As many municipal fleet managers have learned, fueling city vehicles can be easier said than done. There are contracts to write and sign, receipts to keep track of and budgets to maintain.
While using gas cards for fleet vehicles may not eliminate these requirements, it can help cut down on the hassle.
One example of a successful municipal gas card program comes from Gaffney, S.C.
Gaffney Fleet Manager Wayne Parker noted his city contracts with the state for its gas card program, but this is only one of many options available.
Parker also serves as president of the Southeast Governmental Fleet Management Association.
Not every state may offer a gas card contract, so it is important for each municipality to select a program that makes sense for its day-to-day fleet operations.
One of the pros of using the state’s program, Parker said, is the fact he did not have to go through the bid process.
“The state contract bids it out for you, so I didn’t have to shop around,” Parker said.
Finding the right card
The city of Gaffney owns its own fueling station through Mansfield Oil out of Gainesville, Ga. Mansfield owns the fuel, which the city then purchases with its municipal fleet cards. This system, Parker said, has saved a lot of time, money and paperwork.
“Mansfield Oil, they keep up with everything,” he said. “They know when I need gas; they bring it out automatically. They keep up with all the information that comes through with the cards. They’re the first line of alerting in the event that something doesn’t look right.”
Parker acknowledges not every city owns its own fueling station, so municipalities will need to shop around for a gas card program that is a good fit for them.
Gaffney uses Wex brand credit cards, which can be used both at the municipal fueling station and at most outside gas stations. Not every brand of gas credit card can be used at public gas stations, however — something to keep in mind when considering options.
For any city, the ability to use municipal gas cards at outside locations can lead to concerns about mishandling or even theft. Because of this, card companies apply safeguards to all of their cards.
Again, Parker used Wex as an example. First, each employee has his or her own six-digit PIN, which generates a record of who is using the card, when and where. Next, users must enter an odometer reading. Under Gaffney’s program, each vehicle has its own card and the system stores the previous odometer reading for that vehicle. It is also designed to know approximately how often that type and size of vehicle needs refueling.
“This system knows that if you filled up with fuel, it’s going to be 300 or 400 miles or less that you’re going to put into that odometer,” Parker said. “So, if the last time you used the card, the vehicle had 40,000 miles, and you enter 50,000 miles, it’s going to kick it right back out.”
Each time a card is used, a report is generated, which Parker can then access.
“It’s available any time on my computer, so I can pull it up at any time and see for myself if something doesn’t look right,” he said.
This means Parker can see whether a card is used at the municipal fueling island, at another local gas station or in another town. For example, an unexpected purchase at a public fueling station might raise a red flag.
“We don’t see many outside purchases pop up,” Parker said. “When we do see one pop up, we can easily identify if it’s legit or not because we can identify who is out of town.”
Choosing a program
For any municipality considering implementing a new fleet card program or replacing or updating an existing one, Parker recommends seeing if there is a contract available through their state.
Choosing a program, he added, will largely depend on where and how the city obtains fuel for its fleet.
“One big question that has to be answered is, do they have their own fueling system on-site or do they purchase all of their fuel off-site,” he said.
Cities answering “no” to this question will need to look into companies that allow their cards to be used at public fueling stations.
For cities that already have their own fueling systems, Parker recommends looking into a good gas card system.
“We had a fueling system prior to this, but we didn’t have fuel cards,” he said. “The problem with having just a fueling system and no fuel cards is, when the fuel system goes down, then you’ve got a major headache.”
In the past, if there was an outage at Gaffney’s fueling island, Parker had to contact a local public gas station and ask permission for municipal fleet vehicles to fill up there. Parker then had to make sure everyone using the public gas pumps turned in their receipts so he could file the proper paperwork. This, in turn, meant knowing who was fueling up when and from which department.
“Now I call the department head of the fire department or police and say, ‘The fueling island’s down, and they’re going to have to go get gas somewhere else,’” he said.
The computer system takes care of the rest. Of course, a city does not need to own its own fueling station to implement a gas card program. A little research will go far in finding the right card to fit each municipality’s needs.