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Fleet Management - on THIS budget!?

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On page 7 of the new (Feb 2014) New York City Fleet Management Manual there is a list of the agencies who own and operate “City” vehicles. The list is extensive including not only Fire and Police but also Homeless Services and the agency who manages Youth and Community Development. In total, more than 50 agencies operate vehicles owned by the city and many of the agencies operate their own repair garages and fueling infrastructure. The Fleet Management Manual is broken down into 15 sections, which are listed in the table below to provide a potential framework for your Fleet Management Manual.

The manual is pretty thorough but let me share some interesting tidbits that will probably make it certain that there is a big difference between Fleet Management in the Big City and Fleet Management in your city.

The guidelines for replacement of fleet vehicles are as follows, Sedans and SUVs, non-emergency and non-law enforcement- 9 years and 80,000 miles, passenger pickups and vans- 10 years and 80,000 miles, Fire Department pumpers and ladders are replaced as per Collective Bargaining Agreement. Factors the city considers in actual replacement include age, condition, mileage, use including engine hours, replacement funding, and safety (p. 17).

Vehicle Request Forms must be submitted with a hard copy attached to the requisition or submitted through the Fleet Management System. Agencies must notify the Bureau of Quality Assurance (BQA) when new vehicles are delivered by vendors. Agencies may not place vehicles into service prior to BQA inspection (p. 17).

The City uses over 25 million gallons of fuel per year for fleet and equipment and operates 415 fueling locations including three (3) that dispense compressed natural gas (CNG). In addition, NYC Fleet offers contracts for fueling at private gas stations and private CNG fueling sites. Finally, the City currently manages over 150 EV charging stations for electric vehicle fueling (p. 19).

Agencies must monitor fuel delivered and fuel dispensed per vehicle and employee including the use of fuel trucks and gas cans. The City is installing automated fuel tracking at all general use in-house fueling locations. Once installed, agencies are required to use these systems and track fueling by vehicle, equipment piece, gas can, and employee (p. 20).

While your city probably doesn’t have more than 50 agencies that operate city vehicles; guidelines that specify replacement of vehicles every 8 or 9 years or in accordance with your collective bargaining agreement; a Bureau of Quality Assurance, and automated fuel tracking to keep track of the more than 25 million gallons of fuel used every year; effective and efficient fleet management is still critically important.

In a 2013 article for Fire Apparatus and Emergency Equipment Magazine, Christian Koop, fleet manager for the Miami-Dade (FL) Fire Department talks about a Fleet Management Symposium he attended that was part of the National Truck and Equipment Work truck Show. The symposium was facilitated by Kelley Walker and its focus was on reducing capital and operating budgets in fleets, improving technician productivity while incorporating high technology like GPS and telematics. Koop broke the article into five topics: matching applications, simplicity saves money, standardize where possible, technician efficiency, and shop efficiencies.

The logic behind the matching of fleet vehicles to applications is irrefutable. To put it simply, Koop quoted retired Chief Brunacini, who said “"Sending a fire apparatus on a medical call is like delivering flowers with a cement truck." The fallout from the mismatch will cost your department money because the vehicle will be overloaded or its duty cycle too severe, and probably sooner rather than later, maintenance costs to keep it operational will become too burdensome. Putting a twist on Chief Brunacini’s quote from above, don’t use a chainsaw to cut your steak and don’t use a spoon to slice bread. Vehicles that are matched properly to their application are more cost-effective to operate.

In his discussion on the topic of standardization, Koop talks about specifications and states that “Whether the specifications are strictly technical in nature, functional, performance-based, or a combination, the ultimate goal is to produce a vehicle that is best suited to the application and one that will provide a long, reliable, trouble-free life that is economical to maintain. Well-written specifications should produce a vehicle that will provide reliable service with minimal problems, barring any manufacturing defects that can cause chronic long-term maintenance issues that will create excessive downtime and ultimately negatively impact the bottom line.”

At the Ready’s 2014 article entitled Before You Buy: Capturing Requirements for Equipment provides clarity on the differences between a requirement, a specification, and a product. A requirement is what you need a piece of equipment to do; drive to the scene, get water to a fire, prevent injuries to personnel from a bullet, and communicate with dispatch. Requirements are the performance parameters that a product must meet in order to provide the capability. Requirements belong to you, the user. The “product” is the thing that provides you a certain capability; the police car, the fire hose, the body armor, the radio. Specifications belong to the vendor, the guy who is trying to get you to buy his product. They generally or specifically describe the widget and are most often presented on a glossy sheet of paper with cool pictures, and maybe a quote or two about how this particular piece of equipment compares to sliced bread. You must quantify what the equipment must do to meet the needs of your agency, then you can look at the range of potential products, based on the advertised specifications. This is critical because price points may vary. Heated seats? An extra environmental setting? These features may drive up the cost per unit, while not adding much value to your particular agency’s needs (heated seats may be a MUST in Alaska, but a nice to have in South Carolina).

Koop elaborates in his references to the symposium he attended by adding, “…if you have equipment that is sitting around not being used, it is probably costing you money in one way or another. Whether the organization you work for is private or publicly funded, underused equipment will impact your organization in different ways financially, but it will end up costing more money to keep it around longer rather than disposing of it sooner.”

Improving technician efficiency on the shop floor is a key point made by Koop. During the symposium, the presenter talked about what he called the 3-foot rule, where if a technician is more than three foot from the job he is not being productive. Koop encourages us to recall the amount of productive time technicians lose going back and forth from their job to the parts department. He recommends developing a system that allows for the parts to come to the technician. Field technician efficiency can be improved as well by incorporating technology such as GPS and geo-fencing. It is common knowledge that there are a lot of companies that offer these kinds of technologies. Koop recommends, and At the Ready concurs, that departments really take a hard look at these product and service providers to make sure you find the right one for your organization. Test it before you buy! has an app for the smart phones that facilitates fleet management.

Verizon also offers fleet management services using telematics and you can download a free e-book here.

Koop concludes with the following, “If you are looking for software solutions, remember to involve everyone who will be using it prior to involving the folks from IT. Walker states that failing to follow this rule results in 70 percent of these projects failing. Something deeply ingrained into my training and hammered into my psyche when I was starting out as a young technician was "Test, don't guess." This can be applied to many areas of fleet management and maintenance.”

There are other available options that should be considered as well, such as leasing vehicles like the South Metro Fire Rescue Authority (SMFRA), around the Denver area is doing. They have formed a partnership with Enterprise Fleet Management to lease their light-duty non-emergency vehicles and reduce its fleet size. According to the article, the SMFRA aims to reduce its fleet by as many as 10 vehicles and will also pool others. Before this partnership, they managed 51 non-emergency vehicles that were replaced at about the 15-year mark. Now, Enterprise is providing 31 newly leased SUVs and pick-ups. Enterprise estimates that the partnership will save the SMFRA around $15,000 a year. Enterprise will also be providing maintenance, registration, and use reporting for the newly leased vehicles and a fuel monitoring program that automatically monitors fuel purchases and tracks miles for each vehicle.

In summary, effective and efficient fleet management is a must. To achieve this, departments should match the vehicle to the application, develop accurate requirements and specifications, and improve technician efficiency, research technology solutions that could improve efficiency and save money, and consider lease options.

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