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NAFA 2020 I&E: Get it Right!

Done properly, right sizing a fleet can cut costs and reduce expenses. Photo: Shutterstock

Fleet professionals offer advice and insight about right-sizing fleets.

Done properly, right-sizing a fleet can cut costs and reduce expenses. How to do it properly, however, is a challenge that Ed Smith, President of Agile Fleet addressed at this year’s I&E with his panel of industry experts: Amanda Wilson, Director, Fleet Services, Indiana University; Kathy Wellik, Director, Transportation Services, Iowa State University; and Robert Horton, Fleet Manager, City of Atlanta, Watershed Management.

Smith explained why rightsizing is such a timely topic. “In an environment where in a recent poll as many as 80% of fleet managers think their budgets are going to be cut, right-sizing is clearly a topic that’s appropriate these days.”

He admitted that right-sizing isn’t always as simple as we would like it to be, and that many fleet professionals grapple with the concept. In order to simplify it, he suggested narrowing it down to four key areas: the quantity of vehicles a fleet has, the class of vehicles a fleet has, the availability of these vehicles at the locations where they are needed, and the availability of these vehicles at the right time so that those who need access to the vehicles will have it.

Cooperating on carpools

Robert Horton explained how his adventures in right-sizing got started. “Basically,” he said, “we wanted to initiate a carpool because my commissioner had me in the office one day, and her office overlooks one of our parking lots. She brought me over to the window and said, ‘I look out this window all the time, and I never see these cars move.’ And I’m like, ‘I think I need to do something about that.’ So we decided to find a way that we could utilize these vehicles to a greater extent, and also be able to track and show some of the metrics.”

Horton discovered that many of the vehicles on that lot were mostly managed by individual departments. “They kept their own carpools, but nobody really shared with anybody else,” he added. “So we decided the best approach to right-sizing was to share these vehicles.”

The sharing solution involved an investment in the right hardware and software to manage bookings, as well as a kiosk for a key box. Horton was able to convince the other department to give up the vehicles they were not using to the full extent by taking over the day-to-day work associated with managing those vehicles.

“A lot of times it was the secretary or someone else they put in charge to take care of the keys and the administrative issues and get the cars cleaned,” he explained. “So we said we would take care of those issues, as well as make sure the vehicles got their PM. We also gave them access to newer vehicles, including EVs. You’d be surprised how many people really want to do stuff for sustainability. And by using an EV, they feel good about themselves and the environment. So that was a positive force.”

Automation

Kathy Wellik agreed that automation is the way to go when right-sizing a fleet, and explained how Iowa State University manages their pool of shared vehicles. In fact, it was one of their students who came up with the idea to install roll down doors in the office, which would allow Wellik’s team to create a space that would be accessible 24/7 for access to keys, while the rest of the building remained securely locked up.

She stressed that right-sizing can help a fleet cut costs on many levels. Not only are you spending less on acquiring new vehicles, but you’re also saving maintenance costs and you’ll need fewer staff members to care for and manage all the vehicles.

Wellik said she managed to save over $818,000 just by limiting the number of vehicles she needed in the first year of her car-sharing program. “Our 10-year cost savings are projected to exceed $1.6 million,” she added. “And that’s considering all the savings, from maintenance to depreciation to insurance costs. So it really adds up quickly. And those are the kind of numbers the administration wants to see.”

That said, she reminded fleet professionals that they need to keep the end-users in mind as well. “Embrace your stakeholders’ feedback,” she added. “We ask for feedback every month, no matter what. They’re the reason you have a job. They’re the reason you’re there.”

Communication is key

Amanda Wilson stressed the importance of communication when right-sizing a fleet, and either starting or amending a car-sharing program. The fleet manager should endeavour to make the sharing process as painless as possible. Indiana University uses online reservations to make the process easy and convenient for all users.

She also believes that fleet managers need to pay attention to feedback. “Listen, learn and connect,” Wilson added. “Listen to your drivers’ needs and your stakeholders, but also listen to your fleet team’s perspective. They have a lot of insight on how right-sizing can occur and how sharing can function better.”

She also recommends investing in vehicles that can do double duty. “Consider vehicles that could serve in multiple roles,” she explained. “SUVs are expensive, but they can be used in multiple roles, such as moving people, towing trailers, driving off-road, and we even use them to transport our VIPs when necessary.”

The ghost fleet

No discussion on right-sizing would be complete without mentioning those vehicles some fleet managers keep around for “what if” scenarios. Wilson offered a solution. “A lot of departments like to hold on to their older vehicles just in case something breaks down, then they have something to use. So we have added a small pool of courtesy vehicles for preventive maintenance appointments that we can loan to a department at no cost when their vehicle is in our garage for preventive maintenance.

“And then we try to schedule the maintenance around the need of those vehicle users. And if that courtesy vehicle doesn’t fit their need very well, then we’re able to maybe do that service when the driver is off for vacation, or they don’t have jobs scheduled for that day.”

Right-sizing is a complex issue, but as budgets shrink in our COVID world, fleet managers need to think outside the box and come up with solutions that may not be popular, but can certainly be practical.

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