These politicians and the local media presented an unflattering image of government fleet operations. The reality is that among the estimated 23,000-plus public sector fleet operations nationally, 99.9 percent are well-managed organizations proactively coping with very difficult operating conditions brought on by record-high fuel prices.
Supplementing Fuel Management Programs
The City of DeKalb, Ill., which set aside $220,000 for fuel in its FY2006 budget, expects to exceed that amount by 20 percent. To decrease its fuel expenditures, the city is asking the police department to increase its use of bicycles, motorcycles, walking patrols, and have two officers per vehicle during slow shifts.
Similarly, Knox County in Tennessee implemented an anti-idling policy prohibiting employees from leaving county vehicles running while parked. The policy, which allows for exceptions, is reducing fuel costs and minimizing tailpipe emissions.
Likewise, the City of Casper, Wyo., launched a municipal initiative to reduce fleet fuel consumption by five percent in its 600-vehicle fleet. Its fuel budget rose from $450,000 in 2004 to $515,000 in 2005. Casper is seeking to cut fuel expenses by reinforcing basic conservation measures, such as regularly checking tire pressure, instructing employees to drive slower and avoid traveling on the interstate, and reducing unnecessary idling.
Eliminating Take-Home Vehicles
Many governments are cutting fuel costs by limiting the number of take-home vehicles operated by user departments. For instance, Putnam County in New York restricted take-home vehicles to just two departments – emergency services and highways and facilities. Previously, approximately 100 of the 375 vehicles in the county fleet were taken home each night by county employees. The new policy will save the county approximately $100,000 annually. Another municipal fleet that has taken a similar approach is Evansville, Ind. The city restricted take-home vehicles to on-call employees required to respond to emergencies outside of normal work hours. In addition, employees assigned take-home vehicles residing within Vanderburgh County are assessed a $10 fee per pay period to compensate for the higher cost of fuel. Those residing outside the county are assessed a $20 fee per pay period.
Improving Fleet Utilization
Public sector fleets, ranging from municipalities to state opera-tions, are seeking to remove underutilized vehicles from fleet service. For instance, the City of San Francisco reduced the number of city vehicles by 21 percent, representing $1.2 million in annual savings. In another example, Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt implemented two initiatives to cut state fleet expenses by $500,000 annually. The first policy requires employees using state vehicles to use an Internet-based tool, called Trip Optimizer, to calculate potential travel costs and find the most cost-effective travel option for
in-state trips. The second initiative is the roll-out of the Smart Lease program, which consolidates fleet leases and purchases, allowing the state to refinance agencies’ existing lease-purchase obligations, and finance future equipment needs.
Decrease SUVs in Service
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has eliminated 228 SUVs from the state fleet, including nine used by cabinet secretaries, resulting in lower acquisition costs and fuel savings. The initiative pushed by Gov. Ed Rendell since he took office in 2003 has cut 705 vehicles from the state fleet to 11,724 units, a decrease of 5.7 percent. Gov. Rendell ordered each state department to eliminate five percent of its fleet and 20 percent of its SUVs. In addition, Pennsylvania has extended the service life of state passenger cars to 100,000 miles from 80,000 miles. Three years earlier, it increased service life to 80,000 from the prior threshold of 65,000 miles.
Politicians Should Learn from Fleet Managers
There are tens of thousands of well-run public sector fleet
operations, such as San Diego County; Allegheny County; Charlotte, N.C.; and Cincinnati, Ohio, to name but a few. Recently, the City of Chicago’s Department of Fleet Management (DFM) was named “Best Fleet in North America” by the 100 Best Fleets Program. The Chicago DFM, which maintains more than 11,550 vehicles, was recognized for its documented accountability, utilization of technology and information, staff collaboration, repair turnaround time, anti-idling enforcement, and competitive pricing.
Now that tax revenues are increasing and swelling public coffers, politicians are already proposing ways to spend it. Politicians should follow the example of fleet managers, who, year-after-year, efficiently manage high-overhead operations with variable operating expenses within the constraints of tight budgets. I say the naysayers are wrong. Fleets are doing a superb job managing taxpayer dollars and optimizing cost-effective use of public assets.
Let me know what you think.