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Improving Ergonomics through Better Truck Specs

Small adjustments can sometimes make a big impact. For those who work with utility trucks, details like properly placed steps, strategically placed handles, appropriately grippy surfaces and convenient storage can mean the difference between safety and injury. A careful eye toward work truck specs, then, can aid in ergonomics – and result in a happier, healthier workforce.

Chris Jolly, director of operations, fleet services, for Duke Energy Carolinas West Region, said that at one point, some of the utility’s trucks didn’t have appropriate storage locations for orange safety cones, and other storage locations weren’t working due to company-mandated changes in cone sizes. So, cones often were picked up and thrown in the bed of a truck. Workers who did this job after job, day after day, could have been exposed to stress injuries in the shoulder and back. But now all of the trucks have cone storage capabilities on or near the front bumpers, and the next generation of trucks will include further improvements.

Jolly also reported that as of late September, his entire region – including nine garage locations – has been injury-free for five years. That kind of accomplishment takes a decided focus on the company safety culture, and proper truck and equipment specs play a role as well.

Every year at Duke Energy, fleet services schedules a “Road Show.” These meetings, Jolly said, are intended to serve as places to gather ideas and improvement recommendations from customers, customer delivery (distribution), transmission, fleet services, health and safety, and OEM representatives. There’s classroom time, trucks on hand to inspect and touch, and opportunities for everyone to provide input. Jolly takes part to better understand what his customers are saying, and to be able to support them once trucks arrive and throughout the lives of the vehicles.

“We’ll go through line item by line item,” he said. “We get so many different ideas, and each idea is addressed and considered.”

Jolly has learned, for example, to consider the height of steps used to get in and out of a truck. Grab handles – including those for getting into and out of an aerial device – should allow operators and passengers to follow the three-points-of-contact rule, which states that with two hands and two feet, three of the four should be in contact with the ground or equipment until stability is established. Duke Energy has experimented with different surfaces on steps and the like, working to find solutions that are aggressive enough for boots to “stick” in adverse conditions but not so aggressive that they may catch pant legs and create a hazard.

Jolly also has gained a greater understanding of the importance of housekeeping in the backs of trucks – and around pedestals – with items properly stowed to avoid anyone tripping over them. In addition to helping prevent tripping, this allows technicians to better position themselves ergonomically when making repairs around the pedestals, torqueing bolts or making hydraulic repairs. One Road Show uncovered the importance of the truck’s toolbox configuration and placement to prevent line technicians from having to crawl under the boom or over material to access the toolbox, creating a safer overall work environment.

The Awareness Challenge
At Element Fleet Management (, meanwhile, Ken Gillies, senior truck consultant, said that – in terms of ergonomics – he’s been hearing about reduced seat travel, the adjustment that allows for proper driver positioning and back support. Positioning and back support can be put at risk in certain circumstances, particularly when full-sized vans are replaced with smaller cargo vans.

“As the vans have gotten smaller, the driver compartment also has shrunk, especially when there’s a need for a partition in the vehicle,” Gillies said. “The problem with that is that a driver taller than 5’10” will be pretty cramped. The other challenge is that seats have gotten narrower along with the reduced seat travel. What you end up with there is that drivers have weight borne by the side of the seat rather than the cushion inside. That can lead to pinched nerves and numbness in the legs. I’ve had specific interactions with customers where this has been a problem.”

The good news is that Gillies is seeing more collaboration between company leadership and end users of equipment in general, including the use of on-site visits so that leaders can observe not just how a vehicle is being used, but also how the employee interacts with the vehicle.

“Awareness is a challenge for many fleet managers,” he said. “You can’t possibly know everything about everything. Some things just don’t hit their radar until they’re forced into it because of an unfortunate accident.”

In sharing what he’s seen work for others, however, clients have told Gillies they’re glad they’ve been made aware. In addition, input from the field “has to be taken to heart and analyzed,” he said. “Drivers may ask for the sun, moon and stars, but in my experience, they’re appreciative of someone taking an interest.”

About the Author: Fiona Soltes is a longtime freelance writer based just outside Nashville, Tennessee. Her clients have represented a variety of sectors, including fleet, engineering, technology, logistics, business services, retail, disaster preparedness and material handling. Prior to her freelance career, Soltes worked as a staff writer at newspapers in Tennessee and Texas.


Reducing Injury Statistics
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) make up one in three cases of worker injury across the nation. The service sector – including the utility industry – accounts for one in for four work-related MSDs.

So, how can fleet work to reduce those statistics? Chris Jolly, director of operations, fleet services, for Duke Energy Carolinas West Region, said creating a safety culture requires making things “personal” with employees. “I always want to set the expectation that we work safely,” he said. “That’s our number one priority. But number two, we actively care about you as an employee. I want you to have that same philosophy for yourself, and that same caring attitude about your teammate. We want you to go home to your family every day the way you came in.”

The Fleet Manager of the Future

Being a utility fleet manager today can be tough. How much tougher will it be tomorrow?

With the constant advancement of technology, the increasing need for communications savvy and leadership acumen, ever-decreasing budgets, and an aging workforce being replaced by a younger cohort lacking institutional knowledge and experience, it’s a nail-biter of a time.

So, how does a utility fleet manager prepare for the future?

Gary Lentsch, CAFM, fleet manager for the Eugene Water & Electric Board in Eugene, Oregon, said that people skills are huge, especially when it comes to the ability to “hold yourself accountable and focus on the things that matter most to the operation.”

Times have changed a lot since Lentsch started in fleet almost 40 years ago, and they’re only going to keep changing. It used to be that a fleet manager started as a mechanic and worked his or her way up. Today, however, with educational programs specifically aimed at the career and companies increasingly expecting relevant certifications and training, there can be additional emphasis on the “professional” side of being a fleet professional. That can mean higher-level presentations to management, greater participation with regard to company objectives and an elevated need to manage “up,” as well as manage down.

In addition, Lentsch noted that it is essential for a fleet manager to have the ability to use basic technology tools like Microsoft Office to create PowerPoint presentations and incorporate formulas into Excel spreadsheets.

“Excel is one that I see a lot of folks struggling with,” he said.

Paul Lauria, longtime fleet management consultant and president of Mercury Associates (, took that a step further. The utility industry as a whole, he said, remains behind the curve when it comes to the application of data analysis to decision-making, forecasting and planning as it relates to managing a fleet.

Microsoft Excel is a very powerful and often-used tool, he said, “but the future is going to be about the Internet of Things and the integration of data from a wide array of sources – from your work order management system, your fuel management system, from National Weather Service, from a workforce management system, from a financial management system – to create much more of a real-time view of what’s going on with the fleet. That’s something that, I think, most utility fleet managers are not prepared for.”

Lauria sees three challenges bearing down on fleet managers that he often terms, collectively, as “the perfect storm”: ongoing advances in automotive technology, like the electrification of vehicles; advances in information technology, such as the Internet of Things; and the present and coming loss of institutional knowledge as the current aging workforce retires.

“Most utility companies today are highly dependent on the practical experience of fleet professionals, who, in many cases, worked their way up through the ranks,” Lauria said. “These are folks that often have strong qualitative skills. They don’t have good Microsoft Excel spreadsheet skills, but they have a very strong, intuitive grasp of what it takes to keep vehicles and equipment in service. They’ve built up relationships with business unit representatives, with suppliers, with mechanics, with operators, over decades. And much of that knowledge is in the process of being lost. These professionals are being replaced by a new generation of professionals who are more comfortable working with numbers, who are not afraid of being more transparent, more accountable and more objective in the measurement of performance. But they don’t have the practical experience of having turned a wrench or worked on a shop floor. For the next 10 to 15 years, in my opinion, industry after industry after industry is going to have to navigate this change that’s underway. … We’re seeing a lot of storm clouds gathering in a lot of the organizations that we’re working with. And it’s that human resources component that’s getting the least attention.”

About the Author: Fiona Soltes is a longtime freelance writer based just outside Nashville, Tennessee. Her clients have represented a variety of sectors, including fleet, engineering, technology, logistics, business services, retail, disaster preparedness and material handling. Prior to her freelance career, Soltes worked as a staff writer at newspapers in Tennessee and Texas.


Organizational Prep
At the same time individual fleet professionals are ensuring they have the skills needed for a successful future, organizations may need to take steps to guarantee they’re ready, too. Paul Lauria, president of fleet management consulting firm Mercury Associates, said that includes several components.

First, although it may not be as much of an issue in utility fleets as elsewhere, a robust replacement program should be in place. This can help reduce demands for corrective maintenance and repairs, move toward more predictive repair and preventive maintenance, and reduce pressure on in-house maintenance and repair programs.

Next, fleet management practices must be institutionalized. All too often, Lauria said, knowledge about what needs to be done and the way it should be handled resides solely in the fleet professional’s head. The development of formal policies and procedures, awareness of key performance indicators and the process for benchmarking those KPIs should be considered. In addition to helping prevent the loss of institutional knowledge – especially after the retirement of a longtime fleet professional – the gathering of this information can help uncover and address any weak links in the chain, Lauria said.

And lastly, organizations must think about the employee skills that will be needed to complement technology in the days to come. The addition of new technology solutions such as telematics doesn’t lead to better decision-making on its own, Lauria said. Rather, software is simply an enabler; employees must be able to use it effectively. “At Mercury, we see organizations that have invested millions of dollars in information technology, but their decisions are not much more data-driven than they were 30 years ago,” he said. “They’re using the systems, essentially, as very expensive electronic filing cabinets.”

Utility Fleet Ergonomics: A Continuing Challenge

Workplace ergonomics have been on employers’ radar for 20 years, but even now, ergonomic-related injuries remain a costly expense – one that’s growing due to an aging workforce, current worker shortages and inexperienced industry newcomers.

“As the age composition of the workforce changes, that does affect industry,” said Eric Bauman, principal technical leader and program manager for the Occupational Health and Safety Program at the Electric Power Research Institute ( “Now that early Baby Boomers have retired and the middle Boomers are retiring, the industry has been hiring new workers who tend to be less experienced. We’ve seen an increase in injuries in this younger age group.”

The primary causes of employee accidents haven’t changed much in the past two decades. “It’s the slips, the falls, the trips,” said Mark Stumne, director of truck and upfit at Element Fleet Management (

Bauman agreed. “Sprains and strains showed up in the first year or two in our industry injury database as the largest single category of injuries,” he said. “It’s continued since 1999. Sprains and strains are something we can do something about, and this industry has supported ergonomic research since then.”

Despite the seeming intractability of these types of injuries, there are myriad products available in today’s marketplace designed to help alleviate them. Where is a fleet to start?

At Nebraska Public Power District, addressing ergonomics means navigating a balance between work truck needs and cabin comforts. “We let the work needs determine the lowest cost-trim level, then get all the comfort appointments available within that trim,” said Matt Gilliland, NPPD’s director of operations support.

It then comes down to options. Gilliland’s focus recently has turned to added equipment, with an eye toward how a utility worker accesses that equipment. “Often it is counter to what the industry can offer, historically has provided or can allow via regulations,” he said. “This has created an entirely new dialogue and has really changed how we spec trucks.”

NPPD has zeroed in on how workers enter and exit vehicles, as well as how equipment is placed so that the workers do not have to reach or strain. “These things have resulted in extra handholds, more steps, mobile and movable steps, the relocation of toolboxes, ladder fold-down brackets and so on,” Gilliland said.

Shaking Up Tradition
Today’s utility fleet vehicles are bigger and taller than in the past. And that, coupled with the lack of agility that comes with a worker’s age, is driving changes to traditional steps out of the vehicles, Stumne said. “A stirrup step might have been typical in the past. But that’s one area where we’ve encouraged our clients to add proper steps at the right height.”

Of course, not every potential ergonomic injury has an equipment solution – at least not a cost-effective one. But while no fleet has an unlimited budget, equipment costs should not necessarily always be an organization’s greatest concern. “There’s a reduced workforce to pull from and utility is a tough business,” Stumne said. “Employees work hard and it’s hard to pull people into the industry. You have to focus on giving those drivers the best equipment possible.”

The Electric Power Research Institute has developed a series of handbooks designed to help workers avoid injuries, including one on upfitting and purchasing vehicles. A study also is underway focusing on safety aspects of using augmented reality displays, including ergonomics and situational awareness. In addition, a forthcoming handbook focuses on work methods and tools to reduce injuries from awkward postures.

The EPRI handbooks include simple and cost-effective implementations, such as purchasing new hand tools. “In some cases, the cost to implement these is minor,” Bauman said. “When you replace a tool, you look for a more ergonomic tool, or when you order new fleet vehicles, you include ergonomic features from the beginning.”

Operator feedback may be the best and quickest way to evaluate the ergonomic solutions currently available. “Yes, it is qualitative,” Gilliland said. “But awaiting the passage of time to evaluate an ergonomic investment and quantify its impact on injuries will simply take too long. There should be specification discussions after the new truck is placed into service, just like there are conversations before it is purchased.”


The High Cost of Ergonomic Injuries
OSHA tracks ergonomic injuries under its musculoskeletal disorders category. In 2013, the most recent year for which statistics are available, OSHA found ergonomic injuries:

  • Accounted for 34 percent of all workplace injuries and illnesses requiring days away from work.
  • Had an incidence rate of 38 cases per 10,000 full-time workers.
  • Required an average of 12 days of recuperation.

The length of recuperation varied based on where on the body the injury occurred.

  • Shoulder: 24 days
  • Stomach: 21 days
  • Wrist: 18 days
  • Leg: 17 days
  • Arm: 17 days
  • Multiple body parts: 17 days
  • Back: 7 days

Following are the most injured body parts:

  • Back: 36%
  • Shoulder: 13%
  • Knee: 12%
  • Ankle: 9%
  • Multiple: 8%
  • Arm: 4%
  • Wrist: 3%
  • Neck: 2%
  • Hand(s): 2%
  • Foot: 2%

The most common causes of ergonomic injuries are:

  • Overexertion: 63%
  • Falls, slips and trips: 23%
  • Contact with object or equipment: 5%
  • Violence and other injuries: 5%
  • Transportation accidents: 4%

The Search is On for Quality Technicians

Dale Collins, CAFM, fleet services supervisor for Fairfax Water in Virginia, faces an increasingly disturbing and familiar scenario in the next handful of years: Five of the eight people working in his two repair facilities will retire.

The good news is that his organization is “pretty attuned” to the so-called Silver Tsunami of aging baby boomers; a quarter of the organization will retire within the same time frame.

“So, we’ve been challenged to create some kind of succession plan,” Collins said, “to figure out the best way to approach this, so we can capture and transfer our institutional knowledge and technical expertise. Then have a good recruitment plan and hire top-notch technicians.”

Ask anyone in literally any industry today, and the story is the same: There simply aren’t enough willing and able workers to handle the roles currently filled by the older set. It’s particularly tough in skilled labor; there can be misconceptions about salaries, opportunities and advancement possibilities. There also can be lack of awareness about the need to attract and train students long before they graduate high school. Due to the dearth of candidates, companies are having to take on employees at ground level – and bump up salaries and benefits.

“There’s been a complete shift,” said Lucas A. White, interim associate dean at Madison Area Technical College School of Applied Science, Engineering & Technology. “Organizations are desperate and can’t be as selective now. The industry has had to increase wages, knowing that they aren’t going to find somebody for $10 to $12 an hour. The students know they can get that in fast food, without a skill.”

The school, then, has worked with partners in various industries to help students gain appropriate knowledge. Industry contacts work with the school’s faculty and career and employment center on both curriculum and internship opportunities. And White encourages anyone with skilled labor holes to fill to look for a chance to do the same.

“With the skilled labor gap, the partnerships between industry and higher education become more crucial,” he said. “It’s going to take all of us to overcome this shortage.”

On His Radar
Collins has this on his radar. He serves on the diesel advisory board of a nearby community college. He’s aiming to host a career day, and to hopefully set up an apprenticeship program. A summer internship already is in place at Fairfax Water, so there is precedent. Along the way, the department also is working with management and human resources to develop current technicians for advancement opportunities, reviewing job descriptions and adjusting as necessary. Current technicians are maintaining notebooks of details that might answer questions for future staff.

One of the challenges for utility fleets, Collins said, is that “you have to be so well-versed in so many areas.” It helps to have someone with a basic skill set – but technicians also must be willing to branch out with less-than-familiar equipment or systems.

“I think you’ve got to find the right fit, from the time they come in the door,” he said. And once they’re in, they may need additional incentive to stay, since the market is so competitive. Benefits at Fairfax Water include health, dental and vision insurance, retirement, federal holidays, annual leave and income stability. There also are in-house training opportunities and a generous education reimbursement plan.

“We’re great for people who want to find a home, a career, and be there for a long time,” Collins said.

Workers are encouraged to take training courses during the day if possible, rather than in their time off at night.

“We start early,” Collins said. “And when they have to go to school at night, after a long day of work, they’re not going to learn then. Coming in the next morning will be tough. We try to make it easy for them.”

“Easy” is not typically the word that comes to mind with recruiting and retaining quality technicians. But Collins, like many, is keeping one eye on today’s staff – and the other watching for tomorrow’s.

“We’ve been discussing this for some time,” he said.

About the Author: Fiona Soltes is a longtime freelance writer based just outside Nashville, Tennessee. Her clients have represented a variety of sectors, including fleet, engineering, technology, logistics, business services, retail, disaster preparedness and material handling. Prior to her freelance career, Soltes worked as a staff writer at newspapers in Tennessee and Texas.


Big-Picture Recruiting
It’s one thing to maintain a small staff of technicians; it’s another to maintain 165 in 42 garage locations.

At Southern California Edison (SCE), the hiring strategy is to recruit high-caliber talent, which has led to “success, stability and less turnover,” said Robert Ruiz, principal manager, fleet operation and maintenance, transportation services.

So, how does that happen, while so many other organizations are facing challenges in recruiting and retaining quality employees?

  • SCE seeks out employees who have a good work ethic, in addition to strong diagnostic skills, the ability to work well with others, and a willingness to learn beyond what they already know and to work safely.
  • The majority of SCE’s newly hired technicians come from local auto dealerships and independent shops, Ruiz said. “We also try to recruit from local community colleges and trade schools.”
  • SCE promotes from within. In addition, compensation includes health benefits, an inclusive work environment and compressed work schedules that candidates find appealing.
  • SCE uses job employment websites and social media sites such as Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Glassdoor and LinkedIn to reach candidates, and recently launched the SCE Talent Network at to help “track and nurture” prospective workers, Ruiz said.

In addition, Ruiz said, SCE offers wages and incentives that often are superior to those offered by other local companies in Southern California. Respect, he said, is one of the foundational values of the company, and it extends to all employees.

Collaboration is Key When Rightsizing Your Fleet

For organizations contemplating a fleet rightsizing effort that won’t anger end users, here’s some advice: use solid data, convey information clearly and seek understanding.

“At the end of the day, it’s ultimately about communication,” said Charlie Guthro, vice president of global strategic services for fleet management company ARI ( Prior to a rightsizing initiative, operators won’t necessarily be saying that the fleet has extraneous equipment, while others in the company may be focused on budget. But when fleet professionals get to know their internal customers and their needs, Guthro said, greater collaboration is possible.

“When you rightsize a fleet, it gives organizations more opportunity to hold on to their most critical resource: their people,” he said. “You have to approach it from, ‘We’re not here to do things to you, but for you, and we want you to be involved.’”

That’s easy enough to say, but it can be challenging to deliver, especially with new management – those who want to make a definitive mark through changes without perhaps fully surveying the landscape or considering long-term impact. This can affect productivity and diminish employee buy-in.

Imagine, for example, a utility fleet that cuts back on lesser-used equipment, believing it will be available as needed from external rental providers.

When discussions begin with a rental company, Guthro said, “those outsourced parties are cooperative, and say, ‘Yes, we can provide that for you, and here’s the price point.’ It’s a nice, pretty picture. But when you have to get that equipment, you have to understand that you’ll likely be competing with others who have the same expectation, and demand may outpace supply.”

When needed equipment is not available, challenges go beyond the immediate situation; employees have negative feelings because workflow is disrupted, which can disintegrate trust over time.

Matt Gilliland, director of operations support for Nebraska Public Power District, said there have been times he’s seen rightsizing efforts engender some pushback. But fortunately, NPPD is not an organization that “lends itself to pouting and complaining” once changes are made. The key, he believes, lies in having information readily available to back up what needs to be done, as well as sharing it with business leaders.

“It all boils down to access and readiness of the assets,” Gilliland said. “A lot of times, with rightsizing, you’re asking business units or end users to share assets or pool assets, and sometimes their work causes them to go in two different directions.”

The right data, however, separates reality and perceptions. But when considering that data, “you have to be ready to be wrong,” Gilliland said. “In general, the fleet person wants the contingent of vehicles to be as small as possible, whereas the end user wants it to be as large as possible. Somewhere in the middle is what’s right.”

