There are some people who think fleet management is about vehicles. For Dan Berlenbach, CPFP, fleet services manager for the City of Long Beach, Calif., it’s about people. “We focus on people because they make the mission happen...the vehicles are the tools; the people are the priority,” he said.
When Berlenbach was asked what drove his recent Public Sector Fleet Manager of the Year win, he credited his colleagues. “It’s all about the team,” he said. “I am so privileged to work with some of the best fleet staff around. They do the work...I just get them what they need, recognize their performance, give a little guidance here and there, and let them go.”
It’s true that the team has accomplished a lot this year, including ramped up sustainability efforts, achieving high productivity rates, implementing tablet-based apps, and earning 90% satisfaction from drivers and 95% from department liaisons, to name just a few recent achievements. “Our list is long, and that’s due to our team’s efforts,” Berlenbach said.
Of course, Berlenbach is at the helm of these initiatives, and his leadership of the department’s many successes helped him earn the Public Sector Fleet Manager of the Year title. Berlenbach attributes his fleet management techniques to lessons he learned in the United States Air Force, in which he served for 29 years. “In the military I learned to provide customers what they need to do the job (but not more), closely track costs and other metrics, empower people, and verify that it’s all done properly,” he said.
Another key management technique: Being comfortable with taking chances and learning from mistakes. “We like to live on the leading edge and are not afraid of risk,” Berlenbach said. “When we fall, we get back up and adjust.”
While the fleet’s list of achievements is long, Berlenbach has a few of which he’s most proud.
First is a revamped preventive maintenance (PM) program, which hadn’t been reviewed for several years. “While vehicle technology had changed and so had the oils we use, we were still changing oil way too often,” he said. “We got an onsite analyzer, started changing our sweepers and refuse trucks based on oil condition (not time), and hired a consultant to completely review and rewrite our program — changing to an ‘ABC’ method and extending intervals throughout the fleet.” This total rewrite of the PM program will significantly reduce oil and labor costs and is projected to save $500,000 annually.
Last year the team also completed an extensive upgrade of the fleet’s 15-year-old fuel management system, dedicating thousands of man-hours to clean up years of data, establish new business processes, and install equipment on more than 1,500 vehicles. “Changing out our entire fuel system was a huge effort that stretched us significantly,” Berlenbach said. “We focused our fleet brain trust on this almost exclusively for about a year.”
The new system includes a full telematics suite, enabling the team to implement a fleetwide driver behavior program. Because this system’s integration with fuel management is passive, it has no cellular access fee, saving the city $315,000 annually.
The team also created a warranty program, including a dedicated warranty manager position. The new program resulted in the recovery of $220,000 in its first year, tripling the investment in the program.
“Our approach is a mix of doing the basics well and implementing newer, more efficient programs,” Berlenbach said.
Among the team’s new approaches is embracing technology as a means for improved fleet management. The team is currently testing three different tablet-based apps: stockroom inventory, PM checklists, and morning yard check, with operator checklists as a possibility in the near future.
To better manage and prioritize how the fleet uses the technology and data available, the city implemented a fleet technology steering group. “We embrace all the fleet technology and partner fully with our fleet management information system provider to push the envelope on the apps, data, fuel, and driver behavior programs as they become available,” Berlenbach said. “We’re excited about the role technology plays in fleet management and, as we all know, it grows daily, if not exponentially!”
Sustainable Efforts for Better Health
Sustainability is another effort about which the fleet team is passionate. “We live in an area that’s challenged by air pollution, to the point of affecting people’s health,” Berlenbach said. “For that reason, we are very sensitive to the impact the city’s fleet has on the local environment.”
Last year, more than 50% of the fuel used by the city was renewable, including natural gas and renewable diesel. Of the city’s on-road fleet, 42% is alternatively fueled and another 70 electric vehicles (EVs) are scheduled to arrive this summer.
An Internal and External Focus on the People
While the benefits to citizens are part of what drives the fleet’s dedication to sustainability, Berlenbach’s focus on people doesn’t stop there. It extends to the technicians in City of Long Beach shops, to fleet customers, and beyond. And it has yielded some impressive results.
Focusing on the needs of technicians in the shop has paid off in a 76% productivity rate. “We get our people what they need, we measure what gets done, and we share those measurements with everyone,” Berlenbach explained. “We stress ASE certification and invest in our people, their facility, and the tools and equipment they need. We treat our people as the priority that they are and recognize their achievements.”
The department has several recognition programs and Berlenbach said they make time for fun, including activities such as an annual car show, barbecues, and an upcoming fitness program.
Of course, this focus on people extends to fleet customers, too. Fleet staff are trained in customer service and the fleet team regularly solicits feedback on how they’re doing, from the driver to the managers of customer departments. In fact, each month, members of the management team review 27 key performance indicators to enable consistent support to departmental customers.
“We exist for the customers we serve. We take their feedback to heart, fixing those things that can be fixed, improving others, and thoroughly explaining those that can’t,” Berlenbach said. “We communicate to all our staff how they fit into the ‘big picture’ of city services. Everyone understands that fleet [operations] moves the departments that directly serve the residents of the city.”
In reflecting on his win, it’s no surprise Berlenbach wants to thank the people who helped him along the way — from his roots to present day. “I want to thank the U.S. Air Force Vehicle Maintenance community that raised me from a young airman and taught me fleet management,” he said. “And the Long Beach Fleet team that helped me put it all into high-performance practice.”
When asked what makes him most excited about the win, Berlenbach said it’s the recognition it brings to his entire team. “It is a great honor and the high point of my civilian career to be sure, but this is their award,” he said.
Berlenbach’s parting advice to other fleets? “People are people after all — they want to be valued, supported, and respected,” he said. “Do all that and your organization will shine brightly.” That approach has clearly paid off both for the fleet and for the newly named Public Sector Fleet Manager of the Year.
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