Naming contests stoke interest in public fleet
There’s a Frostasaurus roaming the streets of Boulder, Colo., but city officials and residents aren’t worried. It’s one of a herd of 10 city snowplows bearing names bestowed on them this winter by Boulder elementary schoolchildren.
“We wanted to engage with kids to engage the parents, and it seems to be working,” said Scott Schlecht, city of Boulder transportation maintenance manager. The city’s Snowplow Naming Contest, now in its second year, allows city staff to talk with winning children’s parents about the city’s snow control program and to answer questions, Schlecht explained. Officials hope those parents then share what they learn with friends and neighbors.
“Another goal is for all of us to have fun at work,” he added, and they do!
Communities report fleet vehicle naming contests add fun at work, engage the public and can generate positive publicity.
When the city of Richmond, Va., bought a mini street sweeper last year to clean its bike lanes and paved paths, Max Hepp-Buchanan thought it should have a name. Hepp-Buchanan is director of riverfront and downtown placemaking for Venture Richmond, which works to enhance life in Richmond, especially its downtown.
He contacted the mayor’s office and received the OK for a contest to name the mini street sweeper.
“The initiative was part of the DPW’s (department of public works) overall effort to engage the community and make citizens better aware of the services that we provide,” Torrence Robinson, DPW deputy director of operations and maintenance, said in an email.
Venture Richmond used Twitter to invite name suggestions, Hepp-Buchanan said. The organization received enough good ones that, after clearing name ideas with the city, it let the public select a winner in a “Sweep 16,” brackets-style format. Hepp-Buchanan recommends holding votes only on acceptable name ideas because the city has to use the winning name.
Voting opened July 27. Venture Richmond announced the winning name, MF BROOM, on Aug. 5. The name is a play on MF (Metal Face) BROOM, a noted, mask-wearing rap music artist born in England who died in 2020. Other name contenders included The Grim Sweeper, Meryl Sweep and Sweepy McSweeperson.
The contest attracted more than 13,000 votes over nine days, Hepp-Buchanan said. Through social media and news coverage, including stories in Great Britain, more than 9.5 million people saw information about the contest, he added
The fun has continued, too.
“Among the public, it’s just sort of cool when you’re out in the city or you’re out riding bikes or whatever and you see the sweeper,” Hepp-Buchanan said. “And your friends are like, ‘Oh, there’s MF BROOM!’ Or someone tells you that they had an MF BROOM sighting. … I don’t think that happens with any other piece of public machinery that the city owns or operates.”
The city of Dublin, Ohio, has had an annual Paint the Plow program that puts a mural designed by a local student on the blade of a city snowplow. This year, city officials let the community name snowplows, too.
“It really coincided with wanting to show the location of trucks on SnowGo in real time,” said Robert Ranc, deputy city manager.
The city’s SnowGo website provides real-time information about conditions on city streets and the location of its 21 snowplows. City officials thought naming plow trucks would make it more fun for residents to track the trucks’ locations, Ranc added.
The effort is part of the city’s larger goal of being transparent and accountable to the public for services the city provides, he said.
Community residents named 10 snowplows. Students in kindergarten through fifth grade named five plow trucks, and city employees named six trucks.
“Our employees are really the ones who make the snow plowing happen,” Ranc said. “They work long hours — we work 12-hour, rotating shifts through snow events. We felt that could be a fun way for them to get involvement and buy-in and just really have a little fun with their efforts.”
The Name the Plow campaign began in mid-October and announced winning names in early November, said Madi Kregel, city public information officer. Event rules prohibited profane, political or partisan names.
Residents submitted about 285 name suggestions, Kregel said. City communications staff and a few other city staff narrowed that list to a Top 15. The city announced those names on its Facebook page and let the community select their 10 favorites, Kregel said.
Communications staff selected winning names from ideas submitted by schoolchildren, she added. City employees voted to choose their winning names.
“They were really creative, and it was a really fun process to watch that all unfold and see how excited people got about it,” Kregel said of the Name the Plow campaign.
Snowplows now bear names such as Scoop Dogg, Clearapathra, Buzz Iceclear, BRRR-nie, Shaquille Sho’Neil and Snow Busters.
The campaign reached nearly 43,000 people on social media and attracted coverage by some local news outlets, Kregel said.
The campaign also increased public appreciation for city snowplow drivers’ work and boosted staff morale, Ranc said.
Snow much fun
City of Boulder officials had discussed holding a snowplow naming contest for a year or two before launching their event in 2021, Schlecht said. He worked with Rene Lopez, city business services supervisor, and city communications department staff, to develop the contest.
Students in kindergarten through fifth grade submitted name ideas for 10 snowplows. Flyers the city sent to the schools in October contained a QR code so teachers or parents could use smartphones to learn more about the contest and to submit students’ name entries, said Lopez, who provides support to city transportation and mobility efforts, including the snow and ice control program.
“I think the teachers were just instrumental in getting entries this year and last year,” she noted.
The city received about 200 name entries the first year and about 40 entries this year, Lopez said. This year’s contest started later than last year, which could have reduced the entries, she noted.
Staff used the internet and an urban dictionary to check for and rule out inappropriate names, Lopez and Schlecht said. They used a random process to select winners the first year. In 2022, Lopez, Schlecht and city communications staff picked their favorite names. Along with Frostasaurus, winners included Snow What?, Snow Monster, Grateful Sled and Plowerina.
The first year, Schlecht planned to use magnetic signs to attach winning names to snowplows, but the magnets wouldn’t stick well to plow trucks’ doors or dump boxes. However, sticker signs made by the city sign shop worked well.
Boulder held a reception at its maintenance center for students who submitted winning snowplow names and their families. The event featured hot cocoa, doughnuts, a certificate and photos with the snowplow carrying the student’s winning name, Lopez and Schlecht said.
The city also entered a plow truck decorated with all 10 winning names in a community parade of lights in early December.
“There’s lots of picture-taking … of all the plow names, and lots of cheering as we go by,” Schlecht said. “You can hear folks calling out the plow names and being excited about that.”
The contest also bolsters city staff morale, Schlecht and Lopez said.
“All of the folks who help with snow removal will talk about the snowplow names, wonder if the truck they’re driving is going to have a name and what that name is going to be,” he said, adding the childish nature of some names also generates good-natured teasing among the snowplow drivers.
“It is fun, and just have fun with it,” Schlecht advised.Next Article: Solutions-based telematics and fleet management for rural counties and cities
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