He also said his first thought with any effort is the idea of “doing no harm,” which helps ease communications with business unit leaders and end users. Quite often, Gilliland said, when GPS or other measuring points are introduced to business leaders to support a cutback, the response is, “Yeah, we’re seeing that, too” or “We’re not surprised by that.” With proper evidence in the picture, he said, “they’re generally pretty supportive. At the end of the day, they’re trying to run a business unit, and just like our unit needs to run affordably, so does theirs.”

Proper language and phrasing also help. Gilliland is fond of the term “optimizing” to cast things in a better light. And this last suggestion is something Gilliland said he learned from his colleagues, such as fleet support specialist Rob Barbur: “One thing we’ve done – and Rob has done this consistently – is to also talk to the end user about what they need that they don’t have.” That way, Gilliland said, it’s not a one-way conversation of having to defend what’s already in place; fleet professionals and end users can work together on what could be.

About the Author: Fiona Soltes is a longtime freelance writer based just outside Nashville, Tennessee. Her clients have represented a variety of sectors, including fleet, engineering, technology, logistics, business services, retail, disaster preparedness and material handling. Prior to her freelance career, Soltes worked as a staff writer at newspapers in Tennessee and Texas.


Making the Case for Rightsizing
Are you ready to back up your rightsizing argument but unsure how to do it? Consider these three tips.

1. Know what information to collect. Matt Gilliland, director of operations support for Nebraska Public Power District, said utilization rates from miles, hours and power-takeoff standpoints can be helpful. “And look at those over a particular term or period, whether nominalized by day, week, year or however else you want to do it.” In addition, he said, “reach out to other organizations that are like-minded and like-sized, and do some benchmarking and comparisons. I’ve found benchmarking to be a tremendous tool when it comes to having the right assets.”

2. Ensure the fleet is properly categorized in its utilization. “You can’t have an expectation that all equipment will be used 40-plus hours a week,” said Charlie Guthro, vice president of global strategic services for fleet management company ARI. “You have to understand the uniqueness of your fleet. You can’t broad-brush it based on what’s worked for another organization.” 

3. Get help if you need it. Fleet management companies such as ARI can assist in gathering and preparing data that will help fleet professionals “move from anecdotal to evidence-based decisions,” Guthro said. They also can help provide a window into the best practices of other companies.

Flat Fees for Fleet Asset Flexibility?

As drivers and fleet professionals explore the possibilities and realities of vehicle subscription models, they’re in good company. Fleet management organizations also are kicking the tires of the concept – including how it might eventually apply to utility fleets.

Under the subscription model, subscribers have access to vehicles on demand, often with insurance and maintenance included, and can switch out vehicle models, too.

Eric Schell, product manager for driver tools at Element Fleet Management (, and Jayme Schnedeker, Element’s director of fleet products, said they are in discovery phase with the idea and looking to Element’s experience with car sharing for cues.

“For companies like us, as well as for manufacturers, the question is, where do we fit into all of this?” Schnedeker said. “How can we provide services for our core customers that make financial sense for them?” The subscription model provides flexibility in areas where there hasn’t traditionally been any, he added, and with individual consumers increasingly using services such as Uber and Lyft, those expectations of convenience are being transferred to work life.

Traditional fleet pools and micro car-sharing markets give fleets a taste of multiple drivers using one vehicle fractionally, Schell said. Even so, he believes, adoption of the subscription model in a broader sense would require “a fairly significant cultural change of how our customers are looking to do business today.”

In addition, a variety of questions are yet to be answered: How long would a fleet need to keep a vehicle before swapping it out? What if a fleet needs immediate access to a particular type of vehicle, but it’s unavailable? What type of maintenance should be included in the service fee, and who would perform it? What about insurance, mileage limitations and/or usage limitations? And could the subscription model work as well for, say, a bucket truck and a lightly upfitted pickup?

So far, subscription models on the market generally involve higher-end vehicles. Brands like Porsche, Cadillac, Volvo and BMW offer options that are more accommodating than long-term leases. Programs like these allow drivers to use, for example, a sedan during the week but switch to an SUV for a trip. Porsche lets drivers switch as often as they like; BOOK by Cadillac lets subscribers rent different vehicles as often as 18 times a year. Currently these services are not available nationwide but could be in the future.

In the meantime, when it comes to fleets, there’s still much to be figured out. Schnedeker, for example, brought up the topic of safety related to driver behavior.

“The driver has to make sure they’re driving the vehicles safely, and that they’re not distracted,” he said. “That can have big implications on the cost of insurance. As we think about these models, it’s important to think about what role the driver plays and how that might impact either the price of the subscription or the type of vehicle that is available for that driver to use.” That also brings up questions about training for drivers on specific types of vehicles and equipment.

“What would make the subscriber eligible to participate?” Schell asked. “We’re potentially looking at a world where we might be giving traditionally non-fleet drivers access to fleet vehicles. There’s a certain level of vetting we do to ensure that the driver getting a vehicle is going to be responsible with that vehicle. Do these same rules apply to this new generation of subscribers or will adjustments need to be made? That’s another item that needs to be fleshed out.”

Finally, Schell and Schnedeker said, there’s a need to ensure vehicles and equipment would always be available at a standard the subscriber would expect, especially as those assets travel from fleet to fleet. It’s one thing with a luxury car that can be detailed, but what about a work truck that typically would see harsher use?

“It’s certainly going to be a challenge with the subscription model,” Schnedeker said. “Some asset types might not fit the model as well, just because of how they’re used.”

About the Author: Fiona Soltes is a longtime freelance writer based just outside Nashville, Tennessee. Her clients have represented a variety of sectors, including fleet, engineering, technology, logistics, business services, retail, disaster preparedness and material handling. Prior to her freelance career, Soltes worked as a staff writer at newspapers in Tennessee and Texas.


BOOK by Cadillac Shows How It’s Done
It’s easy to see why a subscription offering like BOOK by Cadillac ( would be attractive to users: They can switch between a variety of vehicles without a long-term commitment, drive up to 2,000 miles per month, and have maintenance, insurance, registration and detailing included in the flat fee. Since its launch in early 2017, more than 8,000 people have expressed interest.

The service also provides benefits for the OEM. For one thing, it exposes the Cadillac product line to a wide range of potential buyers who otherwise might not have considered the brand.

“In an early pilot in New York, a number of BOOK by Cadillac members ultimately decided to buy or lease a Cadillac from a dealer,” said Melody Lee, global director of BOOK by Cadillac. “We feel strongly that the program will have a positive overall effect on Cadillac, perceptions of the brand and, ultimately, the sale and lease of Cadillac vehicles.”

So far, the majority of program users have been “a younger demographic than the typical Cadillac buyer,” Lee said.

In the U.S., BOOK by Cadillac focuses specifically on the Cadillac portfolio. “That said,” Lee added, “we are exploring how to evolve this model based on what the market and consumer demand. For example, BOOK is in a pilot stage in Munich, Germany, and under that current model, Chevrolet Camaro and Corvette performance cars are included in that fleet.”

Is Cash Still King?

The potential for lower acquisition costs, greater control over resale pricing, no debt added to the balance sheet – these are a few advantages of purchasing vehicles outright, which traditionally has been the prominent fleet acquisition strategy for many utility companies.

But according to Paul Lauria, president of Mercury Associates (, a fleet management consulting firm based in Rockville, Maryland, there’s also a big downside to cash: It can lead to “suboptimal decision-making” that undermines your fleet’s performance, especially in an era of low interest rates. Lauria contends that paying for equipment over time – whether with a loan or lease – or as needed with short-term rentals creates a more flexible structure where fleet departments can improve the age, condition and performance of their vehicles at a significantly lower total cost of ownership.

“Any organization that wants to optimize the total cost of ownership of its fleet has to figure out the right balance of capital and operating expenditures,” Lauria said. “A lot of organizations don’t do this; they underspend on fleet replacement costs, with the result that they overspend on fleet operating costs.”  

So, why has the utility industry traditionally resisted financing equipment purchases? In what ways does cash purchase impact fleet decision-making? And how can fleets strike a more optimal balance between capital and operating expenditures? During UFP’s recent conversation with Lauria, who has advised hundreds of government and utility fleets since 1985, we dug deeper into these questions. Here are edited highlights.

UFP: From your perspective, why have utilities tended to resist the idea of financing their vehicles?

Paul Lauria: Traditionally, investor-owned utilities have preferred to own their fleet assets because the amount of fixed assets carried on their balance sheet is one of the things that goes into setting rates. So, having assets on the balance sheet can be advantageous financially, even though it may be disadvantageous from a fleet management perspective. Leased assets are owned by the lessor, not the lessee, so switching from ownership to leasing might adversely affect a company’s rate base.

A company can finance the purchase and ownership of fleet assets with debt, which does not create this problem. However, many utilities have statutorily established or self-imposed limits on how much debt they can carry on their balance sheet. So, if they have to choose between borrowing money for infrastructure projects – such as building a new power plant or transmission line – and borrowing money to buy vehicles, it’s not surprising that they’re going to want to use their borrowing capacity for more expensive capital projects.

But when you say that cash can lead to “suboptimal decision-making” by fleet departments, what do you mean by that? In what ways?

The first thing you see with organizations that purchase vehicles outright with cash is that they tend to put off the replacement of vehicles as long as possible. That’s because, in the short term, from a financial impact standpoint, fixing an old vehicle is always going to require less cash than replacing that vehicle.

If the only way management will let me buy a new truck is to secure $50,000 in funds to pay for that truck up front, then it will always be easier for me to scrounge up $5,000 or even $15,000 to repair that truck than get $50,000 to replace it. This incentivizes fleets to put off purchasing replacement vehicles as long as possible, despite the ongoing costs from repairs and downtime. Decisions that make no sense from an economic or total cost of ownership perspective can make perfect sense from a short-term budgeting and cash flow perspective.

The second drawback of purchasing fleet assets outright with cash is that, once an asset is in the fleet, users of the asset tend to treat it as though that capital cost doesn’t exist anymore.

What do you mean?

Say two years ago we bought a $50,000 truck, but the mission of the business unit for which the truck was acquired has changed. They’re not using the truck very much anymore, but hey, it’s “paid for.” We paid for it two years ago, right? So, let’s hang on to it just in case we need it. Or maybe we’ll keep it and use it for some other purpose – even if it’s not necessarily the best type of truck for that purpose. This one’s paid for, so we’ll make do with it.

The problem with this type of thinking is that, in reality, a vehicle is not paid for until it is no longer in the fleet. The capital cost of a vehicle is what you paid to acquire it minus the proceeds you received when you disposed of it. In other words, this type of thinking ignores the fact that there is an opportunity cost – the cash that can obtained by selling an asset – that is incurred when a company holds onto that asset when it no longer needs it to fulfill a bona fide business need.

So, with outright cash purchase, you’re less inclined to get rid of that asset even though, in real economic terms, it is depreciating every day. In contrast to when you acquire an asset using a loan or lease, there’s not an awareness of the ongoing cost of having that piece of equipment sitting out in your yard.

But how does paying for the vehicle over time help change this dynamic?

When an organization leases or debt finances fleet replacement costs, it is better attuned to the management of the total cost of ownership of those assets than is the case when it purchases them outright. These financing methods make it hard to ignore the 40 percent or so of a fleet’s TCO that is depreciation. Spending $15,000 to repair an old truck doesn’t seem very logical if you can acquire a $50,000 replacement truck under a loan or lease where the capital cost of that truck in the next year is only $7,000 or so. So, whether we’re talking about a lease or a loan, those kinds of pay-as-you-go financing methods lead to better decision-making related to the allocation, repair and replacement of fleet assets.

Why do you think it’s important for utility fleet managers to explore alternative vehicle acquisition strategies in today’s market?

We’re in the latter stages of a long economic expansion. At some point in the not-too-distant future, there will be another recession, and with that – as many fleet professionals know from painful past experience – there will be a cutback in fleet replacement funding levels. So, the time to be getting your fleet replacement house in order – to institute a multiyear replacement planning process, to determine appropriate replacement cycles for the key types of vehicles in your fleet, to assess the merits of alternative financing methods – is now, while the economy’s still good and interest rates are still low. Once that window closes, it will be too late for many companies to do these things until the next recession is just a memory.

The Driver Safety Challenge in an Era of Advanced Driver-Assist Systems

When he’s off the clock, John Doyle, senior health and safety adviser at Florida Power & Light, drives a Ford Explorer as his personal vehicle. The SUV is equipped with a backup camera that audibly alerts him when he gets too close to an object.

When Doyle sometimes drives his wife’s car – which has a backup camera but no audible alerts – he still finds himself “waiting for the backup camera to tell me to slow down.”

Doyle’s experience provides a good example of an issue utility fleet drivers across the country are facing these days. They may have all sorts of tools and options on their personal vehicles that aren’t available on their work vehicles, which can potentially lead to a habit of relying on the tools and options – even when they’re not there. 

“People are gravitating towards using the technology to support the way they drive,” said Art Liggio, president and CEO of driver training company Driving Dynamics ( “We see people come into our training programs who are looking at the backup camera monitor instead of the mirrors. If the monitor hesitates, they freeze. They don’t know what to do.”

Recent statistics back up the idea that the wealth of technology and safety features in today’s newer vehicles isn’t lowering accident rates. In 2016, 37,461 people died on U.S. highways, while 2015 saw the biggest jump in accident deaths in 50 years, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (

It is, in fact, human error that is the cause of 94 percent of accidents, according to NHTSA data. In 2015, when the data was released, NHTSA administrator Dr. Mark Rosekind noted that the solution to reducing traffic deaths is a combination of improved human behavior and vehicle technology.

Liggio said there are plenty of other reasons for the higher rate of crashes, including poor infrastructure, longer commutes and driver distractions.

But Doyle needs to look no further than his own experience to say that perhaps we’re relying too heavily on technology to overcome poor driving habits – or, in some cases, allowing technology to cause them.

In a previous role at Florida Power & Light, he recalled that when backup cameras were installed on all the fleet vehicles, accidents dropped significantly – for the first year. “After that year, people became complacent with that technology and we started hitting things,” Doyle said.

He suggested that drivers be taught to “trust but verify. These vehicle technologies are computers after all, and we know that they do malfunction.”

Doyle noted that sometimes sensors can become covered with mud or dirt, affecting performance. He believes that training should be utilized to enhance the use of any technology and, for example, to teach drivers not to rely on backup cameras. They must remember to check the vehicle’s mirrors, too.

Even if a vehicle’s technology is working correctly, Liggio said, inadequate training on that technology often leaves the driver unprepared for the vehicle to take over. “When the car starts intervening, the driver jumps in and they’re fighting each other over what to do. Drivers get so focused on what the car is doing automatically that they stop focusing on their situational issues, and the incident occurs.”

He has noticed that, as fleet customers “load up their vehicles with the highest level of technologies,” often they experience slight increases in crash rates. “Is it risk compensation, or that the driver doesn’t know how to interact with the technology?”

Again, training can help overcome those issues. But ultimately, drivers must come to understand that the technology is there as a tool to heighten vehicle and driver safety – it will not prevent 100 percent of accidents.

About the Author: Sandy Smith is a freelance writer and editor based in Nashville, Tenn.


Future Vehicle Safety Features
Over the next few years, more and more safety features will be added to new vehicles. Here is what to expect. 

Mandated Features

  • Backup cameras. By May 2018, all new vehicles under 10,000 pounds will include a backup camera that shows a 10-foot-by-20-foot zone behind the vehicle.
  • Automatic emergency brakes. In 2016, 20 automakers – virtually the entire U.S. market – joined the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in announcing a pact to include these brakes in vehicles. This voluntary effort allows the new technology to become standard well before any regulatory requirement would mandate it. It is expected to be standard by 2022.

Gaining Adoption
These safety features are not mandatory, but they do factor into the NHTSA’s five-star safety ratings and are becoming increasingly available on vehicles.

  • Forward collision warning systems warn drivers if they get too close to the vehicle in front of them.
  • Lane assist, or a lane departure warning system, uses cameras to monitor lane markings and alert the driver when he or she is drifting out of a lane.
  • Blind-spot detection lets drivers know when another vehicle is in their blind spot.
  • Automatic crash notifications notify emergency responders that a crash has occurred and provides a location.
  • While vehicle-to-vehicle communication is not yet mandatory, it is on the NHTSA’s most-wanted list. This, according to the NHTSA, would mitigate 70 to 80 percent of accidents not involving an impaired driver.

Strategies for Hiring and Retaining Skilled Technicians

It’s no secret that today’s utility fleets have encountered difficulty finding job candidates with the appropriate training, experience and technical skills. And not only that – once qualified candidates are hired, those workers can be wooed by other companies offering greater salary and benefits packages.

So, how can you find and keep the right candidates for your fleet job openings?

Those in the know recommend partnering with area technical schools and colleges to ensure the right skills are being taught – and the right candidates are being snapped up early. On the other end of the spectrum, they recommend providing current employees with training and career development opportunities to keep them engaged.

“There’s a lot of poaching going on, especially on the utility side,” said Jason Ball, who worked as both a heavy-duty mechanic and fleet manager before taking the helm of Utility Training Group ( less than two years ago. Specialized on-the-job training – delivered by someone like Ball or an OEM representative – sweetens the pot by helping workers learn new skills, gain confidence and stay up to date on the latest technologies.

But it’s important, Ball said, to make sure those conducting the training have the right experience, in addition to good references.

Understand Values and Priorities
Matt Gilliland, director of transportation and facilities for Nebraska Public Power District, said he’s seen individual applicant priorities change over time. Understanding new priorities and values can help attract the right crew members.

Individuals are no longer just looking for job security, he said, or somewhere to stay for a long period of time. Instead, it’s more about how the job can contribute to life balance – and possibly even how the job can impact social issues important to the applicant. They often want a seat at the table, and desire to engage in teamwork and successes that go beyond their individual job descriptions.

“It’s important to communicate not only about the position you’re looking to hire them for, but also the direction of the company,” said Gilliland, who is scheduled to speak as part of a hiring and retention panel at the 2017 Utility Fleet Conference ( in early October. That might include, for example, the company’s values related to sustainability and global impact.

For utilities in particular, one of the biggest challenges in terms of hiring is that there’s a wide range of equipment and a broad skill set involved in fleet work, yet very few places where individuals can learn to specialize in that work. Gilliland and his team have found value – and employees – by serving on the advisory boards of area colleges.

Ball said if he were the one in the recruiting seat today, he’d be “advertising as many places as possible,” as well as keeping an eye out for quality workers at other companies who may be interested in new opportunities and willing to grow.

Another tactic, gleaned from other industries: Don’t forget social media. The channel increasingly is being used for professional as well as personal reasons. Entrepreneur, in a 2015 guest blog written by Joe Budzienski, Monster’s vice president of product and technology, reported that more than 60,000 jobs were being tweeted about each day on Twitter, and that the platform was being used by 40 percent of overall companies to recruit talent (see In addition, 54 percent of recruiters were using Facebook.

No matter how a person comes to the job – or the length of the efforts made to get them there – it is always possible that they’ll still leave in search of greener pastures. But you can’t think in terms of just training them for someone else, Gilliland said.

“If you hire the correct individual, there’s a higher likelihood that you’ll have a long-term relationship with them,” he said. “And if they do go on to another job, you can still understand that you were part of the investment that made them able to do so. That’s still money well spent because the profession itself is advanced.”

About the Author: Fiona Soltes is a longtime freelance writer based just outside Nashville, Tenn. Her regular clients represent a variety of sectors, including fleet, engineering, technology, logistics, business services, disaster preparedness and material handling. Prior to her freelance career, Soltes spent seven years as a staff writer for The Tennessean, a daily newspaper serving Nashville and the surrounding area.


Making the Grade with Technical School Recruiting
Ranken Technical College in St. Louis ( is one school that offers coursework including diesel repair technology and fleet management. But there are challenges; Dan Kania, Ranken’s dean of academic affairs, said that over time, fewer people have been applying for the field.

As a result, “Employers need to contact students well before they graduate to get them into the pipeline,” he said. “Companies who wait to recruit from graduating classes will find the students already employed with other companies.”

Utilities that want to build relationships with area colleges – and, therefore, put their hat in the ring early – can do so in a number of ways. Ranken, for example, conducts industry advisory board meetings twice a year.

“Attend the advisory board meetings, as well as Ranken’s monthly employer breakfasts, to become familiar with the college’s offerings,” he said. Utility fleet administrators also should attend open houses, he said, to present information to students and collect resumes.

Will Solar Drive the Future of Electrified Trucks?

Several years ago, when gas prices were higher and an industry need arose to reduce costs and seek alternative solutions, conversations about harnessing the sun intensified. Combined with advances in electric vehicle technology, the possibilities of what manufacturers and fleets could do in this realm began to grow.

