Employees at the National Renewable Energy Lab can board a self-driving shuttle to get around campus. - Photo courtesy of MV Transportation

Employees at the National Renewable Energy Lab can board a self-driving shuttle to get around campus.

Photo courtesy of MV Transportation

Can you imagine your Public Works director zipping around to her next meeting on an electric scooter? What about a university president hopping on an autonomous shuttle that loops around campus?

Government employees have had the opportunity to drive personal cars, assigned fleet cars, motor pool cars, and rental cars. Now, they can arrange a ride through a phone app. Soon, there may be no human driver at all, as autonomous vehicle technology matures and is incorporated into our transportation system.

How will this affect fleets? 

Adjusting to New Methods of Transportation

There are growing pains with transitioning to new forms of transportation, from driver pushback with ride-hailing companies, to dockless bikes and scooters being thrown into lakes, to much-publicized crashes of autonomous vehicles.

But for users, expanding mobility options have been a positive development.  For many business travelers, ride hailing has become an invaluable service. Dockless bikes and scooters are being used for short trips in multiple cities. 

And while autonomous vehicles won’t be available to most of us for a few more years, their use by government employees could significantly change fleet approaches to transportation, while freeing these employees up during their commute time to prepare for meetings or relax.

Improving Utilization

The current technology that fleet managers are implementing is automated motor pool systems. They’ve talked about better inventory and use tracking, improved utilization by allowing more than one check-out per day, and allowing for fleet reductions. 

Pooling heavy and specialized equipment is another option, although it hasn’t taken off quite yet. Because these are work vehicles used for specific tasks, sharing may be harder. But whether between neighboring municipalities or within a statewide agency across multiple departments and locations, resource sharing of specialized equipment is happening among some fleets.

Will There Be Fewer Vehicles?

Despite the technology revolution of the past couple of decades, fleets overall don’t seem to be decreasing in size. However, perhaps government agencies can own fewer passenger vehicles while still offering all employees efficient transportation options by making electric bikes, scooters, and ride-hailing services an option, by having fleet operations automate and better utilize their motor pools, and eventually replacing vehicles with autonomous ones that can be used by multiple people in one day.

How quickly government agencies transition to these new forms of transportation may depend on costs. Some fleets will help drivers determine whether a pool, rental, or personal car is the cheapest option. If autonomous and hailed vehicles are consistently the cheaper options, public agencies may be able to reduce their passenger fleet considerably. 

For now, we’re in the beginning stages of these changes. Select city employees in Chandler, Ariz., can hail an autonomous vehicle for work trips, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., just began an autonomous shuttle program that travels along a pre-programmed loop. 

These are test programs, so they don’t replace any current vehicles. But I’m confident we’ll get there. And who knows — perhaps fleet reductions will help alleviate the technician shortage. 
How do you view the increased mobility options for fleets?

About the author
Thi Dao

Thi Dao

Former Executive Editor

Thi is the former executive editor of Government Fleet magazine.

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