocked up on compressed natural gas (CNG) in case of an emergency.
Not all of the city’s fuel sites are located along a natural gas line, but the city wants to make sure all sites have CNG available. Through the agreement, a fuel provider will keep a CNG trailer at those fuel sites, and switch them out once they’re empty or need replacement. 

The city’s still running this idea past legal and through purchasing to approve a sole source contract, but the results are expected to be promising.

15 Bright Ideas to Improve Your Fleet

Photo courtesy of El Paso County

Take on Emissions Testing 

El Paso County, Texas, is using two emissions-testing machines at a cost of $15,000 per machine. Before, the county paid between $7 and $40 for each inspection, depending on the type of vehicle or equipment.

The first machine was purchased for the Public Works motor pool in October 2016. A second inspection station was added to the Sheriff’s motor pool in January 2018.

Now, 81% of all inspections are conducted in house. The machines paid for themselves within a few months, and the county expects to save $13,000 a year on inspection fees alone, along with $66,000 in fuel costs and $105,000 in maintenance and wear and tear repairs from not having to shuttle vehicles to inspection sites.

Tailor Preventive Maintenance

Maintaining diesel vehicles can come with unique challenges. In the City of Roseville, Calif., one challenge was that the city buses’ diesel particulate filters (DPFs) were constantly plugging, but the buses’ duty cycles were not rigorous enough to allow the system to perform an automatic regeneration. The fleet implemented a preventive maintenance (PM) code that requires staff to manually perform a filter regen every 6,000 miles.

So far the fleet has performed 281 manual regens and has seen an increase in uptime for the bus fleet. The shop added more PM codes to remove the DPF and diesel oxidation catalyst every 365 days. The fleet also purchased swing filters, so vehicles aren’t left waiting while filters are out being cleaned.

Make Training Convenient

One way to make sure vehicles are taken care of is by training drivers. But it can be hard to reach everyone. In May, the New York City Parks Department started a driver training program, which is mandatory for all 4,000 drivers in the department.

The program includes training videos, reading materials, and quizzes, and it’s all available through an online portal. There’s a standard training program, additional training segments for specialized forestry vehicles, and elective courses.

All drivers are expected to complete training by the end of this calendar year.

Partner With a School

With a technician shortage looming, many fleets are becoming more proactive when recruiting new technicians. The City of Fayetteville, Ark., is partnering with a local school to boost its workforce with an intern program.

Six of Fayetteville’s fleet staff members attended the same local technical school. When the city’s workload increased and it needed more help, the fleet decided to partner with a technical school. Students work 20 hours a week, and their evening schedule allows them to attend school, have lunch, and come in for a five-hour shift at the fleet shop. 

Communication with the school is an important aspect. Jesse Beeks, fleet operations superintendent, serves on the advisory board for the school’s diesel program, and when the fleet is hiring, Beeks can call the instructor, who is able to recommend two or three applicants.

Municipal fleet is not for everyone, Beeks noted. But students gain hands-on experience on a variety of equipment to help them figure out where they would like to end up. “Some want to move to a truck shop or dealership. We usually know this by the time they are ready to move on and allow them more experience in their field of interest,” he said. 

15 Bright Ideas to Improve Your Fleet

Photo by Vince Taroc

Fuel Responsibly 

Every fleet operation is different, with its own set of unique problems. Sonoma County, Calif., implemented a quick and simple solution to one of its problems: drive offs.

About three times a year, a fleet driver would drive away from a fueling station with a fuel pump still hooked up to the vehicle, causing damage to the fuel site and the vehicle. The fleet noticed an increase in drive-offs in one six-month period. To remedy this, the county removed the automatic fill mechanism from its fuel pumps. This took about two minutes per nozzle.  

Regular users were not happy with the change because it made fueling less convenient, but some understood the need once fleet staff explained the costs associated with drive offs.

Prepare Future Leaders

The City of Long Beach, Calif., started a supervisor swap program in February. Every supervisor is moved to a different crew and a new position to provide cross-training and prepare for upcoming retirements. 

Supervisors get to know new technicians, new vendors, and new equipment. With a broader knowledge of the fleet operation, supervisors are communicating with each other more often. One challenge, according to Fleet Services Manager Dan Berlenbach, CPFP, was placing the supervisors in roles that prepare them for future growth but also ensure they would be successful.

15 Bright Ideas to Improve Your Fleet

Photo courtesy of Goodyear

Go Green in New Ways

With vehicle technology constantly evolving, it can be tough to stay informed of what’s next. When the United Soybean Board approached the New York City fleet about a new opportunity to go green, the fleet team took the opportunity.

Keith Kerman, chief fleet officer and deputy commissioner at the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS), said the city is beginning to use Goodyear WeatherReady tires, which feature rubber compounds made with soybean oil. According to Goodyear, the tires remain soft at lower temperatures for enhanced traction in dry, wet, and winter conditions. DCAS is interested in the tires as part of its fleet sustainability initiative, NYC Clean Fleet.

Harris Kaplan, fleet operations director, said adopting the new tires was not more difficult than adding any other new tire to a fleet operation, though DCAS did have to schedule meetings with Goodyear, its parts supplier, and city agencies to get everyone informed.

Earlier this year, Goodyear also announced a soy-based tire designed specifically for law enforcement. Kaplan said the fleet will receive a trial set to test in the fall.

Share What You Do

An important aspect of customer service is informing customers of what you do. But how do you get them to listen? The City of Baltimore faced this challenge with its first-ever Fleet Summit. City department heads were invited to the city garage to learn about the fleet, ask questions, and share their needs.

Chichi Nyagah-Nash, former deputy fleet management division chief (now director of special projects for Baltimore’s Department of Housing & Community Development), said support from management and city leadership is key. 

She worked with the general services director and mayor to announce the event during a cabinet meeting. The goal was to get decision-makers in the same room, so department heads who could not make it were asked to send a second-in-command or someone else who makes decisions and can participate in conversations.

Ideally, Nyagah-Nash said, the summit would be held every two years. But the more important aspect of the summit was the follow up. Attendees signed up for topics they were interested in, such as automatic vehicle location (AVL) and vehicle spec’ing, and the fleet team is setting up small-group meetings.

Spec for Training

When a fleet buys a new vehicle, it is important to train your technicians on how to maintain that vehicle. Sussex County, N.J., considers this at the very beginning of the procurement stage.

The county’s vehicle bids require the vendor to provide training and an engine software subscription. These added items are to be factored into the price of each vehicle, so the fleet does not have to request funding for training later.

John Bazelewich, fleet manager, said these requirements are specified to bidders in advance and the fleet has not seen any pushback on this initiative. Payment for training is handled between the vendor and trainer, and although the fleet team will provide the names of trainers staff members have worked with in the past, the vendor is not required to stick to the same trainers. 

About the author
Roselynne Reyes

Roselynne Reyes

Senior Editor

Roselynne is a senior editor for Government Fleet and Work Truck.

View Bio