Solar power began to be used to extend the range of some electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. And a full-size electric pickup truck using solar to extend its range was introduced at the 2014 North American International Auto Show.

Given the evolution of solar power use in vehicles over the years, where are we today?

As it turns out, on a slightly different course than one may have assumed. Rather than focus on the use of solar to add range to electric vehicles, utility fleets are, for example, adding panels as components of larger energy management systems. Solar power may be used to recharge vehicle starting and auxiliary batteries. It also can supplement battery charging while a vehicle is being driven or while it’s stopped – a valuable feature where legislation may prohibit idling. Additionally, solar power paired with an inverter system converts DC battery power to AC household power to charge cordless tools, laptops, test equipment and other work truck loads that require AC power without draining the battery.

“It’s a very clean and silent way to create AC power without using a generator,” said Sean O’Connor, sales channel manager of Go Power! ( His company, based in Victoria, British Columbia, has been in the industry since 2000, originally starting with solar and inverter systems for RVs. Go Power! introduced its panels and power inverters to the work truck market five years ago when the company recognized a need to greatly reduce battery replacement within fleets. Minimizing the frequent battery replacements typical among fleets can bring a fast return on investment.

Even on cloudy days, a solar panel still can generate power. Panels range from about 30 watts to 100-plus watts; regardless of the power produced, a solar power system can use a solar controller, which acts like a fuel shutoff valve, to protect the battery from overcharging and prolong battery life.

Mike Stephens, Go Power! division manager, said every fleet has a slightly different niche and need. The right combination might include an inverter only, or a solar panel for trickle charging, or solar panels and an inverter. Systems can be uniquely designed to meet a fleet’s requirements.

Harnessing Practicality
With regard to using solar power, there are some things that still aren’t completely practical – yet. But Dave Meisel, senior director of transportation and aviation services at Pacific Gas and Electric Co., has seen solar’s practical applications. His fleet employs an electric power takeoff (ePTO) system that uses a series of batteries to power onboard equipment at job sites, and truck-mounted solar panels have been used to charge those ePTO batteries.

Altogether, the system has helped increase productivity by extending the number of hours employees can work in noise-restricted areas because power no longer has to be supplied by a noisy generator. There also have been increases in safety because workers can now communicate by talking rather than having to use hand signals over the sound of that generator, and bucket truck operators – who traditionally sit in the back near the exhaust – have greatly benefited from reduced emissions on the ground. Meisel partnered with Altec ( to electrify PG&E’s worksites through the company’s Jobsite Energy Management System (JEMS), “and solar has been a part of that,” said Meisel, whose California-based fleet of roughly 15,000 assets has one of cleanest power generation mixes in the nation. “Electrifying the worksite has been a huge win for us.”

The way Meisel sees it, the biggest thing to remember about electrification is that the technology is still in its infancy. Its potential – and the full potential of solar power – remains to be seen.

“I don’t know that we’ve fully understood, at this stage of the game, how much this type of technology could benefit our industry,” he said. Meisel has one vehicle in his fleet, for example, that can act as a standalone generator with exportable power. “That technology is spreading relatively quickly. I’m sure there are some smart people out there who will move it further than we have. But we’re excited about potential. We’re excited about the opportunities that it presents,” he said.

About the Author: Fiona Soltes is a longtime freelance writer based just outside Nashville, Tenn. Her regular clients represent a variety of sectors, including fleet, engineering, technology, logistics, business services, disaster preparedness and material handling. Prior to her freelance career, Soltes spent seven years as a staff writer for The Tennessean, a daily newspaper serving Nashville and the surrounding area.


Warming up to the idea of solar? Here are a few things to consider:
• Recognize that the benefits of using solar power may be difficult to quantify, said Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s Dave Meisel. As part of a larger energy management system, there have been some obvious wins. But it’s important to look at the picture more broadly; gains don’t just stop “at the door of the garage,” Meisel said, and may expand to other departments and areas.
• If you’re considering a particular system, make sure it’s within the proper parameters of any anti-idling legislation in the state or states in which your fleet operates, and appropriate for individual requirements. In addition, understand that anti-idling legislation likely will keep expanding.
• Keep an eye on solar developments. There is much interest, for example, in the commercial trucking space. Through companies such as Go Power!, eNow ( and Green Solar Transportation (, solar and electric vehicle technology continue to develop.

3 Ergonomic Upfits to Combat Work-Related Injuries

When Dan Remmert, manager of fleet services for Ameren Illinois Company, explored the reasons behind his group’s work-related injuries, one issue kept coming up: getting in and out of a vehicle or piece of equipment.

“We’ve had many issues over time related to getting to the back of a bed, a bucket or aerial device,” he said. He also noted that recent vehicle changes have resulted in chassis being taller, “which causes ergonomic challenges for loading, moving and working.”

Complicating matters is the fact that his workers can choose the size ladder they prefer, but Remmert is expected to standardize the fleet’s trucks, including ladder racks. “We use some of the fold-down products on the market, but they just never seem to fit everybody.”

While combatting injuries caused by stepping out of or lifting materials from vehicles is a growing problem for utilities, there are several ergonomically friendly products now on the market that can help prevent some of the most common injuries. Here are three that may benefit your fleet operators.

1. Liftgates with ergonomic features.
It’s no secret to utility fleet workers that getting in and out of a vehicle can cause injuries. Maybe a worker steps off incorrectly and twists something, or constant repetitive motion results in long-term injuries. Add in heavy equipment that must be wrestled out of the back of the vehicle, and the odds of back injuries increase.

But there are solutions available. “We’ve seen ease of use and dependability increase greatly with ramps and liftgates,” said Spero Skarlatos, manager of truck excellence for Element Fleet Management (

He noted that some liftgates now have a cantilever design that allows a platform as wide as the van itself. Some of those are hinged to the vehicle’s rear doors so they easily swing out. “Liftgates and ramps relieve the driver of having to physically lift a box so they can use a cart instead,” Skarlatos said.

Maxon Lift ( makes nothing but liftgates and is constantly innovating to meet customer needs. An interlocking handrail on the liftgate is one recent enhancement. That was developed in conjunction with Smithfield, a large meat packer.

“While it’s not a utility fleet, the concerns are the same,” said Anton Griessner, Maxon’s vice president of marketing and business development. “It’s about the safe handling of loads and avoiding having the operator lifting heavy things.”

Of course, the liftgate itself can bring its own challenges, with the worker trying to maneuver the heavy gate into position, often from the ground. Maxon’s latest solution allows the worker to raise the lift about halfway up so that it can then be folded in.

“When you manipulate the liftgate, you can do it at an angle, which is as efficient and ergonomic as possible and at the level that offers the best leverage,” Griessner said.

2. Shelving that puts needed materials in reach.
Skarlatos said that vans and pickup trucks now include a cabinet with multiple shelves that are accessible from the ground level outside the vehicle. It’s akin to a catering operation; vehicles used for that purpose typically contain multiple racks that slide in and out. In the utility fleet environment, the shelves can store tools and products that the driver uses regularly. “Instead of accessing the back of the van, the trays keep the driver outside the vehicle, standing on both feet,” Skarlatos said.

3. New vehicle styles.
While it’s not an upfit per se, one of the biggest current industry trends is changes in vehicles themselves, according to Skarlatos. Euro-design vans are a game changer because they offer easier access and prevent drivers from crouching while in the back of a van. “You can stand up from the driver’s seat, walk into the back of the van and then step out the rear doors by using the step bumpers,” Skarlatos said. “This has been an evolution of the vans to help with ergonomics.”

And when the shelves that put needed materials in reach are included, this eliminates the need for the driver to get back inside the vehicle. “Anytime you limit the times that you’re stepping in or stepping down, reaching and pulling, we’re increasing the driver’s quality of life at work,” Skarlatos said.

Of course, no two fleet needs are the same, even within the utility industry. That’s why working with suppliers is critical. “You have to really explain what you do and how you do it,” Griessner said. “And there still can be a big difference between what the fleet and safety managers try to achieve and what the operators do. Out of this trust in a vendor can come a very good end product.”

About the Author: Sandy Smith is a freelance writer and editor based in Nashville, Tenn.


Ergonomics Issues Can Be Costly
OSHA issued ergonomics mandates in the early 2000s, which were subsequently voided by Congress. Nonetheless, there are common-sense reasons to pay attention to ergonomics in utility fleets. For instance, in 2011 – the most recent year for which statistics are available – workers’ compensation paid out $29.6 billion in medical bills and another $30.3 billion in lost wages, according to the Social Security Administration. And according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics:
• Musculoskeletal disorders – the broad term for sprains and strains from overexertion – accounted for three in 10 of the total work-related injuries in 2015.
• The average loss of work for a musculoskeletal disorder was 12 days in 2015. That compares with an average of eight days for all injuries that resulted in days off work.
• Falls, slips and trips were the second-largest category of work-related injuries, at 27 percent.
• Workers aged 45-54 had the highest number of missed days due to work-related injuries.

Determining the Optimal Vehicle Replacement Cycle

Developing an effective approach when it comes to a strategic replacement cycle is a challenge that every fleet manager faces, regardless of the kinds of vehicles or equipment they may manage. The ability to gather and analyze data about your fleet and understand exactly how your fleet is performing has made the run-a-vehicle-into-the-ground approach not only woefully out of date, but it also has revealed just how expensive it is when compared to a well-designed replacement cycle.

The goal for every fleet should be to replace a vehicle before maintenance costs and downtime begin to rise, and at a time in the vehicle’s life when resale values remain meaningful. Determining how to reach that goal can vary from fleet to fleet, but by implementing an optimal replacement cycle for each vehicle or segment of vehicles in a fleet, a fleet manager can realize tremendous benefits and advantages, ranging from minimizing downtime and lowering operating costs, to keeping up with the fast-changing safety and technology features in more recent models, ensuring the safety and comfort of the fleet’s drivers in the process.

So, what considerations and best practices should you adopt in order to get the most from your replacement cycle strategy and experience the benefits of lower operating costs and optimal total cost of ownership?

What Does Your Company Need?
Any good evaluation begins with knowing the needs of your business and assessing the fleet you have. Are there gaps that need to be filled? Alternatively, are there vehicles that are not being fully utilized or are sitting idle? Knowing the specific operational needs of each business unit and reviewing your existing specs to make sure the fleet aligns with the business requirements of the organization help to create a foundation from which to begin your analysis. If you have done an analysis in the past, but it has been a while since you have reviewed it, take the time to update it. Consider whether vehicles that are being underutilized need to be replaced at all. Take a hard look at your specs to see if they can be simplified or pared down. Knowing where you stand before you begin to develop or alter a plan will help to ensure the eventual result is sound and will have a positive impact.

Evaluate and Analyze the Data
Now more than ever, fleet managers have access to volumes of data as well as the tools to parse that data so it provides insight and understanding. Fleet managers can look at maintenance expenses, including both recent and year-over-year comparisons, evaluate fuel expenditures and assess downtime across different vehicle segments. The transparency provided by the ability to evaluate data in an increasingly granular yet valuable way empowers fleet managers to make better decisions. The red flags that appear as the result of a thorough evaluation of your fleet’s data should be folded into the larger effort of building a sound replacement strategy and guide you even as you take other factors into consideration.

Additional Factors to Bring Into the Mix
There are a variety of different approaches to replacement cycling; deciding which one to use is dependent on the kind of fleet (i.e., its use and application) and the vehicles in use. But there are some standard factors that should always be a part of the overall equation.

The Usual Suspects
Any good analysis will consider some basic factors, including model year, total miles, overall condition, cost per mile and repair costs over a fixed period of time. Considering any of these in isolation is not the best approach, and having a single, fixed trigger (e.g., replace all of a certain kind of vehicle when they exceed a certain mileage) is not always effective either. Consider this: You could have two vehicles, both the same model year, but one may need to run more often to power specific, specialized additional equipment that it carries. This would increase the wear and tear on all of its components, especially when compared to the non-upfitted vehicle. Evaluating both on model year alone would not provide a full or accurate analysis.

As a general rule, the more specialized a vehicle is – especially with regard to an upfit or other specially installed equipment – the more likely it will remain in service for a longer period of time. The specialization likely required a larger upfront investment and that comes into play when determining total cost of ownership. And, of course, a replacement is likely to require that same kind of investment.

Remarketing Cycles and Retail Demand for Used Vehicles
While it can vary based on the kind of vehicle and the current demand, the spring – tax season – through the fall remains the best time to sell used vehicles. Unless you have a vehicle that is in high demand on the used market, it is always a good idea to take the seasonality of the remarketing market into consideration. If you do have a segment of vehicles that is in high demand, consider the benefits of adjusting your cycling to maximize the resale value and take advantage of a hot market.

Branding and the Company Image
It never helps an organization to have vehicles in poor condition on the road. Vehicles with rust, substandard paint or body damage can reflect on the company as a whole and do damage to the brand and public standing of the organization. While not a driving factor, it is something to take into account.

Taking the time to develop a sound replacement strategy can save a fleet money and improve the bottom line. There is not one correct way or a single formula; success depends on a variety of factors that can change depending on the kind of fleet being evaluated and the needs of the business. But by investing a little time and thought, you can have a positive impact and a fleet that is cost-effective and on the road.

About the Author: Partha Ghosh is the director of North American vehicle supply chain and remarketing operations for ARI (, a privately held fleet management company headquartered in Mount Laurel, N.J.


Vehicle Replacement Considerations: A Checklist
• Evaluate vehicles by category or segment.
• Know the needs of your business and align vehicle specifications accordingly.
• Use the data your fleet returns to your advantage.
• There are standard factors to consider, such as model year and total mileage, but no single factor should drive the decision.
• Specialization and vehicles with a unique upfit may require additional consideration.
• Take the ebb and flow of the remarketing marketplace into account.
• The condition of a vehicle can affect your organization’s brand and image; be sure to keep that in mind.

What Utility Fleets Can Do to Curb Distracted Driving Incidents

Your company has clearly communicated its distracted driving policy to all employees. And the safety department is doing its part by screening at-risk drivers, providing consistent driver training and building awareness throughout the organization of the dangers of distracted driving. But when employees are out on the road, how can management ensure that drivers actually comply with the policy – to protect their own lives, the public and your utility’s reputation and bottom line?

That’s where your fleet department can make a difference. How? By equipping vehicles with technologies that counteract a driver’s impulse to read a text message or scroll through social media feeds on their phone while driving – even when they know it’s the wrong thing to do.

All It Takes is One Time
No one is immune. Even the best, most conscientious drivers can succumb to the temptation to look at their smartphone while driving, at least every now and then.

Think about it. You’re driving a service truck through a residential area when you hear your phone buzzing in the console, notifying you of a text message. Because you know better, your initial instinct is to ignore the sound and keep focused on the road ahead. But then a few seconds later you hear the phone buzz again … and again.

Now you’re curious. Who could that be?

It’s been a long day, and you’re exhausted. You start justifying to yourself: I’m going pretty slow right now and there’s not much traffic; it won’t hurt to take a quick look.

You take your eyes off the road for what you think will only be a second. But by the time you look up from your phone, you see that a boy on a bicycle has darted out from behind a vehicle parked along the street, right in front of your truck. You slam on the brakes, but there’s not enough time to stop before your truck hits him.

You could be a great driver, day in and day out, but one lapse in judgment and everything changes for you – and for the victim’s family and your employer. And because the truck displays your utility’s logo on it, the press coverage causes a public relations firestorm, while your employer is sure to face a multimillion-dollar lawsuit.

Addicted to Distraction
A survey commissioned by AT&T and Dr. David Greenfield, founder of The Center for Internet and Technology Addiction and assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine, found that while over 90 percent of drivers say they know texting and driving is dangerous, many rationalize their texting-and-driving behavior – a classic sign of addiction. And three in four people surveyed admitted to at least glancing at their phones while behind the wheel.

So, if drivers know that texting, checking email or scrolling through social media feeds while driving is hazardous – and illegal in most states – why do far too many drivers still do it? What makes the temptation so hard to resist?

According to Dr. Greenfield, the answer comes down to addiction. “We compulsively check our phones because every time we get an update through text, email or social media, we experience an elevation of dopamine, which is a neurochemical in the brain that makes us feel happy,” Greenfield said in a statement announcing the AT&T study. “If that desire for a dopamine fix leads us to check our phones while we’re driving, a simple text can turn deadly.”

Amy Dobrikova, president of Intelligent Fleet Solutions (, a fleet consulting firm based in Jacksonville, Fla., refers to distracted driving as “the new DUI,” not only because it impairs your ability to drive but also because it’s the result of an addiction that causes you to think, “I can handle this,” much like a drunk driver, when engaging in risky driving behavior.

How Fleet Can Help
What can you do in fleet to help curb distracted driving incidents in your company?

“As a fleet manager, one area I have influence over [when it comes to reducing distracted driving incidents] is specifying new vehicles with available driver-assist technologies, such as reverse sensors and cameras, adaptive cruise control and hands-free Bluetooth connectivity for communications,” said Dale Collins, fleet services supervisor for Fairfax County Water Authority in Fairfax, Va. “As technology advances become more mainstream, we’ll be able to bring additional driver aids, like collision avoidance systems, blind-spot detection and lane-keeping assist.”

The idea here is that even if the driver gets distracted, the vehicle won’t. That’s because it’s equipped with technology that can respond and avoid imminent danger, usually much faster than a human driver could.

But while automated driving technologies offer the promise of curbing the consequences of distracted driving, they aren’t yet foolproof, as the highly publicized fatal collision earlier this year involving a Tesla Model S on Autopilot demonstrated. It has been widely reported that the driver was distracted and never took over control of the vehicle to apply the brakes before it slammed into the side of a box truck.

“There are many advances in technology being applied to vehicles that are helping fleets achieve improvements in safety and in most every other area imaginable,” Collins said. “Yet, as with any new technology, there can be a bit of trepidation with an operator’s fear of losing control, and the risk of unintended circumstances, where operators think, ‘I’ll just rely on the technology to do it all for me.’”

But what if you could equip the vehicle in a way that prevents drivers from being tempted to pick up the phone in the first place?

For example, Dobrikova recommends installing technology that disables certain functions of the phone while the vehicle is in motion, taking the possibility of phone distraction completely out of the hands of drivers.

“I always like to say that people are human, and no matter what policy is out there, people are going to break the rules,” she said. “I like having solutions that prevent the problem to begin with.”

The product Dobrikova is using with some of her fleet clients is DrivePROTECT from Cellcontrol (, a Baton Rouge, La.-based firm that develops technology to stop distracted driving in passenger and commercial vehicles.

“A device is placed inside the vehicle behind the rearview mirror, which senses the vehicle’s acceleration,” Dobrikova explained. “While the vehicle is moving, the system sends a Bluetooth signal to the phone to go into safe mode. But when they’re at a stoplight or a stop sign, drivers can still access their phone.”

Dobrikova said that fleet or safety administrators can customize the Cellcontrol system to allow for certain types of calls or apps to run – such as for navigation or music – while shutting down all other functions. “This way, if the fleet wants to be able to say, ‘Dispatch needs to call you at any time,’ you can set up the system to allow dispatch to call. Or, if you want drivers to have a route optimization app that they need to open, but they don’t need to be on Facebook, you can set it up that way as well. The fleet can decide what the parameters will be and what they’re going to allow for the phone usage.”

The Bottom Line
It’s one thing to have a strict distracted driving policy; it’s entirely another to ensure that drivers actually comply with that policy when they’re out in the field. That requires accountability – and technology can help. As Dobrikova put it, “I’m sure everybody will admit to being distracted on their phone at least one time in their life. If we eliminate that risk and are held accountable, we can prevent distracted driving from happening in the first place.”


Distracted Driving By the Numbers
• Text messaging increases your crash risk by 23 times. -Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI)
• Five seconds is the average time your eyes are off the road while texting, which is roughly equivalent to covering the length of a football field blindfolded when traveling 55 mph. -VTTI
• Nearly 80 percent of crashes and 65 percent of near-crashes involved some form of driver inattention within three seconds before the event. -National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
• Engaging in visual-manual subtasks associated with the use of hand-held phones and other mobile devices – such as reaching for a phone, dialing and texting – increases the risk of getting into a crash by three times. -VTTI
• In 2013, 3,154 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers and approximately 424,000 people were injured. -NHTSA

Eversource Energy’s New Approach to Change Management in Fleet

About a year ago, the fleet team at Eversource Energy ( launched an initiative to standardize vehicle and equipment specifications across their three-state service area that includes Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire. Their objective: Cut fleet costs by limiting vehicle configurations to specific job descriptions. This would enable the fleet to strengthen its buying power (by purchasing a higher volume of same-spec units); streamline parts inventories across all their locations (by operating more equipment from fewer OEMs); and benefit from shorter order-to-delivery cycles (by ordering from fewer vendors).

