In maintaining and managing a municipal fleet operation, fleet managers can take a page from the private sector’s use of vehicle equivalency units to calculate the ratio of technician-to-vehicles. Put simply, using VEUs means adding up how many sedans and sedan equivalencies an agency has in order to determine how many mechanics need to be hired.
Although the whole idea of VEUs was first created by the U.S. Air Force in the 1970s, the idea is becoming more utilized by both the private and public sectors.
Another calculation includes maintenance and repair units, which involves comparing requirements of one vehicle group to another vehicle category. An example would be to compare a base vehicle, such as a passenger sedan, to a fire engine, which is larger and heavier and requires more maintenance and repair than the smaller sedan does.
Creating a chart that allows for a certain number of staff technicians to repair each class of vehicles in the fleet is a tremendous boon for municipal fleet managers.
Mercury Associates Inc. in Rockville, Md., provides comprehensive fuel and fleet management consulting services to state and local governments, federal governments and private companies. According to Randy Owen, senior vice president and co-founder, using VEUs allows fleet managers to justify staffing requirements through a quantitative process, rather than experience alone.
“For example, a boat trailer might be given a ratio of 0.25 VEU, meaning that it would require one-quarter the effort to maintain as a standard automobile.” Owen has 20 years of experience as a fleet manager and fleet management consultant under his belt. Prior to co-founding Mercury, he held positions as the chief of fleet management for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works and as equipment management director for the city of Charlotte, N.C.
Conversely, he said, a complex and maintenance-intensive piece of equipment, such as a refuse collection truck, might require the same effort to maintain as 10 standard sedans. By aggregating the vehicles in a fleet in terms of their vehicle equivalent units, uniform standards and benchmarks can be applied regardless of the fleet’s size, type or configuration.
“One VEU is equal to 10–15 labor hours, with technicians being assigned 100–120 VEUs; but these calculations do not include nonroutine work,” he said. Non-routine work includes repair of accident damage, uplifting work before a vehicle is placed in service, decommissioning old vehicles, modifications to vehicles while they are in services, repair of vandalism damage, repair of damage caused by acts of nature and repair of damage caused by misuse of vehicles. Owen added that outsourcing 10–20 percent should be included in calculations of staffing needs.
What kind of outsource work couldn’t be achieved by regular fleet staff ?
“Fleets should outsource work that requires special tools, equipment, training; work that would tie up a mechanic or work bay for long periods of time; and work during periods of peak workload to maintain high rates of vehicle availability,” said Owen.
Chad Fay, director of fleet operations at Centuri Construction Group in Phoenix, Ariz., shared pros and cons of employing VEUs, from a personal outlook.
“I have experienced both challenges and benefits regarding the utilization of the VEU model to justify maintenance and repair staffing needs,” said Fay. “An example of challenges would be the difficulty of assigning a baseline average for the time required to complete specific tasks.
For example, he noted that all technicians and mechanics are not equal when it comes to their experience and ability to work at a standard pace.
“This can lead to frustration when a fleet manager attempts to justify their staffing requirements, as it is rare in my experience that municipalities and private companies meet the national averages published by industry studies. The type of work performed, seasonal demand on resources and the consistency of labor hours forecasted for assigned tasks versus actual all play a large part in challenging any fleet department.”
Centuri Construction Group’s fleet of more than 7,000 units tries to be predictive in nature to its maintenance and repair needs. The company’s top priority is to ensure safety and support the operational teams by sustaining a very high percentage of asset uptime and availability. This means that it relies heavily on telematics to identify diagnostic codes that provide fleet personnel with the information they need to address smaller issues before they become larger ones.
“In the private sector a lengthy delay can mean success or failure on the job, which ultimately impacts customer relationships. While this approach may introduce some additional variables, flexibility is key when making decisions on what gets outsourced. By taking an approach that is less focused on the VEU model and more concentrated on our people, their known abilities and anticipated workload, we have found more value in not utilizing the VEU model to justify staffing requirements but rather empower managers to justify staffing in relationship to the enterprise’s needs.
“Recalls, in the fleet world today, are at an all-time high; cost containment is always a concern as vehicles and equipment possess far more technology than ever before. Fleet managers need the flexibility to justify their staffing needs as their specific fleet requires, making proper adjustments as needed.”