A favorite quote of Joseph Clark, fleet management director for the city of Durham, N.C., is from the French poet Antoine de Saint-Exupery: “A goal without a plan is just a wish.”
With the city’s blessing, Clark puts that motivating precept into action.
“We develop plans to help achieve longrange and short-term goals. We track performance measures and benchmarks that measure our progress towards reaching our goals,” he explained. “Monthly, we review our progress to understand our challenges and to make adjustments to ensure success. We seek out best practices and try to implement the ones that will help our organization be successful.”
Durham’s fleet management department has 44 employees in three major divisions: administration/management, fleet maintenance and fire maintenance. They provide comprehensive preventive maintenance, diagnostics, repairs and safety and emissions inspections for the city’s more than 1,600 sedans, pickups, dump trucks, solid waste trucks, heavy public works vehicles and heavy construction equipment, plus approximately 450 police vehicles.
Clark strives to run the award-winning operation as a business, making it as efficient and operative as possible. Benchmarking, he said, is becoming an increasingly important tool.
“A business plan keeps us focused and on task, identifying where we want to go, how we are going to get there, how long it will take and how much it is going to cost.”
Approximate replacement cost of the Durham fleet hovers near $70 million, with annual fuel consumption running close to $4.75 million. Clark’s department is responsible to procure safe, dependable, cost-effective equipment and furnish quality maintenance services to all other city departments. Administrative decision-making is guided by the city’s strategic plan.
“We have a departmental strategic plan that aligns with the city’s strategic plan,” he explained. “The strategic planning process helps bring our department out of its ‘fleet management’ silo so that we can see the bigger picture and focus on how we align with the city’s five goals, which include building a strong and diverse economy and keeping our community safe and secure and thriving — in livable neighborhoods.”
Points of consideration for the fleet team involve procurement of fleet replacements, including the development of exact specifications; disposition of obsolete equipment; monitoring of manufacturer recalls; preparing new vehicles to go into service; predicting asset life cycles based on costing information, utilization and asset age; coordinating paint and body repair; fuel management services at three locations; parts inventory; and workforce management. In addition, they performs biannual inspections of over 120 taxicabs and are responsible for the maintenance of county fire service apparatuses.
“We also look at how the customers we serve align with said goals,” Clark noted. “Knowing this helps give our department a better understanding of how we fit into the overarching organization.”
The work of the department could not be done efficiently or effectively without the assistance of technology. Not long ago, a return on investment analysis was performed and the team set cost-cutting goals. They now have at their disposal FASTER fleet management information system software and Fuelmaster, a fueling software, plus numerous manufacturer- specific software programs.
“The PM program is probably the most important program we have,” he said, referring to the department’s technology-driven preventive maintenance system. “And it is the least understood by our customers — the people who use our vehicles and operate our equipment. So we’re always trying to educate them that this program is more than just getting an oil change … Some vehicles and equipment are scheduled for a PM based on time, some on mileage, some on engine hours and others on fuel consumption. We have performance measures and goals in areas of regulatory compliance, repairs, scheduled and unscheduled maintenance, etc., that are tracked in our PM.”
Utilization management is the elephant in the room for most fleets, and probably the hardest to manage, he assessed.
“Many department managers believe that if a vehicle is parked, it doesn’t cost them anything. We calculate a cradle-to-grave total cost of ownership analysis on all of our vehicles and equipment. Through the analysis, we show managers cost per mile data on their underutilized vehicles versus an identical, well-used vehicle, to show that low-utilization is more costly.
The department has service agreements in place with all other city departments that use vehicles, and each agreement is specifically tailored to that department’s needs.
Because government agencies tend to purchase vehicles with cash, the ad hoc nature and traditional low funding levels have put many operations in an aged fleet. This can also result in higher maintenance costs.
Another challenge for Dunham and other fleet shops is the struggle to fill vacancies for qualified mechanics.
“There appears to be a shortage of individuals coming out of high school who are interested in becoming mechanics, and less going to trade school as well. Younger mechanics tend to focus on the hourly wages, and the seasoned veterans are limited in numbers. Our organization has an attractive benefit package, paid holidays, health insurance, pension, safety equipment/tools, etc., but it’s not unusual for a position to be vacant for three or four months.”
Itemizing the operational particulars, Clark said Durham has policies that address utilization, take-home vehicles, idle reduction, standardization, fueling and asset management.
“We prepare short-term and long-range replacement forecast budgets for our budget and management services department and our finance department. We have procedures in place to help manage fleet-creep, right-typing, right-sizing, under-utilization, etc. Replacement criteria include age, mileage, life-to-date maintenance costs, and condition. We use FASTER to run reports to help monitor and measure all aspects of the replacement program,” he explained.
“The general safety and health of our employees is a high priority in our department. We have clear goals and objectives that are realistic and attainable, aimed at specific areas of performance that can be measured or verified. Each employee has to achieve a certain number of hours of safety training each year and the city of Durham Fleet Management Department has been blessed with a great group of dedicated employees.”