“If you’re a lineworker, the function of a material-handling truck is going to be the same whether you’re in New Hampshire, Connecticut or Massachusetts,” said Steve Driscoll, vice president of operation services for Eversource, which is New England’s largest electric and gas utility, with about 6,500 fleet assets, including trailers. “In the past, we allowed for differences and customization in equipment, based on an operator’s personal preferences. We recognized the need for going to a standard vehicle across the board to be more efficient and reduce costs.”

But the Eversource team also recognized that many of their end users might not like the change. After all, operators had become accustomed to having their vehicles a certain way for years. And they would likely feel resentment toward fleet, especially if no one clearly explained the why behind the changes.

Effective Change Management
So, to help ease the transition, Eversource decided to take a new approach to introducing new vehicle and equipment models to operators. Beginning earlier this year, the Eversource fleet team began conducting comprehensive in-service events, each lasting about two to three hours, with classroom instruction and hands-on demonstrations.

The events are led by each of the key vendor partners involved with the build-out of the truck, including the chassis manufacturer, body manufacturer and equipment upfitters. The utility’s insurance agency, Liberty Mutual, also sends an expert, who typically opens the event by teaching safe driving and equipment operation practices during the classroom portion of the agenda.

“We recognized that this change toward fleet standardization was significant, and we would need to address the change directly with those who would be affected by it,” Driscoll said. “We couldn’t simply have new trucks dropped off – as in, ‘Here’s your new truck’ – without explaining the changes. So, it’s helpful to have all the manufacturers there because they bring a lot of credibility in helping explain some of the benefits that come with the new specs.”

In the past, if an aerial platform truck was being delivered, only the aerial device manufacturer would conduct a brief in-servicing overview for the operators. “There was no involvement of the chassis manufacturer, no involvement of any of the other upfitters involved with the truck. They would come in, go over the owner’s manual and briefly demonstrate the platform operation,” Driscoll said. And in some cases, depending on the vehicle, “it would just be in-serviced by the mechanics in the garage, with a ‘come by and pick up your new vehicle’ approach.”

But now, Eversource puts on a full-scale in-service event whenever they introduce a new vehicle. “You’re taking the time to explain the whys behind the way things are, and I think this has been very helpful with our people accepting the changes,” Driscoll said.

A ‘360-Degree’ In-Service Event
By the end of 2016, Eversource will have conducted over 30 of these comprehensive in-service events – about two to three per month – with anywhere from five to 30 people in attendance, depending on the location and the vehicle being introduced.

What’s on the agenda?

Driscoll said the event starts right after the attendees’ departmental morning meeting. “We try to get the event started early in the morning so the crews can get out to the field.”

The first part consists of a 30- to 40-minute conference room session, with a welcome and introduction by Eversource leadership, a presentation by Liberty Mutual on safe driving techniques and an overview by the vehicle manufacturer. “If it’s Altec, for example, they’ll go over some of the highlights and what’s new in the equipment from previous years,” Driscoll said.

“I’ll do a ‘walk-around’ on PowerPoint,” said Adam Engel, senior account manager at Altec Industries (, who has participated in several in-servicing events with Eversource this year. “And whatever the option we’re going over – whether it’s a ladder rack, a cross-arm holder, a chainsaw box – the goal is to make sure [attendees] understand that there’s a function to each piece of equipment that was put on the vehicle.”

After the indoor session is over, the attendees take a quick break and head outside.

“We have a couple of the vehicles outside pre-staged to go through,” Driscoll said. “We’ll do a walk-around on the vehicle with the attendees, with the chassis manufacturer explaining all the options inside the cab. Then we’ll go through the body with the body manufacturers.”

If the truck is equipped with an aerial device, the manufacturer’s representative demonstrates the operation and the characteristics of the aerial itself. “We’re going to start by highlighting everything inside the cab that pertains to the equipment, such as all of the switches and anything that we’ve added inside the chassis that the operators might not be familiar with,” Engel said.

Then there’s an opportunity for hands-on driving for the participants. “We’ll have an area set up with cones, where Liberty Mutual will take each driver through a course to practice backing, using the mirrors or backup camera, and so forth,” Driscoll said. “Depending on the type of vehicle, we take people over the road so they can get the feel of towing a machine behind that specific vehicle.”

To minimize downtime for operators, the Eversource fleet team and vendor partners bring the in-service event to the area where the operators will be using the new vehicles. “We want to have an efficient session and be cognizant of their time – to get people back out doing what they need to do in the field as soon as possible,” Driscoll said.

What makes an Eversource in-servicing event different than typical new vehicle deliveries?

“Eversource’s in-depth and interactive in-service is unique in the industry,” Engel said. “With [an Eversource event], it’s a comprehensive, 360-degree model. You’ve got somebody who has ownership on each piece of this vehicle, who has the expertise to answer questions specific to their part of the truck. Altec is proud to be a part of Eversource’s in-service events, and we recognize the importance they bring with enhancing safety and streamlining the delivery process.”

Moving Forward
Driscoll said the company expects to continue the pace of two to three in-service events per month for the foreseeable future, indicating that the events have been helping smooth the transition to the new standardized specs.

“If you don’t take time to explain things when in-servicing a vehicle, you run the risk that there will be friction with drivers because of all the changes, and that can taint the perception of the fleet,” Driscoll said. “As the asset owner, we’re very sensitive to that. We want drivers to know that when we invest in fleet, we do it in a thoughtful way and understand how they’ll be using these trucks. These in-service events help us communicate that message directly.”

3-Point Checklist for Spec’ing the Right Backhoe

A backhoe is not likely to be the asset most often purchased for a utility company’s fleet. For example, Duke Energy – which has more than 15,000 fleet assets – “may only purchase three or four a year,” said Chris Jolly, Duke’s director of regional operations for Carolinas West.

That means a purchaser may not be as familiar with the required specs for a backhoe as he or she may be with, say, the specs for a standard pickup truck used by the utility.

But it is just as important to get the specs right, said Eric Zieser, NAFTA product manager for backhoes at CASE Construction Equipment. “Buyers really do need to understand their entire fleet and how a backhoe plays into it. By under-specifying a machine, you may actually be creating more work and cost for yourself in the future by having to bring in/rent/transport additional equipment to do the job.”

So, when spec’ing the next backhoe for your fleet, keep these three points in mind.

1. Know what you need.
At Duke Energy, an acquisition team works closely with crews in the field, despite having a corporate agreement with one manufacturer for a standard backhoe, according to Jolly. Even with that standard equipment, there are options.

“Listen to your customers and work closely with the manufacturer. They’ve got the history of what the product can do,” Jolly said.

And skip the idea that a bigger engine or greater dig depth is always the answer. Zieser points out that large backhoes provide greater digging depth and power, but their size may limit their access to worksites. In addition, wide tracks may provide more stability yet may be more difficult to transport. “That’s why it’s so important for backhoe buyers to understand their application – and how that backhoe fits into the overall flow of their fleet,” Zieser said.

2. Consider more than price.
While price is certainly an important consideration, utility also must be factored into the equation when spec’ing a backhoe. “Not understanding how that backhoe will be utilized and optimizing the asset to its greatest potential can be even more costly,” Zieser said.

He points to the option of auxiliary hydraulics as an example. “By not adding greater auxiliary hydraulic options to a backhoe, will you now have to bring in other machines to operate certain attachments and perform certain tasks?”

Even with the standard backhoe configuration, Duke Energy permits an integrated tool package to be added, which allows the bucket to be changed out for forks. “It makes the unit a little more versatile,” Jolly said.

Warranty, preventive maintenance and ongoing upkeep also must be considered during the spec’ing process, Zieser said. “Each manufacturer has its own warranty and conditions. It’s important to understand that, and to understand how the local dealer representative works with you to carry out the terms of that warranty.”

In terms of maintenance, Zieser points to CASE’s SiteWatch telematics, which monitors equipment performance and tracks engine hours to ensure maintenance is done on time.

3. Enhance safety features and operator comfort.
Clearly, utility fleet managers have a number of items to consider when spec’ing backhoes, and operator comfort is one that cannot be forgotten. At Duke, Jolly said that could include allowing some modifications based on operator desires. Florida backhoe operators may want an open cab with a fan while those in the Midwest may prefer a closed cab.

Safety also is important, and Duke is always on the lookout for new enhancements. Jolly said manufacturers are open to input about safety features that utility fleets would like to see, such as the inclusion of ladders on the side of bulldozers, which is something Duke discussed with Caterpillar. “Now we can spec and order that,” Jolly said.

Ultimately, an important key to a strong backhoe spec may be reaching out to other utility fleet professionals, Jolly said. “Don’t hesitate to call on other utilities to ask what our experience has been and how things are working for us. We’re open to share that type of information to help others out.”

About the Author: Sandy Smith is a freelance writer and editor based in Nashville, Tenn.


Key Questions to Ask
Eric Zieser, NAFTA product manager for backhoes for CASE Construction Equipment, suggests that fleet managers ask the following questions in order to select the best backhoe for their operation.

1. How will the backhoe be transported? Your current trailer may determine the backhoe size – or bring the added costs of buying a new trailer.

2. What is the anticipated digging depth? Zieser recommends going beyond your average operating conditions to ensure you can tackle typical jobs that come your way.

3. What types of auxiliary hydraulics are needed? “If you are running multiple attachments, a combination hydraulics setup is ideal, as owners can then switch back and forth between unidirectional and bidirectional, as needed,” Zieser said.

3 Mistakes to Avoid When Managing Vendor Relationships

Maintaining strong working relationships with vendors is critical to running a smooth fleet operation.

To find out what makes and breaks these relationships, UFP recently spoke with Ron Henne, transportation supervisor for Eversource in Connecticut and Western Massachusetts; Matt Gilliland, director of transportation and facilities for Nebraska Public Power District; and Mel Holloway, product manager for global fleet management company ARI.

For all three men, customer service stands out as a major factor in determining if a vendor is going to be a short- or long-term partner.

Nebraska Public Power District has been working with several suppliers for 10 to 20 years because they continue to meet the fleet’s customer service expectations, according to Gilliland.

“We look for a vendor who will fix or supply it right the first time, on time, and at a fair price,” he said.

In addition to great customer service, vendors that provide total support – including post-sales support such as training – help seal the deal for Henne.

But what prevents fleet managers and vendors from establishing effective relationships? Be cautious of these three pitfalls.

1. Placing Too Much Emphasis on Cost
One mistake fleet managers make is basing purchase decisions – whether for equipment or service – solely on cost. Expecting something for next to nothing is a bad way to start or maintain a strong relationship with a vendor.

“Don’t just look at price,” Henne said. “Do your due diligence. Equipment is not a short-term purchase. You’re making a 10- to 15-year decision. The purchase price could be great, but what’s it going to cost you down the road? For example, you might save $1,000 on a piece of equipment, but roadside assistance is not included with the five-year warranty and could cost $5,000 to have it delivered every time it has a problem. So you really have to check everything. It’s the total package – the parts, the training, the warranty.”

Gilliland echoed that sentiment. “Poor customer service, poor delivery timelines and shoddy work cost more in the long run than any money saved up front,” he said. “A wise man once told me this: There are three kinds of service: fast, cheap and good. Pick two because you can never have all three.”

He strongly recommends a matrix approach to vendor selection that includes inputs such as local presence, past performance, response time, cost, warranty and support systems.

2. Poor Communication
It is no secret that excellent communication is essential to any strong relationship, but fleet managers and vendors sometimes struggle to effectively interact with each other.

“Many fleet managers have their own preferred communication methods, but above all communication needs to be timely and efficient,” Holloway said. “[Fleet management companies] need to blend a variety of techniques ranging from proactive push reporting to phone calls and in-person communications to ensure they are meeting the client’s need for information.”

Both Henne and Gilliland prefer to communicate with vendors via email.

However, fleet managers and vendors should choose their communication method based on what’s happening within their operation at the time. “If you’re going to buy 50 new trucks, that’s not an email,” Henne said. “That’s when you need to schedule several meetings. For a high-risk or complex situation, you’re going to want to be face to face.”

Holloway advised fleet managers to communicate often. “Don’t wait until there is a problem to reach out to a vendor,” he said. “Treat vendors as if they are a valued part of your team. Communicating changes about the fleet or equipment will help your vendors to stay up to date on your company’s needs.

“Remember that your vendor also has a business to run,” Holloway continued. “Scheduling conflicts, deadlines, cash flow and business growth are problems faced by most vendors. Awareness of and responsiveness to each other’s issues can help build long-term, satisfying and beneficial relationships with vendors.”

3. Unclear Goals and Expectations
Fleet managers must avoid ambiguity about their goals, objectives and expectations, particularly when it comes to expressing them to their vendor partners.

“Make sound decisions,” Henne said. “Develop your spec – consult internal users and make sure it’s detailed with everything needed – and then set out to bid with all the requirements.”

Determine which one vendor can provide what you need, when you need it, and for the right price. Evaluate everything from response time to contract terms to costs. Relationships take time to develop, so select a vendor with whom you and your fleet will be able to grow. At the same time, train vendors to meet your needs if necessary.

When a vendor understands how important customer service is to you, for example, they will be encouraged to work harder in that area. An understanding of your goals will help them make the best decisions in your favor.

About the Author: Grace Suizo has been covering the automotive fleet industry since 2007. She spent six years as an editor for five fleet publications and has written more than 100 articles geared toward both commercial and public sector fleets.

Utility Fleets and the Sharing Economy

In our increasingly shared economy, even some utility fleets are moving from “mine” to “ours.”

This certainly makes sense. In addition to the fact that utility equipment and vehicles often are costly, they’re also unlikely to be in constant use. Pooling and sharing resources, then, can help cut down on surplus, reduce expenses and streamline operations.

The even better news? As the sharing economy has matured – think of Airbnb, Uber and Lyft – so have the technology offerings that help make it possible. There’s online forum MuniRent (, for example, which allows municipalities to share surplus goods and equipment. AssetWorks ( offers fleet management software along with an automated motor pool solution, and allows reservations through smartphones and tablets. And then there’s Agile FleetCommander (, web-based fleet and motor pool software that has been used by fleets in virtually all categories.

Naturally, the argument can be – and often is – made that there’s a segment of a utility fleet that can’t be downsized because it’s used during emergencies and peak demand. It’s also true that some vehicles have specialized tools onboard that are assigned to a particular individual.

The key is in recognizing that “no vehicle sharing initiative should try to apply the same rules for all types of vehicles and equipment,” said Ed Smith, co-founder, president and CEO of Agile Access Control Inc., developer of the Agile FleetCommander software. Fleet managers must acknowledge that real obstacles are present, he said, but also that some constructed barriers to sharing “simply aren’t fact-based.” Technology can help fleet managers know who has custody of a vehicle – and its keys – as well as assist in reporting and chargebacks.

Dave Meisel, senior director of transportation and aviation services for Pacific Gas and Electric Co., said his department has tried sharing initiatives on multiple occasions, with varying levels of success. One of the challenges is that many first responders are dispatched from their homes, so their equipment is not at a central location. But there are trouble trucks, line trucks, dump trucks, digger derricks, directional boring equipment, cars and pickups that are shared across PG&E’s operating departments.

“When it’s reasonable and practical, you can have an asset in gas today and in electric tomorrow,” Meisel said. However, he doesn’t consider it a rightsizing effort as much as he does good business sense – especially when scaled to a fleet of 15,000 assets and a service territory of 75,000 square miles.

But yes, there has been pushback.

“Most of the people I know in this industry, they’re really conscious of trying to be responsive, trying to meet our customers’ needs as soon as possible,” Meisel said. “They’re great people and are really hard-wired for emergency and customer response. Sometimes that thought process leads them to want to keep equipment locally just in case something bad happens. But when you add that up over 100 locations, that can add up to a lot of equipment and a significant, unnecessary operating expense.”

Being able to make the case for the business decision has helped many come around, Meisel said, and if the needed equipment isn’t available through the pool, a rental follows.

Florida Power & Light Co. also has a pool of utility vehicles, the result of a utilization analysis several years ago. The organization, an Agile Access Control customer that uses the Agile FleetCommander software, was able reduce its fleet by more than 60 specialty vehicles, Smith said, while still providing a high level of service. “Not only did they receive $7.5 million when they disposed of the vehicles, they no longer had the costs associated with depreciation, replacement and maintenance,” he said.

So, where does a fleet manager even start? Meisel said it begins with a true understanding of how equipment is currently being used – and how it’s not.

Ultimately, though, the success of any effort may come down to the way it’s presented. Cost savings can lead to the purchase of newer equipment and a younger fleet overall. In addition, the ability to turn over reporting, cleaning and fueling to a central facility might help make sharing a winning proposition for all involved.

About the Author: Fiona Soltes is a longtime freelance writer based just outside Nashville, Tenn. Her regular clients represent a variety of sectors, including fleet, engineering, technology, logistics, business services, disaster preparedness and material handling. Prior to her freelance career, Soltes spent seven years as a staff writer for The Tennessean, a daily newspaper serving Nashville and the surrounding area.


The Sharing Economy by the Numbers
Today’s sharing economy – also known as the on-demand economy, peer-to-peer economy or collaborative consumption – has stretched across numerous industries. Airbnb, Spotify, TaskRabbit, Uber and others all offer opportunities to share and share alike.

But how much is it catching on? In April 2015, PwC ( released the following statistics in “Consumer Intelligence Series: The Sharing Economy.” At that time:
• 19 percent of adults surveyed had engaged in a sharing economy transaction; 7 percent had been providers.
• 86 percent agreed that sharing is making life more affordable.
• 83 percent agreed the sharing economy results in greater convenience and efficiency.
• 76 percent believed the sharing economy is better for the environment.
• 72 percent of adults were concerned that the quality of sharing economy experiences will be inconsistent.
• 89 percent believed the sharing economy is based on trust between provider and user, but 69 percent were concerned about putting their trust in these services.

To see the full report, visit

Recruiting and Retaining Top Mechanics

A water main bursts. Power lines get damaged by severe weather. A major gas line leak is detected. Whatever type of utility you work for, your fleet vehicles and equipment need to be ready to roll in an instant to confront any emergency that impacts customers. And that’s what makes having dependable, top-flight mechanics so important. How can utility fleets more effectively prepare and position themselves to compete for the best technicians and keep them on board?

More Jobs, Fewer Candidates
The starting point is to address a key trend that you’re likely experiencing in your own fleet.

As baby boomer mechanics get set to retire, it’s becoming more of a challenge to find young qualified mechanics to fill those spots. And that’s a situation Dale Collins, CAFM, the fleet services supervisor for Fairfax County Water Authority (Fairfax Water) in Fairfax, Va., is experiencing firsthand. Collins manages the utility’s two maintenance facilities staffed by seven full-time mechanics.

“In the next five years, four out of our seven full-time staff are going to be retired,” Collins said. “So, what’s big on our radar right now is trying to put together a succession plan internally and hopefully find some good-quality applicants and backfill some staff members, so we can bring them up to speed before a lot of our retirements set in.”

But the challenge, he said, is that the pool of potential candidates seems to be shrinking. “There’s not a lot of focus and emphasis on the trades anymore in the education system. So, a lot of millennials and young people coming up now are missing golden opportunities to get a really good career, with a bright and stable financial future.”

Demand for quality mechanics continues to increase. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment in the automotive repair sector will increase 9 percent from 2012 to 2022, and demand for diesel mechanics will grow by 12 percent during that span.

Recruiting Strategies
In light of a looming mechanics shortage, where can you find good young talent?

“Man, that’s tough,” said Paul Jefferson, fleet manager for Oklahoma Gas & Electric (OG&E), who oversees a team of 24 mechanics across 10 locations. “We’re working with our recruiting department all the time on that issue.”

Jefferson said that the last few candidates came by word-of-mouth referrals. “Somebody here at OG&E knows somebody who knows somebody. We also post job openings on our website, but we typically don’t get many candidates out of that.”

Collins said that Fairfax Water’s internship program has been helpful in establishing relationships with young mechanics, who sometimes become full-time staff members. “We usually hire two interns each year for our summer internship program. The interns can kind of road test the work, and we can road test them.”

But to find qualified candidates to choose from, you need to tap every possible talent source.

“I have hired mechanics from everywhere – mechanics from dealerships and independent repair shops, aviation mechanics, parts specialists, and students from community colleges and trade schools,” Collins said.

Another source for finding good mechanics: Craigslist.

“Sometimes you’ve got to try some out-of-the-box stuff,” Jefferson said. “I’ve posted jobs on Craigslist, which was a tip we got from one of our truck dealers we do business with. We tried that with our last position and we’ve hired a couple mechanics from it.”

During the recruiting process, highlight the key selling points as to why a candidate should select your organization.

“We focus on financial stability,” Collins said. “You may not start out with a huge salary, but you can always depend on a steady paycheck and a bright future. And we offer a generous benefits package that includes annual and sick leave, medical, dental and vision insurance, educational reimbursement, continued technical training and a very good retirement plan.”

Keeping Top Mechanics
When you’re bringing new mechanics on board, how can you improve your odds of keeping them for the long haul? Here are three tips.

1. Be willing to adjust.
A major challenge impacting employee retention that Jefferson dealt with was OG&E’s night-shift-only schedule for mechanics. “Since we don’t have a lot of spare equipment, those assets need to be used during the day,” he said. “So, we would do most maintenance and repairs at night.”

But the constant night shift schedule did not work well with younger mechanics with young families, which caused many of them to quit.

“We found that the younger generation doesn’t like to work nights,” Jefferson said. “They like to be home at night with the family and kids and are not as tolerant of working night shift all the time.”

The adjustment? “That’s when we started really looking at how we can plan repairs and maintenance during the day and start offering a rotating shift,” Jefferson said. “Now we have a day shift that’s from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and an evening shift that’s from 1 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. [Mechanics] work one shift for two weeks, and then they rotate, which seems to have worked very well for everyone.”

2. Invest time to understand what motivates your mechanics.
When it comes to motivating mechanics and keeping them happy, there’s no one answer. “You’ve just got to take the time to learn what motivates your people. It’s not easy,” Jefferson said. “Some people are motivated by money, some are motivated by time off, some are motivated by instant gratification.”

The last example – instant gratification – is particularly relevant when working with millennials. Jefferson said this means that supervisors should not wait until the month-end or year-end performance review to provide feedback; they should do it as close to the moment as possible.

“If a mechanic finds something that wasn’t real obvious and does a great job fixing the problem, instead of waiting until the end of the month when you do their performance review, tell them as soon as possible, ‘Hey, you did a great job!’” Jefferson said.

3. Make effective communication a top priority.
“Assume nothing,” Collins advised. “Talk to your staff regularly. Let them know that you appreciate what they do and talk about things that need to be improved. Be sure to highlight the big picture of the business and how important their contribution is to the overall success of the organization. This gives them a greater sense of belonging as a valuable part of your team.”

Any way you look at it, your ability to attract and keep top talent hinges on your leadership. As Collins sums it up, “The best way to recruit and retain great employees is to lead them effectively. So, develop yourself, keep learning and never think that you know everything.”

Is 3-D Printing Shaping Up for Replacement Parts?

The mere presence of some cars can inspire creative journeys and wishful thinking. But a life-size Shelby Cobra, made with a 3-D printer? That takes even visionaries down a whole different road.

Cincinnati Inc. ( – an innovative machine tool manufacturer for more than 100 years – has been behind the printing of two such cars through its Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM) technology; the first was in conjunction with Oak Ridge National Laboratory (, the largest U.S. Department of Energy science and energy lab, located in Oak Ridge, Tenn. Over the past couple of years, the cars have been used as marketing tools, a clear demonstration of potential.

Even though the Cobras have been transported to events in enclosed trailers rather than driven, they’re still enough to make many stop and wonder: If a 3-D printer can make a car or other vehicle, wouldn’t it follow that it would soon be in use to supply equipment parts as well? Will we soon see maintenance shops creating their own replacement parts for utility and other vehicles, rather than having to store them, purchase them elsewhere or wait for delivery?

Time to tap the brakes. Three-dimensional printing is indeed showing promise in a variety of industries. But in terms of creating parts that can withstand heat, water, chemicals and other challenges facing current automotive materials, we’re not there yet. First, there’s a fundamental point of physics to be overcome, said Duncan Stewart, director of technology, media and telecommunications research for Deloitte Canada ( Even if printers and processes become significantly faster – silencing those who believe no one will want to wait the hours it takes to create parts – there’s still the matter of allowing each printed layer to cool completely before the next one is applied. Eventually, the rate of progress will reach a saturation point.

“I am willing to say that 3-D printers will be faster in 2020,” Stewart said. “But that doesn’t mean that something that takes eight hours to print will take seven. It may go from eight hours to six, or maybe four, but it’s not going to be eight minutes.”

Listen to the current hype, and it’s easy to believe that 3-D printing is already being done en masse – and for a lot more than making Star Wars figurines. But as far as Stewart knows, based on conversations in recent years with those in the industry, there are no major manufacturers using finished parts in their production cars today.

What’s more likely is that 3-D printing will increasingly be used for tooling, jigs, dies, molds and rapid prototyping. Stewart also envisions a rise in service bureaus printing out specific items in “ones and twos” rather than larger quantities, as well as the use of 3-D printers for, say, items needed on an aircraft carrier or in space, where the wait for a spare would be significantly longer.

Overall, though, “we’ve got to dial this stuff back,” he said. “There are some unrealistic expectations.”

At Cincinnati Inc., BAAM is indeed available; the latest iteration can print objects as large as 20 feet long by 8 feet wide by 6 feet tall, at a rate of 100 pounds of material per hour. But it’s considered a beta machine rather than a product machine, and it’s offered through “pre-qualified sale,” said Matt Garbarino, marketing manager. Cincinnati’s forte is in machine building, not material development; the company wants to ensure that engineering resources and the right materials suppliers are able to join in the collaboration, so the company is more likely to sell to someone with like-minded objectives. Development must continue so that end products have the right properties.

Also of note is how a newly printed item comes off a 3-D machine. For the second Shelby Cobra, for example, the body took 12 hours to print, but sanding, painting and decaling it took weeks.

Regardless, 3-D enthusiasm continues to rise. When Cincinnati Inc. displayed one of the cars at The Work Truck Show 2016, which took place in March, Garbarino said many attendees were astonished. People’s familiarity with Cincinnati Inc. and the company’s understanding of fabrication made the conversations easy.

As for conversations about possibility? Those still come easy, too. But the path there may be a bit longer – and rougher around the edges – than many realize.

About the Author: Fiona Soltes is a longtime freelance writer based just outside Nashville, Tenn. Her regular clients represent a variety of sectors, including fleet, engineering, technology, logistics, business services, disaster preparedness and material handling. Prior to her freelance career, Soltes spent seven years as a staff writer for The Tennessean, a daily newspaper serving Nashville and the surrounding area.


In Some Industries, 3-D Printing Has Already Moved on Down the Road
No, the experts say – we won’t be printing spare parts from the back of a utility truck any time soon, due to cost, time and practicality considerations. But 3-D printing is making definite strides elsewhere.

Surgeons in numerous areas have begun using 3-D printing to provide new perspectives and practice for particular procedures. These might include, for example, the replication of a baby’s heart or skull. Training on the printed parts can reduce the time the child would have to spend under anesthesia.

Phoenix-based Local Motors ( is working toward the creation of a 3-D printed car that will exceed Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards by 2017. Partners include IBM, integrating Internet of Things technology through IBM Watson; Siemens’ Solid Edge to provide CAD modeling; global design firm IDEO to “renew” Local Motors Labs (the company’s small-footprint micro-factories are aimed at sustainable, community-based vehicle development); and SABIC to improve materials.

Upfitting Cargo Vans with Ergonomics in Mind

In order to keep employee health costs and downtime to a minimum, ergonomics – or fitting a job to the person performing the job – must play a big role in upfitting fleet vehicles.

Many of today’s fleet administrators are tuned in to the importance of employee ergonomics, and an ever-increasing number are focused on keeping their utility fleet vehicle drivers safe and efficient, rather than simply giving them the tools to do their jobs. The mindset has evolved from determining vehicle shelf capacity and how ladders will be stored to asking questions of individual drivers such as:
• Do you need to carry all of your inventory and multiple ladders at all times?
• Which frequently used items can be located near the doors so you don’t need to climb into the vehicle?
• Is there a safer way to transport and access your ladders?
• How can you stay safe on the job without sacrificing productivity?

For cargo van drivers, one of the primary ergonomic issues associated with using that type of vehicle is climbing in and out of it, often while stepping over items on the floor with their arms full of gear. To minimize the need to enter the van – as well as the risk of back or joint injury – drivers should determine the tools and inventory they frequently use and place those items near the doors for easy access from outside the van. This can be accomplished using shelving and bins located within arm’s reach, drawers that open out through the cargo door and hooks for quick grab-and-go items.

Another major safety concern that stems from the use of cargo vans is the accessibility and use of ladders. Ladders have traditionally been carried on the roof of service vehicles, posing great risk to employees’ shoulders and backs when they attempt to retrieve, carry and stow these heavy pieces of equipment. Today, the goal of fleet administrators and upfitters alike is to find a way to make ladder use less of a liability. One solution is drop-down ladder racks. On a cargo van equipped with a drop-down rack, ladders are still carried on the vehicle’s roof, but a mechanized rack raises and lowers the ladders up and down the side of the van, delivering improved ergonomics for loading and unloading.

A second option to consider is keeping ladders inside the van. Workers can store short ladders upright on the partition or shelf end, hang them from the ceiling, or stow them under a subfloor or on a ladder shelf. By determining the ladder or ladders that need to be carried first, and by considering the vehicle being used, a utility fleet’s upfitter can suggest the best ladder storage options for optimal ergonomics.

Education is Essential
In order to create the most ergonomic vehicle work interiors, it is critical for utility fleet managers to research options, interview drivers and collaborate with the fleet’s upfitter. But what happens if – after the vehicles have been upfitted – driver feedback is still less than ideal? What’s missing? Is it possible that the drivers don’t fully understand how to make the upfit work for them?

Driver education is an essential part of the process of upfitting vehicles for improved ergonomics. When the vehicles are first delivered, fleet managers should be sure to lead a walk-around with their drivers to explain in detail why a shelf or drawer is located in a specific place and what cargo it is intended to hold. Recommend that frequently used items be positioned near the door, while other items can be stored deeper in the van. Demonstrate how to safely load and unload ladders. In addition to being an ergonomics and a safety imperative, training drivers is key to getting the most out of the fleet’s upfit investment.

And make no mistake, it is an investment. Fleet managers invest time and money upfront to create a work environment that suits employees, with the goal of improved efficiency and minimized downtime. When upfits and employee training are properly executed, the utility’s return on investment will include greater driver satisfaction, increased productivity and more satisfied customers.

About the Author: Tricia Singer has been writing for the commercial vehicle market for more than 18 years and has extensive experience within the commercial van equipment and upfitting industry. Her background includes marketing and graphic design for the Adrian Steel Co. (


Make Your Current Vehicles Work Better for You
If new vehicles or upfits aren’t in your immediate future, here are a few ideas to improve the ergonomics of your current interiors.
• Re-evaluate the cargo you are carrying. Do you need everything?
• Items that are used on most jobs should be stored near the van’s doors so you don’t have to climb into the van to reach them. Add storage hooks or removable totes to these areas for additional organization.
• Store items that aren’t accessed every day – but must be kept on hand – deeper in the van. They’ll be easy to locate without getting in the way of other items you need to access more frequently.
• Store large and heavy items on the floor or as close to waist-high as possible to ease in lifting.
• Learn the proper, most ergonomic way to load and unload ladders from the roof racks you are using.

Using Gamification to Improve Employee Performance

Today’s utility fleets have a powerful tool at their disposal, and it’s one that nearly everybody already carries with them: mobile apps that run on cellphones and tablets.

By tying new apps into existing fleet and work order management systems, fleet managers can help employees improve their execution of day-to-day tasks through use of their mobile devices. This article will take a look at exactly how today’s utility fleets can use gamification to coach and improve worker performance in real time, and why utility fleet managers should consider engaging with gamification to drive a more satisfied, efficient and safe workforce.

What is Gamification?
Gamification is the use of game mechanics in a context that is typically not game-oriented. It is used by software companies to build business applications that increase engagement and participation while accelerating learning. Gamification leverages our human nature to compete with ourselves and others, with the objective of encouraging teams to achieve company-wide goals and – in the fleet world – deliver greater safety, productivity and compliance. To accomplish this, the apps provide real-time data to users so they can track and eventually improve their performance.

So, how can you integrate gamification into your organization? There are three phases you must complete: establishing your mission, aligning objectives with your mission and deployment.

Establishing Your Mission
While your crews may be a subset of a larger business, there’s no reason they shouldn’t have their own mission that aligns and supports the overall corporate mission. Once the mission is established, it’s time to break it down into individual objectives that support the mission. For example, the mission may be to operate the safest utility fleet in your region, so the objectives may include reducing speeding incidents, hours-of-service violations and vehicle idle time.

Measurable key performance indicators (KPIs) should be created based on the established objectives. Make sure they are as specific as possible. No sport would ever achieve popularity if the goal was unclear to players. Regardless of what your objectives are – increasing productivity, decreasing fuel costs or improving the safety of your crews – the secret to achieving them is to keep them SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound.

Aligning Objectives
The next step is to review your objectives to ensure they align with business operations. For instance, if your company puts working as quickly as possible first and safety second, then setting an objective to reduce speeding won’t align with the mission. Get your company influencers – typically managers and supervisors – involved to review objectives and ensure they align with operations.

It’s important that managers are on board with the new objectives; as leaders, they will play an important role in influencing others and working toward a successful outcome.

After reviewing and refining your objectives and aligning them with your mission, you’re ready for the deployment phase. This phase should go relatively smoothly if you correctly execute the first two phases. The size of your organization will determine the scale of your deployment planning.

In the case of rolling out the use of an app such as Telogis Coach, which provides proactive driver coaching with gamification, smaller utilities may only need brief training. This would include a review of a quick-start guide that explains how the app works, as well as instructions about how to download, install and log in to the app. For larger utility organizations, a more tailored implementation would be beneficial.

But don’t be fooled – deployment involves more than merely instructing your employees to install the gamification app and leaving them to it. For the game element to be most effective, it needs to be refereed. This means determining how long a game will last, monitoring results and celebrating wins.

Employees will soon tire of a game with no end in sight, so set a length of time and make them aware of it. A 90-day game period is most common for achieving fleet KPIs.

To monitor results, you will need a scoreboard to help reinforce the KPIs so drivers know what they are trying to achieve. Gamification apps use predetermined metrics to generate a score, which an employee can access to see how he or she performed against his or her peers. A utility fleet manager can also compare employee scores. The ability to view these scores – and, more importantly, the ability to review the direct correlation between what an employee is doing and how it is impacting the operation – presents an opportunity to improve employee behavior, which is a direct intention of gamification apps. Fleet managers can also use these apps to review the types and frequencies of training content being accessed. By comparing scorecards and training content metrics to fleet’s rates of accidents, lost-time injuries and productivity, managers can draw correlations between what’s working in terms of meeting objectives – and what isn’t.

And finally, celebrate employee wins. You don’t need to do cartwheels in the office every time an employee achieves a perfect score, but there should be recognition and reward. In most cases, the size of the reward isn’t important; it’s about making sure the employee knows you are aware of his or her accomplishment, and that it means something to you and the company.

Real Results
Done right, implementing gamification into your work can be much more than a passing fad. The data derived can be a powerful force for change in your organization, and you’ll have employees who feel more engaged, recognized for good performance and motivated to do their best.

About the Author: Tim Taylor is chief customer success officer for Telogis (

Executing an Effective Fleet Rightsizing Strategy

About four years ago, East Central Energy, an electric distribution cooperative headquartered in Braham, Minn., underwent a corporate restructuring that shifted fleet from operations to the finance department. This reorganization, along with a drop in demand for new services, sparked an initiative to rightsize the fleet, said Holly Giffrow-Bos, East Central Energy’s fleet supervisor.

“When fleet was moved to finance, that’s when we started doing a lot more analyzing and measuring the financial performance of our fleet,” Giffrow-Bos said. “And when the scope of our business changed [with lower demand in new services], we analyzed the impact on our fleet. We measured and ranked our assets at each of our five locations, based on set criteria, to determine which assets we should keep, replace, reassign or eliminate.”

The result: about a 13 percent reduction in fleet assets, from 205 to 178 units since 2011, which has generated tens of thousands of dollars in annual savings for East Central Energy.

A reorganization of sorts also prompted a fleet rightsizing initiative for Matt Gilliland, fleet services manager at Nebraska Public Power District, which operates more than 1,100 fleet assets.

A few years ago, Gilliland’s fleet organization served only the transmission and distribution business units. But in 2012, his department’s responsibilities were expanded to oversee the fleets of all the district’s business units – a total of eight – creating opportunities for fleet consolidation and reduction.

“When we onboarded those business units, we rightsized their fleets, identifying about 70 assets that could go away,” Gilliland said.

Rightsizing Defined
Both Giffrow-Bos and Gilliland will tell you that rightsizing refers to more than simply downsizing. It’s about striking the optimal balance between fleet composition and business requirements. This is because, depending on changes in the business, rightsizing might actually mean having to add assets to maintain proper service levels to customers.

Rightsizing also relates to the right size or spec of a vehicle. In some applications, you might be able to downsize to a vehicle that offers a smaller, more fuel-efficient engine and lower purchase price. But in other instances, you might discover that you need to bump up to a larger truck because the current one has been consistently overloaded, creating premature maintenance issues and excessive downtime.

And it’s important to consider the right type of asset when formulating your rightsizing strategy. For example, you might have assigned someone an SUV, when a less expensive, more fuel-efficient passenger vehicle could still do the job. By making this switch, you may not be reducing the overall fleet size, but you are rightsizing both operational and capital expenditures.

Fleet Manager as Adviser
Any time there’s a proposed change – especially when it impacts a business unit’s access to equipment – there are politics involved. The fleet managers who know how to navigate those politics will be the most successful in implementing positive change for all affected parties.

This starts with the fleet manager taking on the role of an adviser to the leaders of each business unit, said Paul Lauria, who has conducted numerous rightsizing studies for government and utility fleets for more than three decades as president of Mercury Associates (, a fleet management consulting firm based in Rockville, Md.

“In my view, the fleet manager’s role should be to help business units make sound fleet resource decisions that save money and do not impair the operators from doing their jobs,” Lauria said. “It’s not the fleet manager’s responsibility to force operators into accepting a particular type of vehicle. Instead, it’s their role to outline what are the most cost-effective types of resources to perform particular jobs.”

Gilliland agreed. “The role of the fleet manager is mostly tied to information,” he said. “It’s fleet’s job to identify what we should replace and when based on utilization history and life-cycle costing. We take that data and sit down with the supervisor of each independent business unit. We convey to them what we plan to replace and when, and they have an opportunity to provide good feedback on what they really need to do their jobs. It’s more of a collaborative process.”

Lauria said that business unit input is essential before making final decisions about whether to retire an underutilized asset. “That supervisor might say, ‘Yes, I have two backups. But that’s because we’re not doing a great job replacing our frontline units. So now I have to put those backups into service fairly often, while my frontline units are in the garage for repairs.’ Or it might be a situation where the supervisor says, ‘We’ve analyzed the demand for these types of assets during certain times of year and these assets are going to be heavily utilized in the winter months.’”

According to Giffrow-Bos, “If we see something underutilized, we get with the supervisor of that business unit and find out why they aren’t using it. Has the scope of the business changed? Or is it that we haven’t had any jobs that require this piece of equipment? If so, is this something you think you can live without? Or is this something you could rent when the need arises?”

Seeing the Big Picture
While business unit supervisors are best equipped to provide field-level insight into their equipment needs, the fleet manager sees the big picture.

“Fleet managers have enterprise-wide visibility into the costs of the fleet, and the deployment and utilization of vehicles,” Lauria said. “You wouldn’t expect individual business units to have that same visibility.”

And sometimes that difference in perspective can create tension between fleet and the business unit. “One of the key challenges when rightsizing is getting supervisors to see beyond their own business,” Gilliland said. “When it comes time to share or reassign vehicles, it’s somewhat difficult to get leadership of those units to see beyond themselves – to get one business unit to give up an asset for the benefit of another.”

So, how do you navigate a situation like this to help bring about consensus? “It comes down to communication and relationship building. You need to cultivate a relationship with that supervisor so you can have frank yet respectful conversations about what’s best for the organization as a whole,” Gilliland advised.

Lauria recommended using objective data to help business unit supervisors see the financial impact of keeping an underutilized vehicle. “A well-defined cost-chargeback system, for example, creates economic incentives for the business units to pay attention to the fixed cost of adding or keeping fleet assets,” he said. “If a business unit is charged $1,300 a month for the fixed cost of a piece of equipment they barely use, you’re empowering them to say, ‘You know what, this is crazy to keep this. We use this thing six hours a month and we need to explore other options for meeting this particular type of need.’ In some cases, there are no other good options, but the point is that a good charge-back system engages fleet users in the management of fleet costs.”

Rewards of Rightsizing
Even relatively small changes through rightsizing can yield considerable cost savings from a reduction in capital purchases and the elimination of ongoing maintenance, tax and insurance costs for each asset retired from the fleet.

For example, three years ago East Central Energy began the process of retiring or reassigning 12 vehicles by switching over to an IRS-approved driver reimbursement program managed by Runzheimer International (, a Waterford, Wis.-based firm that provides mobility program management services. “We were able to take the 12 vehicles and reassign or eliminate them from the inventory,” Giffrow-Bos said. “If it was a decent truck and worthy to keep in our fleet, we would reassign it to another district and fulfill a need of another driver, without having to go outside and purchase a new one.”

The result? “We’ve saved about $38,000 annually with the 12 drivers on the program,” Giffrow-Bos said.

So, how often should you conduct a fleet rightsizing analysis for maximum benefit?

“If you’re talking about doing an enterprise-wide rightsizing study, I’d say once every five years,” Lauria advised. “If you’re identifying individual assets that are clearly being used less than the norm for that type of asset and application, then you could evaluate those opportunities for rightsizing at any time.”

An Ongoing Effort
The key takeaway here is that rightsizing is not a one-and-done project; it’s an ongoing, continuous improvement effort. That’s because the scope of your business can change at any time, directly impacting the number and type of assets you need to ensure that you’re maintaining a fleet that’s the right size.

Winterizing Your Drivers

It’s one thing to winterize your fleet, but what about the drivers who are expected to operate vehicles in harsh winter conditions to repair downed power lines or a broken water main? Are they winterized as well?

This is an important question because snow, sleet and ice impact how a vehicle accelerates, handles and stops. And if your crews aren’t prepared with the driving skills and mindset they need to safely navigate hazardous winter roads, they’re putting their health, the public and your utility’s reputation at risk.

So, how can your organization effectively winterize your drivers? UFP spoke with Art Liggio, president of Driving Dynamics Inc. (, a Newark, Del.-based firm that provides companies with advanced performance driver safety training and fleet risk management expertise. He offered these three tips.

1. Reduce speed as conditions deteriorate.
“While you can actually move quite fast in a straight line on ice and snow, once you have to stop or turn, the laws of physics start to catch up with you,” Liggio said. “Drive responsibly by slowing down and staying vigilant in maintaining a sufficient safety zone.”

Liggio recommends that drivers avoid using the brake whenever possible in deteriorating weather conditions. “Slow down early enough, so you can roll up to a traffic light change without having to brake completely,” he said. “When coasting to slow down, it’s still important to engage your brake lights by lightly pressing the brake pedal so those behind you understand that you are in the process of slowing. But when you do need to stop or slow down, start braking early and gently to keep yourself and others behind you in control.”

2. Know where to focus your eyes.
How do you safely maneuver the vehicle when it begins to skid on ice? The answer starts with your eyes.

“When drivers sense the vehicle is skidding on ice, their tendency is to jerk the steering wheel frantically in all different directions, with their eyes focused on what they want to avoid, like oncoming traffic or parked vehicles, or pedestrians. But what happens is that where you focus your eyes, is where you’re actually pointing the vehicle – toward what you’re trying to avoid,” Liggio said.

This is called “target fixation,” and drivers should focus their eyes on targets that lead them to safety.

“Once you’re able to identify an acceptable escape route, get the wheels pointed in that direction, no matter which direction the vehicle is moving,” Liggio said. “This could be the side of the road or somewhere that would minimize harm to you and the public. Keep your eyes – and the wheels – aimed at where you want to go, not on what you’re trying to avoid.”

3. Adjust for fluctuations in weight distribution.
Weight distribution changes the handling characteristics of a vehicle. If a driver operates a fully loaded truck at the beginning of the day and then unloads it, the empty truck is going perform much differently in terms of center of gravity, acceleration, braking and traction on wintry roads.

“If the truck is fully loaded, that can help with the traction, especially in the rear of the vehicle,” Liggio said. “But as the truck is unloaded, there is less weight on the vehicle and that could increase the potential of slippage in icy conditions. Also, if it’s a rear-wheel-drive vehicle, you might find in slow-moving conditions that as the weather gets worse, you’ll have problems accelerating and can’t get the truck to move.”

How do drivers counter this phenomenon? The starting point is to be aware of how changes in weight distribution can impact the vehicle’s performance and handling, especially in snow and ice conditions.

“You have that muscle memory so ingrained that if you’re used to driving the vehicle at full load, you will likely revert to driving like that even if the vehicle is empty, unless you make yourself more attentive to the changes,” Liggio said.

Hardwiring Safe Winter Driving Skills
How often should drivers be trained for winter driving techniques to instill safe habits? Liggio recommends that drivers receive hands-on instruction – in a training vehicle on a closed course and/or in a simulator – at least once every three years, plus an online refresher course prior to winter in the intervening years to reinforce what they’ve learned.

So, if your fleet operates in an area known for harsh winters, are your drivers and crews ready? Have they been “winterized” – equipped with the enhanced driving awareness and skills they need to safely operate vehicles in snowy and icy conditions?


Winter Weather-Related Crash Statistics
Winter weather can wreak havoc on road conditions and driver safety. Consider these statistics compiled by the Federal Highway Administration, which represent annual averages in the U.S.

Snow/Sleet: 211,188 crashes; 58,011 persons injured; 769 fatalities

Icy Pavement: 154,580 crashes; 45,133 persons injured; 580 fatalities

Snow/Slushy Pavement: 175,233 crashes; 43,503 persons injured; 572 fatalities

Maintenance Management Best Practices to Reduce Costs and Maximize Uptime

In many ways, effective fleet management is as much about reliability as it is about cost. It’s about making sure your vehicles stay on the road in optimal operating condition, minimizing unscheduled maintenance and downtime, using data to predict possible maintenance needs and ensuring you make the best decisions for your business and the bottom line.

With telematics devices and the big data they provide readily available to a wide segment of the marketplace, utility companies are faced with the same opportunities – and challenges – that any other modern, commercial fleet may have when it comes to maximizing performance. Managing and understanding a fleet’s data can lead to more efficient operations and lower overall total cost of ownership (TCO), but the challenge of truly understanding and drawing value from that data can be an overwhelming task. To gain true insight, fleet managers need to put their fleet data to work by:
• Developing and routinely analyzing the right set of key performance indicators.
• Regularly benchmarking their fleet’s performance to establish a roadmap for vehicle replacement, downtime and reliability.
• Establishing a solid maintenance management program that supports utilization, vehicle specifications and procurement.

Big data can have an especially large impact on a fleet’s maintenance program. But for a program to have the most impact and ultimately lower costs, it’s critical that the right work is done at the right time by the right people. Fleet managers should seek to minimize unscheduled maintenance by using predictive evidence garnered from a fleet’s data to optimize scheduled maintenance. For example, say a truck is scheduled to come in for its annual inspection. Will it also likely need an oil and filter change in a month’s time, based on the mileage it is accruing in the field? Can you provide predictive maintenance that minimizes component failure? With proper data analysis, you can know ahead of time and perform all the necessary work during the annual inspection, reducing downtime and maximizing the efficiency of the truck’s time in the shop.

Data analysis can also help you determine if you have the right people to do the job. Best-in-class fleets with robust data analysis capabilities have begun to measure the return on investment from individual maintenance service programs to determine if they are better served by having the work done internally or by an external service provider. With a proper cost analysis, a manager can evaluate whether the fleet has the right tools and systems to do the work in-house, or if outsourcing the work to the most economical, efficient provider is the way to go.

Benchmarking and Inspections
Keep in mind that cost is just one factor in the analysis. Downtime and reliability are also critical components of the overall TCO calculation. While these measurements can be harder to determine, big data can help clarify how these elements are affecting your fleet. When considering downtime and reliability, however, it is important to take a broad perspective. Knowing what works for your fleet and how you compare to others in similar industries with similar fleets will help bring needed insight to how well – or not – your fleet may be performing. Benchmarking in this way will help you understand how you measure up to other best-in-class fleets, identify possible improvements, and provide the opportunity to consider industry-wide approaches and best practices. A complete analysis should also give you the chance to measure cause and effect when you change certain parameters or practices, or if you introduce a different approach into your program.

In addition to in-depth data analysis and benchmarking, another best practice utility fleets should consider is adopting inspection criteria that will yield a thorough review of each vehicle when it is in for annual maintenance. Doing this will go a long way toward preventing unscheduled downtime or unanticipated repairs. Utility fleets should determine if their systems have the capacity to set defined inspection parameters and, if the work is being done in-house, make sure the data is both visible and available to technicians. If the work is being done off-site, fleet managers should ensure the vendor completing the work has access to and is sharing any data with the fleet manager and their fleet management company. Among the biggest mistakes utility fleets make is failing to see the importance of inspection criteria. Other common mistakes include buying the same equipment over and over again, not understanding the true health of the fleet and not recognizing the value of adopting a vehicle life-cycle strategy.

As more utility fleets begin to adopt best practices and embrace the power of big data to uncover cost savings and efficiencies, it is likely certain trends will emerge. Utility fleets that understand the maintenance work they do best in-house are likely to begin outsourcing work the fleet cannot cost-effectively complete. As more data becomes available, fleets will dive deeper into benchmarking and information sharing, leading to increased operational efficiency and transparency. Increased access to data will also lead to improvements in predictive analysis for maintenance needs and the creation of system-generated tools to determine capital investment requirements. This is also likely to lead to fleet rightsizing. Additionally, it is likely utility fleets will continue to embrace and deploy telematics as the data those devices provide improves operations year over year.

In closing, while you may not have adopted all of these strategies in your own fleet, they are worth considering as ways to increase efficiencies, improve operations, advance transparency and lower costs and TCO.

About the Author: Charlie Guthro is vice president of North American fleet management for ARI (, a privately held fleet management company headquartered in Mount Laurel, N.J.


Key Performance Indicators to Help Evaluate Fleet Operations

Total Cost Measurement
• Cost per mile
• Cost per months in service
• Cost per gallon

Maintenance Costs
• Large component failure rate
• Median time between failures
• Routine maintenance vs. breakdown
• Upfit/attachments failure rate

Reliability and Downtime Measures
• Scheduled vs. unscheduled maintenance ratios
• Downtime reports
• Incident/PO ratios
• Labor hours/incident ratios
• Towing, roadside assistance and rentals

When Does Leasing Make Financial Sense for a Utility Fleet?

Own or lease – which vehicle acquisition strategy makes the most sense for utility fleets?

There’s no clear-cut answer, said Marcin Michno, project manager, strategic consulting for Element Fleet Management ( “It’s impossible to define an ideal, uniform leasing scenario for an entire utility industry because there are too many variables, and every company has a different situation. Are they looking to preserve cash? What’s their tax strategy? Are interest rates favorable? What is the company’s risk tolerance? And not all vehicle applications should be treated the same. You have to look at the individual company’s situation and design a financial strategy around that.”

Bill Doman, department head, sales support at ARI (, agrees. “Conventional wisdom is that a regulated [public] utility is going to purchase everything, and an investor-owned utility is more open to leasing. But in reality, we know a few regulated utilities that lease 100 percent of their vehicles. And the vast majority of our utility clients – whether regulated or investor-owned – have a mix of owned and leased vehicles. They’re finding the right applications where they can take advantage of leasing and create a situation where they get the benefits of cash preservation, improved cash flow and potential tax advantages.”

Financial Flexibility
It’s a commonly used term, but what exactly is leasing?

“When you lease, you might be paying only for the usable portion of that vehicle,” said Steve Byrd, manager of truck excellence for Element Fleet Management. “In other words, you’re financing the spread between the capitalized cost of the vehicle and its residual value [the projected worth of the vehicle at the end of the lease term]. So, if the total vehicle cost is $100,000 and the residual is $20,000, you’re leasing $80,000 worth of truck – the amount of the truck you intend to actually use.”

One of the key advantages to leasing is the flexibility to customize the contract in ways that can minimize upfront cash requirements, reduce monthly payments and provide multiple options at lease-end – such as whether to turn in, purchase or sell the vehicle – based on the company’s finance and accounting objectives.

And although there’s no cookie-cutter profile, here are a couple scenarios where utility fleets could benefit from leasing.

High-Use Vehicles
“Generally speaking, it is possible to structure and tailor a lease to be advantageous for fleets with higher mileage and higher utilization,” Byrd said. “Vehicles that are more specialized [such as bucket trucks and digger derricks], with lower miles and longer life cycles, would have different, specific considerations for leasing and ownership. These structures will be different for each of these scenarios.”

What are some examples of high-utilization applications in utility fleets?

“Executive vehicle and meter-reader applications,” Doman said. “In these cases, fleet managers know exactly how many miles those vehicles will travel, and there’s a predictable driving pattern with them. They also tend to replace these vehicles on a shorter life cycle to ensure vehicles look new to maintain a clean public image.”

According to Byrd, “With any application, there should be a discipline to renew your fleet on a regular interval, so you can take advantage of the latest safety technologies, improved fuel efficiencies and lower maintenance costs. Working with your fleet management company will help in promoting that discipline.”

Accelerating Green Fleet Acquisition
Doman points to Edison Electric Institute’s fleet electrification initiative (see as an intriguing leasing opportunity for utility fleets. As of late last year, more than 70 investor-owned utilities had pledged to devote at least 5 percent of their annual fleet budgets to electrified vehicles.

“Instead of taking the 5 percent budget to purchase two large hybrid-electric bucket trucks outright, utilities can structure leases that spread that budget over, say, 50 plug-in electric vehicles for meter-reader applications,” Doman said. “Beyond just getting substantially more vehicles with the same budget, there’s also the PR advantage to that. You can say, ‘We have 50 vehicles out on the road that operate on clean electric power’ and promote that on the sides of your vehicles to make a statement to customers about your investment in the environment.”

Keep an Open Mind
Whether you lean toward ownership or leasing, keep an open mind, Doman advised. “Don’t look at things the way you’ve always done them. There’s a lot of flexibility involved in all the different types of leases available. And look at certain segments of your fleet and explore where it might make sense to put your toe in the water if [leasing] is something you haven’t done before.”


Dig Deeper
To learn more about vehicle leasing, visit these resources:
• “Lease a Truck – Pros and Cons” from
• Equipment Leasing and Finance Association:
• Automotive Fleet & Leasing Association:

Prevent Overloading with Onboard Scales

Overloading trucks and trailers can be an expensive habit. It puts the safety of operators and the public at risk, increases fines and leads to premature wear and tear on vehicles. But when you can’t physically inspect drivers’ loads throughout the day, how do you ensure your trucks are operating at a safe weight?

One solution is to install onboard scales, which help operators immediately determine whether loads fit within the allowable weight capacity of a truck and/or trailer.

How do onboard scales work? Air-Weigh’s LoadMaxx system ( measures change in pressure within an air suspension and then converts the scale’s measurements into comparable on-the-ground weights displayed on an in-cab digital gauge. For axles with leaf-spring suspensions, LoadMaxx uses a deflection sensor that measures the flex in the suspension to determine weight.

Vulcan On-Board Scales (, which are compatible with most suspension types, use load-cell technology with built-in strain gauges that monitor changes in electrical resistance when the cell is deformed by a load. The system transmits and converts the cell’s resistance signals into actual weight readings.

Hauling Variable Loads
While onboard scales can be applied in a wide range of straight truck and tractor-trailer applications, they are especially useful when hauling variable and unpredictable loads.

One day, for example, a Class 8 tractor-trailer might haul a heavy transformer. The next day, that same unit could be transporting a large backhoe. When you’re dealing with variable weights from load to load, onboard scales give crews visibility into the weight of the truck and individual axles (or axle groups) during the loading process.

And the weight of each axle is important to get right. As Tricia Baker, marketing manager for Air-Weigh, put it, “The DOT will still issue a fine when you have just one axle that’s overloaded, even if the total vehicle weight is OK.”

To help ensure compliance with individual axle weights, onboard scales enable crews to quickly identify the optimal load placement relative to each axle. “If you place the transformer too far forward on the trailer [ahead of the trailer axle], your drive weight will be too high because too much weight has been transferred toward the fifth wheel [the hitch above the tractor’s rear axle],” Baker explained. “But if you load the transformer too far behind the axle, the trailer’s axle weight will be too high.”

With onboard scales, crews get immediate feedback on load placement so they can make adjustments, if necessary, without having to drive to the nearest truck scale and wait in line.

Both Vulcan and Air-Weigh systems offer wireless communication capabilities to transmit vehicle weight data to fleet managers and other authorized personnel, giving them greater visibility into their crews’ performance with their day-to-day vehicle payloads.

Baker also said that Air-Weigh’s customers have talked about using onboard scale technology as an effective CDL driver retention tool. This is because onboard weighing helps CDL drivers ensure their load is always compliant, reducing the risk of truck-weight violations being placed on their safety record.

According to Baker, an Air-Weigh tractor and trailer system starts at about $1,000 and goes up from there, depending on the configuration that best fits the application. The company’s online return on investment calculator ( offers scenarios of how much time it can take for fleets to recoup their investment based on the system type, projected number of weekly loads and the estimated scale fees that are eliminated by using onboard scales.

A Practical Application
When you can’t personally inspect each vehicle before it leaves your yard, onboard scales offer a practical way for you to hold crews accountable, ensuring they are operating their vehicles within the proper weight limits. This protects their safety while reducing your organization’s liability exposure.


The Expense of Excessive Weight
Onboard scales can help your fleet reduce these costs associated with operating overweight trucks and trailers:
• Increased liability and safety risks to crews and the public.
• Department of Transportation fines.
• Accelerated wear on tires and brakes.
• Premature failure of major components such as engines, transmissions and axles.
• Potential loss of warranty coverage.
• Shorter vehicle life cycle.

Assessing and Enforcing Distracted Driving Policies

Policies that prohibit employees from using cellphones or being otherwise distracted while driving are so common today that it would be hard to find a utility company without one.

In fact, in 2011 the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration banned the use of all hand-held mobile devices by commercial vehicle drivers. This includes anyone driving a vehicle heavier than 10,000 pounds during interstate business, not just heavy-duty truck drivers with commercial driver’s licenses. Penalties can range from driver disqualification to fines for both the driver and the carrier. Additionally, as of press time, 14 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands prohibit all drivers from using hand-held cellphones while driving.

The real issue for utility fleets, and for any company with vehicles for that matter, is how to measure a policy’s effectiveness. How do companies know if their policy is working?

It’s not easy to figure out, partly because most distracted driving policies are one piece of a company’s larger employee safety program. Aside from post-accident investigations, which should turn up any ill-timed use of a mobile device, measuring the efficacy of distracted driving policies is a little tricky, executives acknowledged.

A 2011 study of distracted driving issues by the Governors Highway Safety Association noted simply that distracted driving communications campaigns and company policies and programs are widely used but have not been evaluated.

Houston-based CenterPoint Energy established its distracted driving policy in 2010. Al Payton, the company’s director of safety and technical training, said he did not have specific data about the efficacy of the program separate from the company’s overall employee safety program, but noted that CenterPoint has had a steady decrease in its number of total incidents. More to the point, the company has seen a change in the types of incidents since CenterPoint implemented a distracted driving policy. “There’s been a decrease in rear-end collisions … which may indicate that our drivers are less distracted,” he said.

Southern California Edison’s policy “prohibits a litany of actions” on hand-held devices, according to Don Neal, the utility’s director of corporate environmental, health and safety. That includes texting and talking and covers smartphones, tablets, PDAs and more. The exceptions are push-to-talk radios and Bluetooth wireless headsets.

“If we have any incident and find that the employee was using a hand-held device, that employee goes into a progressive disciplinary program where the result could be anywhere from a note to termination,” Neal said.

Bill Orlove, spokesman for Florida Power and Light Co., said the company does not have data on its policy’s efficacy but noted that the fleet communicates with drivers throughout the year and at safety meetings.

FPL’s distracted driving policy prohibits all employees from using any hand-held device while behind the wheel on behalf of the company, he said.

“That means no texting, no emailing, no accessing the Internet, etc.,” he said.

Technology’s Role
Technologies that control and limit the use of mobile devices by drivers are giving fleet managers more proactive ways to enforce policies.

The most common systems plug in to the vehicle’s onboard diagnostics port and work with Bluetooth-enabled devices to block texting or most any use of a mobile device once the vehicle is in motion.

Telogis’ DriveSafe program, for example, is an add-on option that can be used in conjunction with Telogis’ telematics applications and connect to a driver’s device. It works with Android and iOS applications.

“It ensures that the driver is not distracted,” said Erin Cave, vice president of product management.

FleetSafer, from Aegis Mobility, and Kyrus Mobile are two other systems. Additionally, the Federal Communications Commission has a Distracted Driving Information Clearinghouse that provides additional sources and services. Visit

The issue, executives said, comes down to balancing employee safety and productivity. Fleets are going to have to find the balance between the productivity opportunities available with today’s communication technologies and the obligation to provide their employees a safe workplace. And for those who spend their days on the road, a safe workplace means a safe vehicle.

About the Author: Jim Galligan has been covering the commercial truck transportation sector for more than 30 years and has extensive experience covering the utility fleet market. In addition to writing and editing for magazines, his background also includes writing for daily newspapers, trade associations and corporations.

Photo: Courtesy of Jean Anderson/Southern California Edison

Using Virtual Tools to Create a Safer Reality for Utility Fleets

Successful organizations operate under the mindset that people are their most important assets, and they always take employee safety into consideration when making business decisions. Safe employees are happier, have greater rates of productivity, are more supportive of clients and contribute to the bottom line. Does your organization already have this mentality? Or is there some room for improvement?

For companies with vehicle fleets, the need for workplace safety extends beyond brick-and-mortar environments; avoiding on-the-job incidents is even more critical when an employee gets behind the wheel of a commercial vehicle and drives on public roads.

Motor vehicle crashes are the No. 1 cause of occupational fatalities and cost fleet owners more than $60 billion each year. A three-year study published in 2013 by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (see reported that on average, more than 30,000 lives were lost annually in vehicle-related traffic crashes from 2009 to 2011. Of those deaths, nearly 10 percent directly involved large trucks, which are defined as vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating greater than 10,000 pounds. Additional crash statistics drawn from the study can be found in the chart below.

FMCSA Stats Chart Web

Although there are myriad factors that contribute to motor vehicle traffic crashes, a better-educated driver is arguably a safer, more alert and more defensive driver. That’s why it’s so important to make sure that your company’s driver training program isn’t in need of its own corrective action.

“Delivering targeted safety training is critical for educating drivers on hazards and defensive techniques, potentially avoiding incidents and managing risk overall,” said Bill Doman, department head at ARI (, a fleet management company headquartered in New Jersey. “But as a fleet professional, how do you accomplish this when your workforce is already trying to do more with less?”

A Balanced Training Approach
Going virtual is a large part of the answer to that question, according to Doman, who works with driver-facing programs at ARI. “Virtual training can help overcome logistical challenges, get more drivers trained faster and help protect your organization both proactively and post-incident.”

Compared to other fleet types, utilities have unique training requirements due to the additional responsibilities of most drivers. For certain educational needs, behind-the-wheel or direct classroom training is the most effective way of preparing personnel to safely operate vehicles and equipment. The logistics and planning involved with these training methods, however, can be costly, result in downtime or not cover all applicable drivers.

For certain training needs, a virtual learning management system (LMS) can be the quickest and most effective way to deliver important safety education to as many drivers as possible. An LMS is a software application for the administration, tracking and delivery of electronic educational technology.

For example, instead of sitting operators in a classroom or at individual kiosks to passively watch videos, an online module can deliver the same content in an interactive fashion with a quiz at the culmination of the module to test for comprehension. Drivers might even dread training less if there’s a little more variety at play.

“A balanced training approach will include an assortment of classroom, behind-the-wheel and virtual methodology,” Doman said. “We’re finding that an increasing number of fleet owners are taking a fresh look at how they train their drivers to determine where virtual modules can be a good fit.”

How Virtual Training Works
Virtual training is delivered via online modules that engage drivers in a variety of interactive exercises and activities. Common topics include aggressive driving, avoiding crashes, distractions, speeding, limited visibility, towing and parking lot safety. Training recipients are prompted throughout the module to click and participate with the lesson at hand.

“Drivers aren’t just bombarded with text and statistics to passively memorize,” Doman explained. “They interact with the content and complete a comprehension test at the end to help ensure they retain the information.”

Training can be done on a desktop computer, laptop and even mobile devices. This means that drivers can go through training simultaneously in an infinite number of locations. What’s even better is that this also means more employees are receiving safety training faster and more frequently, instead of having to wait for a scheduled class.

Many virtual training providers will also supply proactive skill assessments to help identify at-risk drivers before there is an incident. Based on assessment results, drivers can be matched with the appropriate modules. Targeted modules can also be assigned to drivers who have recently been involved in a collision or received a violation.

Ensuring compliance with your vehicle policy is another good use for these modules. Your organization invested time and effort in assembling a thorough policy, and it’s imperative to verify that the drivers are actually reading it.

“After reviewing an online version of the company’s fleet policy, the drivers electronically acknowledge that they read the policy and take a comprehension quiz,” Doman said. “These modules can be customized with special touches to reflect the company’s culture, such as a video message from senior management demonstrating the organization’s commitment to safety.”

The Real Value Proposition
Adopting a robust blend of training content and delivery to help keep your drivers and others on the road safe just makes sense. It’s the right thing to do. But there are many more reasons to invest in a diversified safety approach, most of which have a measurable, positive financial impact for your organization. Among these reasons are:
• Decreased crash rate. Crashes are expensive. The crash that never happened can potentially pay for an entire year of training for all of your drivers.
• Positive community image. Safe drivers are typically courteous drivers who will reinforce a positive association with the branding on your fleet vehicles.
• Goodwill among clients. Your clients appreciate patronizing a company that values its employees and has a reputation for safety. It’s simply good business.
• Reduced liability exposure. Trained drivers help mitigate risk through better driving behaviors. And, by offering training to those who operate company assets, your organization is demonstrating a culture of safety.
• Decreased fuel spending. Teaching drivers more efficient driving techniques can lower your overall fuel expenses.
• Reduced maintenance expenses. Behaviors such as hard stops can increase premature wear on vehicle components. Training reminds drivers that every decision can have a long-term impact.

Above all, the most important reason to invest in safety training is because crashes can take lives. “Getting your drivers home safely is the most compelling reason to take another look at your training regimen,” Doman emphasized. “Safety is the best example of where trying to cut upfront spending can be exorbitantly more costly in the event of a fatal incident. The harshest reality is that you can’t replace a life at any cost.”

Selling Safety to Utility Fleet Drivers

Despite the ubiquity of technology in almost everyone’s world today, drivers may resent the introduction of a GPS or telematics system by company management if they feel the technology is going to be used to spy on them. But explaining that these systems can improve safety, enhance driving skills and even reduce paperwork can go a long way to getting driver buy-in, said several fleet managers and industry executives.

Pacific Gas and Electric already had a fleet management system in place, but the company decided to look to technology as a way of improving driver safety and performance. In particular, they wanted to test telematics systems that fed performance data back to operations. Before doing that, however, fleet representatives first met with the union drivers and explained that the systems were being designed to improve their driving, not to discipline them.

“Drivers are always concerned about Big Brother and being disciplined for their behavior,” said David Meisel, senior director of transportation and aviation services for the San Francisco-based utility. “We explained that this is for their safety, to improve their driving so they can be safer drivers.”

The utility giant tested three systems that featured an in-cab coach, either a tone or voice that alerted the drivers when they exceeded some preset parameter. The test was a success, Meisel said. Drivers cut their speeding by 90 percent and their unsafe actions by 80 percent. As a result, the company is rolling out the system to 1,000 more units.

“Folks took it for what it was: a way to improve safety. It’s hard to say becoming a safer driver is a bad idea,” Meisel said.

Union drivers at Tanner Electric Cooperative in North Bend, Wash., were wary that a system from GPS Insight would be used to spy on them, but again, safety was a big selling point, said Jim Anderson, manager of operations and engineering. The co-op has remote locations, including one crew on an island in Puget Sound, and the ability to quickly locate units in emergencies is crucial.

“Once it was explained like that, they accepted it. And they’re doing very well with it,” Anderson said.

Keep Drivers Involved
It’s important to keep drivers updated about their performance and reward good driving behavior, said Frank Cottone, group manager of support services at Pepco in Washington, D.C. In 2013, the company started a program to cut vehicle idling using data collected from their Telogis onboard system. Cottone said Pepco shares the results – positive or negative – each month so that drivers can see where they stand compared with other drivers. Cottone credits the program for reducing unnecessary idling by 19 percent.

“Although some drivers still had privacy concerns, we diminished those concerns with constant communications about the program and by keeping our employees safe,” Cottone said.

Today’s technologies can benefit drivers through better communication, reduced paperwork and a more accurate accounting of their day, noted Ryan Driscoll, marketing director for Scottsdale, Ariz.-based GPS Insight. Even something as simple as knowing which vehicle is closest to the next job helps the driver.

“It means smarter allocation of the driver’s work,” he said.

The pervasiveness of tablets, smartphones and onboard technologies is connecting the worker with the employer and the employer’s mission, and that can make drivers more accepting of change, said Tim Taylor, chief success officer for Telogis.

“Excellent companies have something dynamic in their culture, a vibrant culture that they share with the workers,” he said. “These systems can connect the worker with this culture. It spreads accountability and responsibility [and] connects the workers with the mission of the company.”

About the Author: Jim Galligan has been covering the commercial truck transportation sector for more than 30 years and has extensive experience covering the utility fleet market. In addition to writing and editing for magazines, his background also includes writing for daily newspapers, trade associations and corporations.


Sidebar: Survey Says
The use of GPS and/or telematics systems is helping fleets cut costs, improve operations and increase productivity, according to a study by management and research firm ARI.

By far, most fleets – 92 percent – report they are using the data from these systems to monitor speeding, ARI reported in its 2014 Utility Fleet Benchmark Study. The next two most common uses for these technologies are to monitor vehicle utilization (77 percent of the responding fleets) and for dispatching (69 percent). Fleets also are using the systems to plan routes and capture odometer readings (46 percent each), capture engine hours (39 percent), monitor hard braking and diagnose engines (31 percent each) and monitor hard cornering (15 percent).

With these technologies, 77 percent of fleets said they reduced vehicle idle time and 69 percent said they saw improved driver behavior. Other gains included decreased transit times, increased driver productivity and increased vehicle utilization (31 percent each), improved preventive maintenance interval accuracy (23 percent) and reduced accident rates (15 percent).

19 Exciting Utility Fleet Products and Services for 2015

Product: Ultra Pad Safety Edge
Company: Bigfoot Construction Equipment

Bigfoot Construction Equipment offers the all-new Ultra Pad Safety Edge, which helps to prevent the outrigger from slipping off the outrigger pad. Call 888-743-7320 for more information.


JJ Kane 1

Product: Auction Services
Company: J.J. Kane Auctioneers

J.J. Kane Auctioneers is a nationwide auction company that conducts 40-plus absolute public auction sales each year. They make it easy, connecting sellers and buyers both face to face on-site and live online, with Internet bidding. Sellers include electric cooperatives, utilities, manufacturers, contractors, lending institutions, governments, rental companies and more. J.J. Kane specializes in utility, power-line, underground and construction equipment, and fleet vehicles. In addition to physical auction sales, the company offers its Live Off-Site service, enabling sellers to participate with equipment from remote locations. Live Off-Site allows sellers to be a part of the excitement created by a live physical auction sale, when transportation costs or logistics are a factor. J.J. Kane can provide a turnkey solution, handling every aspect of the sale process.


Al Asher

Product: TSE Cable Scrapper
Company: Al Asher and Sons Inc.

The TSE Cable Scrapper is Al Asher and Sons’ latest product innovation for 2015. Formerly known as OK Champion, the industry has long recognized the Cable Scrapper as the go-to product for salvaging underground cable up to 4-inch diameter. The machine will pull, cut and load cable all day long in one continuous operation, saving countless man-hours and extra equipment. Now you can purchase the TSE Cable Scrapper with remote radio controls for the bed winch, which will digitally and effortlessly record pulling torque and speed. Enhanced hydraulic circuitry improvements also are available to promote longevity and reduce heat and wear in the system. Asher stocks units for sale or rental throughout the USA.


International Truck

Product: International WorkStar Truck
Company: Navistar/International Truck
The International WorkStar is one of the most durable and versatile trucks in the utility industry, built on the same battle-tested truck platform as the International MaxxPro MRAP (Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected) armored vehicle. It brings the strength and rugged capabilities to work power lines in any environment, with the smarts of Diamond Logic to operate efficiently and keep your team safe. Ease of Diamond Logic integration with utility equipment means that features such as boom operation alerts, remote engine controls and remote battery shutoffs are all factory-built options. The 2016 WorkStar is also offered with the industry-leading Cummins ISB6.7, a recognized platform that delivers renowned efficiency, reliability and performance.



Product: LED Stryker
Company: Golight Inc.

The new LED Stryker from Golight offers tremendous intensity and clarity with minimal strain on the vehicle’s electrical system. The LED upgrade boasts a 50 percent increase in intensity compared to its halogen counterpart. By utilizing P-Vex lens technology coupled with the cutting-edge LEDs, the LED Stryker is able to generate a peak beam intensity of 320,000 candela. Additionally, the hot spot – the most intense portion of the beam – comprises nearly 70 percent of the beam circumference, three times that of a comparable halogen unit.

The LED technology utilized in the new Stryker model generates nearly four times as many lumens per watt as a traditional halogen light source. Such efficiency means that the LED Stryker delivers more light while reducing the amp draw by half. Plus, the LEDs are incredibly durable with a rated useful life of 50,000 hours.



Product: Rigid Access Mat
Company: MUD-TRAKS

MUD-TRAKS’ strongest, most rigid access mat – designed to move heavy vehicles over wetland-like ground conditions – is light enough for men to handle in the field. It is made from solid fiberglass with an internal grid structure that channels tire load over an area more than 15 times larger than a comparable-sized poly mat. It is rigid enough to bridge a 20-inch span while supporting 10,000 pounds of tire load.

This innovation comes in three distinctive model strengths: Lawn Mat for vehicles up to 35,000 pounds, Off-Road Super Lite Mat for vehicles up to 60,000 pounds and Off-Road Super Mat for vehicles that weigh 100,000-plus pounds.

The mat’s advantages include strength, longevity, ease of handling and safety. It has numerous applications in the utility and heavy construction industries; is not affected by chemicals, temperature or water; and does not conduct electricity.



Product: Revolution Series Stringing Equipment
Company: Sherman+Reilly

Sherman+Reilly designed its Revolution Series equipment around operator safety, ergonomics and environmental comfort. With a 14,000-pound pulling capacity, the Revolution Series P-1400X Single Drum Puller is a transmission-class drum puller with a first-of-a-kind drum engagement system utilizing lateral sliding sides and drum support rollers for simplified pulling and reconductoring operations. The P-2000X Bullwheel Puller offers a new design that provides a smooth 20,000 pounds of control for the steel hard line with the use of its twin hydraulically driven bullwheels. Both machines utilize automatic horizontal levelwinds that permit overhead rope retrieval with precision control.

The Safe-Zone Cab is an important feature of these pullers. The cab employs a floor-to-ceiling polycarbonate front window for maximum visibility while providing superior protection against impact.



Product: AT40GW Aerial Device
Company: Altec

Altec’s AT40GW track-driven aerial device has a 43-foot working height and 30-foot side reach to provide versatility in small or congested job sites. The telescopic/articulating boom design offers access to the platform from the ground. A 34-inch retractable track allows the device to easily maneuver in and out of gates and other narrow passageways by reducing the width of the machine. The unit comes standard with a walk-behind remote control for easy operation. A 180-degree platform rotator provides more flexibility in confined spaces to give the operator the best possible vantage point. For convenient transport, the 1,000-pound cargo deck accommodates transformers, tools and other components.

The AT40GW is available with an ISO-Boom, which allows the unit’s second stage to be fully retracted while maintaining dielectric integrity and meeting OSHA guidelines for minimum approach distance. With a Category C isolating fiberglass boom, the operator can work safely regardless of the upper boom extension.



Company: Polaris

The new RANGER ETX is an on-demand four-wheel-drive vehicle featuring a 31-horsepower, electronic fuel-injected (EFI) ProStar engine with an internal counter-balance shaft for smooth, low-vibration power. The dual overhead camshafts and a four-valve cylinder head work with the advanced engine management system to precisely deliver the fuel charge for impressive power and instant, predictable throttle response, while the lightweight, efficient transmission captures every ounce of power to deliver it to the ground. Like all ProStar engines, the design reduces internal friction, which dramatically reduces noise and significantly increases efficiency. The addition of EFI on this entry-level model assures easy starting, improved run quality and elevation compensation to ensure reliability normally found on higher-priced models.



Product: Aerial Lifts
Company: VERSALIFT/Time Manufacturing

With more than 50 years of innovation, exceptional quality and hard work, VERSALIFT’s legacy of success has been marked by talented employees, notable clients and innovators. The company – a global leader in aerial lifts – continues to adapt to changing markets in an ever-changing world, with a clear commitment to quality though unequaled innovative design and manufacturing.

Time Manufacturing strives to build the safest, most efficient and hardest-working machines to get the job done. Its product line has grown to encompass models for every market. With more than 300,000 square feet under one roof, its manufacturing facilities comprise one of the premier factories of its kind in the world. Through vertical integration, Time monitors and maintains the quality of all products from the initial purchase of steel all the way through final testing. Whether it be a 29-foot man lift or a 108-foot material handler, there is a VERSALIFT to get the job done.


Bronto Skylift

Product: S 150 XDT Aerial Work Platform
Company: Bronto Skylift

Bronto Skylift’s S 150 XDT truck-mounted telescopic aerial work platform is especially well suited for the rental market. It’s a lighter-weight, compact aerial that is road-legal in all states, so it can be driven to almost any work site, quickly set up and elevated to overhead areas in a matter of minutes. Mounted on a CAT chassis, it features a 152-foot overhead working height and a telescopic, articulating platform boom that provides 100 feet of horizontal outreach for increased up-and-over capabilities. With 360 degrees of continuous turntable rotation and a 1,400-pound platform capacity, workers are able to carry tools and equipment to access almost any elevated work site.



Product: T370 Medium-Duty Conventional Model
Company: Kenworth

Kenworth Truck Co. is expanding its axle offering for its T370 medium-duty conventional model, adding 18,000-pound and 20,000-pound front axles this spring. The new offering will enable the truck to serve more construction, utility, fuel and tanker applications. The T370 is built to deliver exceptional value over the long haul, and these new options will expand an ever-growing vocational use of the truck.



Product: Hydraulic Beavertail
Company: Kiefer Manufacturing

Kiefer Manufacturing offers a heavy-duty steel, self-cleaning hydraulic beavertail on most of its industrial flatbed trailer line models. The hydraulic beavertail option takes away the need to lift heavy ramps. Fingertip operation of the hydraulic ramps is done through a key fob, or with a lever that is permanently mounted inside a conveniently located storage box.

The newly designed hydraulic beavertail has an 8,000-pound lifting capacity. The wiring system is housed inside a 10-mil polyester sleeve for durability and longevity.



Product: Garage Management System
Company: ARI

ARI’s Garage Management System (GMS) provides fleets the ideal balance between in-house control and outsourcing convenience by helping to manage technicians, vehicle maintenance and parts inventory while simultaneously consolidating all vendor-in/vendor-out data. From mechanics’ hours to automatic routing of repair approvals and comprehensive repair history, GMS manages it all, and it can even feed data to integrated payroll or ERP systems.

The GMS module integrates all maintenance-related data in one place, allowing fleet managers to track, analyze and manage fleet activity to achieve the lowest possible total cost of ownership. By using GMS as part of a multifaceted maintenance program, fleets will experience cost savings through a more efficient repair process while also making it easy to increase patronage of external shops, balancing vendor mix.



Product: Cobra-Style Jib
Company: Terex

Available on all 24-inch-by-48-inch platforms, the Terex cobra-style jib is engineered with hydraulic articulation and extend, enabling operators to achieve a greater range of motion and increased productivity. It boasts a low, 16-inch profile, as well as a 600-pound platform capacity and 1,000-pound maximum lift capacity, which can be realized with the work line extended farther from the basket shaft than other jibs allow. Operators can easily rotate the cobra-style jib thanks to an additional bearing at the bottom of the jib. This rotation offers lineworkers more versatility at the pole, enabling them to easily line up with work as needed.

This jib also incorporates a poppet valve feature, which helps enhance safe work practices because it prevents the unit from damaging itself during operation.

The Terex cobra-style jib quickly retracts and conveniently stows out of the way. With the jib in the stowed position, the truck’s boom can still utilize its full range of motion, down to -40 degrees.



Product: Hino 338
Company: Hino Trucks

Reliability is the key to success behind the Hino 338 model. This Class 7, 33,000-pound GVW model is equipped with the award-winning Hino J08 series engine rated at 260 horsepower and 660 pound-feet of torque. It also features a standard six-speed fully automatic 2500RDS with Shift Energy Management transmission from Allison Transmission, while 3000RDS and 3500RDS options are also available.

The Hino 338’s available 120,000-psi frame is strong and rigid enough for the high torque loads utility bodies demand. An available 14,000-pound front axle also adds to the durability that customers have come to know from Hino. All Hino Class 6 and 7 models offer a clean cab-to-axle, making the body upfit much easier and also allowing for more equipment in the rear of the vehicle.


GPS Insight

Product: GPS Dispatch and Custom Forms Applications
Company: GPS Insight

GPS Insight’s new capability to send optimized routes to drivers’ smart devices is the latest effort to simplify dispatching. You can now dispatch stops and/or routes via email or text message to each driver on a daily basis. For those customers who want to forgo Garmin integration, but need a better way to dispatch drivers, they can still do so. Also, drivers can now leverage directions used by the mapping apps on the smart device and do not need to be logged into another telematics app to be dispatched.

Garmin electronic custom forms were just added to the GPS Insight platform to improve the way businesses manage their mobile workforce from the field without all the paperwork. The forms are filled out on a Garmin and sent over the air to the back office for real-time data analysis. Utilities can use this function to expedite billing, improve productivity, track different types of completed services, perform job costing analysis and more.



Product: PriorityStart HD
Company: BLI International

PriorityStart HD is a totally automatic battery protection system that disconnects at 11.7 volts – stopping a dead battery – and then reconnects with a simple load change. The HD unit handles heavier loads, 60 percent increase to 1,600 starting amps and 400 continuous amps. The increase to the contact disc, gears and holding nut has strengthened the load capability and reduced the stress from heavier loads. Other improvements include increased points of connection, brighter top LED for easy viewing, motor/gear shielding strengthening operation and modified top post that easily accepts side-mount installation.



Product: YS3 and TA9000 Tracks Series
Company: Mattracks

Mattracks has introduced its new series of TA9000 tracks. The products expand Mattracks’ current Track-tor-Assist lineup of conversion systems for the agriculture market, commercial market, and extremely large machinery and equipment with axle loads from 10 to 20 tons. Track widths in the TA9000 series are 15 inches, 20 inches, 24 inches and 30 inches.

The YS3 track has been designed to expel snow and ice with minimal ice buildup, and the heavier framework has been designed for increased load-carrying capacity. The offset road wheels reduce vibration and noise, and increase efficiency, fuel economy and track tread life.

Sharing Knowledge: The Value of Joining a Utility Fleet Organization

Have you ever heard of the Homebrew Computer Club (HCC)? How about Apple, the technology company? The odds are that all of you are familiar with Apple – with its ubiquitous iPhones and iPads – but very few of you have heard of the HCC. But did you know that without the HCC’s existence, Apple might never have existed? In fact, some credit the club as the birthplace of the personal computer revolution.

To give you some background, the HCC was created in 1975 to bring together like-minded electronics enthusiasts in order to talk shop and share ideas. It was during an HCC meeting that one of its members, Steve Wozniak, found inspiration to design a new kind of personal computer – the seed from which the Apple empire grew.

At this point you may be thinking, what does any of this have to do with utility fleet professionals? The answer is that belonging to an organized group of like-minded professionals – whether they’re focused on electronics or fleets – can have an incredible impact on personal success as well as the success of an industry.

To help illustrate this point, UFP sat down with three officers who help direct the Upper Midwest Utility Fleet Council (UMUFC), an organization that brings together leading utility fleet minds in the region. Our roundtable includes:
Bernie Kolnberger, utility services manager at Dakota Electric Association, which is the second-largest electric cooperative in Minnesota and ranked among the 25 largest electric distribution cooperatives in the nation.
Jeff Bickler, fleet manager at CenterPoint Energy, a domestic energy delivery company that includes electric transmission and distribution, natural gas distribution and energy services operations. The company serves more than 5 million metered customers in several states. Bickler operates out of Minnesota, where CenterPoint is the largest gas distribution company in the state.
Mike Donahue, transportation and construction equipment manager at Omaha Public Power District (OPPD), the 12th-largest public power utility in the U.S., which provides electricity to nearly 800,000 customers in Nebraska.

The three men provided some insight about their respective fleet operations and revealed just how valuable and important their involvement with the UMUFC has been.

UFP: Let’s start off by getting an idea about the size and scope of your fleet operation. How many vehicles, pieces of equipment and facilities do you oversee?

Kolnberger: We’re fortunate enough to have all of our vehicles and equipment come back to one maintenance facility. We have 17 aerial trucks; 74 light-duty vehicles; six digger derricks; 42 pieces of power equipment; 36 trailers; and nine utility trucks. We have one shop superintendent, four full-time mechanics and one part-time helper working at our maintenance facility.

Donahue: At OPPD, we manage 430 light-duty vehicles; 63 cargo/dump/underground trucks; seven semis; 49 digger derricks; 87 bucket trucks; seven specialty trucks; 366 trailers; 394 pieces of construction equipment, from trenchers and backhoes to loaders and generators; one locomotive; and seven coal dozers. We have a team of approximately 50 people divided up among four facilities, including field supervisors, managers, crew leaders, parts specialists, clerks and so on.

Bickler: Our fleet structure is unique. In the state of Minnesota, where I’m located, I manage a fleet of about 1,200 vehicles and pieces of equipment, and this fleet is used to provide gas distribution service to the state. We also have about 3,000 vehicles and pieces of equipment located in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas that are used for CenterPoint’s gas distribution service. I co-manage the other states’ gas distribution fleet, where we use a third party for the maintenance of those vehicles. For the Minnesota fleet, we have two garages and a staff of 13 technicians. In addition to this, we have fleet garages and support in Houston, which support the 2,500 vehicles and equipment on the electric side of our business as well as support the gas distribution fleet.

UFP: It’s insightful to learn how someone made their way up the ladder to the position they’re in today. How did each of you evolve and grow into your current fleet leadership position?

Kolnberger: I’ve worked in the utility industry ever since I graduated from college. I worked my way up the ladder, working in inventory planning and serving a couple different roles as a buyer/planner. Nearly 30 years of experience with utilities have given me such great perspective and insight and have really helped prepare me for my current role as the utility services manager.

Bickler: I started with CenterPoint Energy as a technician and was promoted to fleet supervisor shortly after that. I believe my past experiences in the fleet and automotive industry, as well as my experience owning my own business, were key factors in getting promoted to the position so quickly. As fleet supervisor, I had the opportunity to manage multiple projects across multiple states, and that experience was so valuable in preparing me for my current role as fleet manager.

Donahue: I was in the process of completing my mechanical engineering degree at Iowa State University when I obtained a co-op position at OPPD in the transportation department. After graduation, I was able to join OPPD full time as a specification engineer and made sure to put work into learning everything I could about the vehicles, equipment, applications, operators, scheduling, purchasing and so on. I also put time into developing relationships with employees, customers, vendors, managers and peers.

UFP: It sounds like being involved in utility fleets is something you knew you wanted to do very early on in your career.

Donahue: It was. I even joined NAFA so I could learn more about the many additional aspects of fleet management, and I completed my Certified Automotive Fleet Manager certification. That education played an important role in my development.

After about 10 years, I was promoted to supervisor over engineering, administration and parts. In this role, I learned more detail about the roles of others within the department and the demands of supervision. About five or six years ago I was promoted to manager of transportation and construction equipment, and the learning and fun continues.

UFP: All of your organizations and responsibilities have a lot of differences. However, one thing all of you have in common is that you serve as an officer for and sit on the board of directors of the UMUFC. Can you tell me how you got involved with the organization and how it continues to be a rewarding experience for you?

Bickler: The UMUFC has been a great group to be a part of. Sharing knowledge with your peers in the industry has been a second-to-none resource to me. I’m always amazed by the wealth of experience and insight that all of our members bring to the table.

UFP: I imagine without having a group like UMUFC to be involved with, it would be pretty difficult to find so many experienced and knowledgeable fleet minds from which to learn.

Bickler: You hit the nail right on the head. It’s such a tremendous resource, and the council has continued to grow because it’s just such a valuable experience. UMUFC has a very bright future and I’m excited to be a part of it.

Kolnberger: I have been involved with the UMUFC ever since I took on my first fleet manager position back in 2001, and I have been attending meetings ever since. It is an excellent group of people with whom to share thoughts and ideas. The camaraderie is second to none. It’s amazing to me that we all have similar pains and challenges no matter the size of the operation. The larger operations fight many of the same battles as the smaller ones – they just do so on a larger and broader scale. There are times when I go into a meeting with a new issue I’m dealing with, and it’s funny to see how many people in the room are also dealing with it, and some who have already dealt with it have shared great information and tips about that process. Of course, each organization has its own unique atmosphere, so sometimes the solutions they’ve implemented aren’t going to be your solution. But more times than not, you end up using a part of or several parts of that solution to create your own.

UFP: What about you, Mike?

Donahue: I love the variety of perspective that the UMUFC brings. You get people who are managers, technicians, operators, vendors and so on who participate, and that creates conversations that cover a broad scope of information. Another great thing about the UMUFC is that it’s small enough that everyone has a chance to participate. Everybody has a voice. And we try to encourage that by creating agendas that purposefully cover a wide variety of topics, as well as soliciting topic discussions prior to meetings so we can integrate those topics into the meeting.

UFP: It sounds like there is a lot of effort put into providing a fulfilling experience to as many members as possible.

Donahue: Yes, I feel like the group is genuine in their approach. We understand the value of staying focused on the needs of the members. In turn, we’ve had excellent response rates when members have specific questions that they want posed to the group.

UFP: How would each of you describe your personal fleet management strategy? In other words, in what areas do you excel and how do you bring the most value to your organization? What have you learned over time from your fleet management experience?

Kolnberger: For me, it’s all about being organized. You can’t get bogged down in micromanaging the day-to-day fixes and problems. Instead, I make sure there are processes and procedures put in place to ensure that the operation continues to run efficiently. Ten years ago, when I started the fleet manager position, our shop didn’t have a maintenance computer application in place, and that was one of the first areas I addressed. This built automation into the process, which has reduced wasting time and increased work quality.

One area where organization is crucial is the specification process. I put a lot of effort into making sure we are purchasing and disposing of vehicles in an organized, planned out manner that helps us avoid those spikes in the budget from year to year and allows us to more accurately forecast budget needs for upcoming years.

Bickler: Bernie brought up a great point about implementing technology. As an owner of a computer services company, I think it’s important to not only understand how we can look to technology as part of the fleet management process, but also be open to adopting it when it improves the operation. That’s a big part of my strategy. Another part of my strategy comes from my experience working for more than a decade on the OEM side of the automotive industry. Having that insight and experience helps mold your processes.

Donahue: I feel like one of the main things I have learned over time is that almost nothing stays the same in fleet. So, our strategy is one of continual improvement. We need to use as much input as we can to recognize where we need to improve, do so, and then repeat. I don’t feel like our organization can afford to ever be stagnant. As part of implementing this strategy, our team went through lean training.

UFP: By “lean training,” you’re referring to the waste reduction, efficiency and quality improvement strategies that many say were mostly created by Toyota.

Donahue: Exactly. It is amazing how going through that process and committing to it can help change the environment and culture of a group. We also implemented 5S training, which taught our staff about standardization of processes and how to create a workspace that is both efficient and effective. We are nowhere near perfect, but the constant improvement part of lean strategies and those 5S events laid a foundation that everyone involved continues to use to this day.

UFP: What are some of the unique fleet challenges that each of you face that others at this table – as well as our readers – may not have to battle?

Bickler: One of our unique challenges has been supporting folks in different states. You have to take account of the differences there are in each region while at the same time standardize the processes for efficiencies, and do it all without affecting the operation and the clients you support.

Kolnberger: Like I had mentioned earlier, being a part of the UMUFC really does reveal just how similar one utility fleet is to the next. The similarities far outweigh the differences. Of course, we all have our own unique cultures we deal with within the organization. But at the end of the day, we are all facing challenges with budgets, idling and so on. More times than not, the differences between one fleet to another come down to how those issues are prioritized. An issue for one utility fleet may be priority No. 1, and for the next, the same issue falls lower on the priority scale.

Donahue: Our main challenges are keeping the mechanics trained on the wide variety of vehicles and equipment they need to maintain and repair; keeping tools and diagnostic equipment up to date; long-term direction on fuels; and adjusting the workplace culture to improve engagement, safety and accountability. In addition, I have heard of the increased incidence of trouble finding qualified mechanics. We have not experienced that particular one yet; however, with some upcoming retirements, we had better be prepared for that potential.

UFP: The utility fleet manager has been a position that hasn’t been recognized as much as it should. The millions of dollars and moving pieces that many fleet managers have to oversee is a pretty daunting yet vital role in an organization. With that said, what do you celebrate about your job? What do you most enjoy about what you do?

Bickler: First and foremost for me is that I love working in this industry. A couple of things that bring me a lot of joy are doing a great job serving our clients and continuing to bring new standards and technology solutions to the table. I also enjoy working with the great staff we have here. When they see ways we can improve our processes, they are so awesome at sharing those ideas with me.

Donahue: Like Jeff, one of the best parts of my job is getting the opportunity to work with the people I get to work with every day, from the folks in our department to the leadership up the chain. I also enjoy facing the challenges the fleet faces every day and finding the solutions that work.

Kolnberger: Well, I hate to repeat what these two guys said, but I too find that working with the people here is so rewarding. They’re a great bunch and that motivates me that much more to find solutions that not only make the fleet more efficient, but also make their jobs better. For example, when we first implemented the shop software, it was something that I knew would create a better environment for everybody. Don’t get me wrong – it did take some work to get everybody to fully buy in. But then that moment comes where the solution just clicks with everybody, and you’re seeing the positive business and human performance results from that. And that’s the kind of thing that makes me proud.

UFP: Many of our readers are in fleet management and leadership positions like the three of you, and others are striving to grow and advance into fleet leadership positions. What advice would you give to them?

Donahue: My advice to someone who may want to become a fleet manager would be to look for an opportunity to get involved in an internship or co-op within the community and find out through experience if it looks like an area that they find interesting and stimulating. I’d also recommend that they find ways to grow their knowledge about the profession. NAFA offers some great educational programs that really worked well for me. Become active in fleet management communities and groups as well so you can learn from experienced fleet leaders.

Kolnberger: To add on to Mike’s great suggestions, I think one should also learn about general management skills. Being a fleet leader is something that requires one to have patience, strategy development and people management skills. For example, there are times when there are a daunting number of challenges to face, and sometimes the best decision in those instances is building morale by first going after some of the smaller victories before tackling the challenging ones.

UFP: That’s an interesting point. It must be an intimidating part of the process to not only understand the big moving pieces, but to also grasp the little things and know how to respond.

Kolnberger: One thing I did that has made a world of difference is implementing effective specification procedures and documenting our operating procedures. When you go through that entire process and break it all down, you really learn what is going on in the trenches and it really helps you better understand where to spend your time and energy. And, when you nail down a great process that works, you don’t have to give it as much focus as you would if there wasn’t good process, which frees you up to focus on other areas of need.

UFP: Thanks to all of you for your time. One last question: For those who are located in the Upper Midwest region, where should they go to learn more about the UMUFC?

Bickler: I’ll take that one. If you want to learn more about the council, visit our website at We’d be happy to have you join us. And for those of you who aren’t in our region, I urge you to look for regional utility fleet groups in your area. If there isn’t one available, think about starting one yourself. It’s well worth the effort.

How Engaged Are Your Employees?

Across the globe, there is a shortage of a very important resource that is reaching epidemic proportions. What’s worse, it’s a resource that is vital to your fleet operation and has a substantial impact on your bottom line.

This increasingly rare commodity is the engaged employee.

So, what is an engaged employee and why are they the most important asset your fleet operation can have? Generally speaking, an engaged employee is one who is psychologically invested in the organization and committed to getting the most out of his or her abilities and efforts for the sake of advancing the growth and success of the organization.

Research shows that the enthusiasm, positivity and proactive effort that engaged workers bring to the job have a real, measurable impact on the success of an organization. That’s because engaged employees miss fewer days of work, are more productive and are less likely to leave the company.

On the flip side, a disengaged employee can put a drain on your bottom line. This impact comes in many forms: increased demand on managers’ time, poor work quality, higher accident and theft rates, and more missed workdays.

Ultimately, the more engaged employees you have working within your fleet operation, the more successful it, you and your entire organization will be. Here are the top four things you can do to ensure you’re acquiring, developing and retaining engaged employees.

1. Measure Your Engagement Levels and Make a Plan
The best way to know how engaged your employees are is to ask them through a survey. An Internet search of the phrase “employee engagement survey” will return a number of resources and employee engagement templates to help you build a survey that is unique to your fleet operation. The primary goal is to get anonymous responses that measure whether or not your employees feel proud of where they work, are inspired by their management, trust the organization, feel valued and so on. The results will pinpoint the areas that are your organization’s engagement strengths and weaknesses. From there, you can build a strategy that improves upon each.

2. R-E-S-P-E-C-T, Find Out What it Means to Your Employees
Leadership expert Peter Economy recently reported for Inc. magazine that employees give their best to the company when you create an environment that makes them partners in the process. This means treating your employees as valuable members of the team by increasing your trust in their decision-making skills, letting them in on the big picture so they understand the company’s plan and strategy, and inviting them to participate in other areas of the company where their expertise can contribute to the success of the organization.

Employees also increase their engagement when their personal lives are respected. This can be accomplished by taking time to have conversations with employees that touch upon personal topics and implementing policies that respect work-life balance, such as providing flexible work hours.

3. Improve Leadership and Management Effectiveness
A Dale Carnegie Training study revealed that 80 percent of employees who were very dissatisfied with their immediate supervisor were also disengaged. That’s why it is so vital to hire and promote the best people for management positions and also ensure they receive training that empowers them to effectively engage their teams.

But proper hiring and training only get you so far. Your organization must also measure employee engagement and hold managers accountable for poor results. In other words, employee engagement must be made a formal responsibility for anyone who manages people.

4. Communicate and Show Appreciation
As with most people-management solutions, engaging employees begins with communication. Employees are more likely to be engaged when management and leadership not only clearly communicate goals and available job growth opportunities, but provide an environment in which employees can communicate their opinions and ideas.

Engagement levels also grow when employees are recognized for making contributions to the success of the organization. Whether it’s through personally thanking employees, providing monetary rewards or making acknowledgements in the company newsletter, it’s important to implement ways to show that you notice their accomplishments and appreciate their efforts.

15 Tips for Improving Your Inventory Control

For some, the term “inventory control” may seem more like an oxymoron than a management practice. If you feel like your inventory is anything but controllable, here are 15 tips to help you better manage the process, thereby creating added success and profitability for your fleet.

Tip 1: Implement and Enforce an Inventory Control System
Every parts operation needs an inventory control system of some sort, which should incorporate the following key elements:
• It must warn parts personnel far in advance that a part is being depleted from stock.
• It must list a part’s historical purchase price so that if the price changes, the
manager will be able look into the issue and ascertain whether this change is a price increase or due to incorrect billing.
• It should list vendors that offer the best prices.
• It should give past usage rates so that the manager can determine proper inventory
• It should require as little writing as possible, particularly by mechanics.

Tip 2: Know Your True Total Demand
Total demand is a complete record of all filled orders and actual parts delivered to customers regardless of the source. In addition to filled orders, a complete and total record of all lost sales – those sales that never occurred due to lack of inventory – must be kept.

A total demand record helps to reveal the changing and flexible nature of the marketplace and aids you in stocking the right parts in the right quantities at the right time.

Tip 3: Define Your Economic Order Quantity
The economic order quantity equation helps define the optimum inventory order amounts by factoring in the cost and demand of that inventory. Your goal should be to make as few orders as possible while also maintaining the proper inventory.

The cost of writing a purchase order and of paying the bill varies between approximately $35 and $50 per transaction. Considering this high cost, a target minimum of $500 of inventory per month should be purchased from each vendor. Placing an order for a smaller amount of merchandise creates a disproportionate and uneconomical clerical expense. If only a small amount of stock is ordered each month, good prices for those items will not offset the cost of paperwork.

Tip 4: Reduce Your Carrying Costs
The carrying costs of inventory can be between 30 and 40 percent of the total inventory value. You should have an ongoing strategy for reducing the costs of:
• Rent or proportionate building depreciation; building maintenance and repair; utilities; and labor costs for janitorial staff and security guards.
• Inventory storage and material-handling equipment.
• Taxes.
• Insurance.
• Inventory personnel salary and benefits.
• Damaged and nonreturnable parts, pilferage, warranty claim time and returning parts.
• Lack of return on inventory and control investments that might otherwise produce income.

Tip 5: Establish a Formal Warranty Program
Each premature component failure due to a supplier vendor providing poor workmanship, poor materials, and/or any latent defects should be flagged by fleet management and inspected by the vendor. Once inspected, the vendor can make a decision about the fleet’s claims about the component. The vendor should provide a monthly inspection that includes an agreed-upon settlement and a credit to the fleet. These parts failures have costs, and it is important that you set your ceiling for recovery at 5 percent of the dollars spent with that vendor. Should reclamation be more than 5 percent, begin exploring alternative vendor solutions.

Tip 6: Start with Big-Ticket Inventory Items
In evaluating big-ticket items or items with an aggregate targeted shelf inventory value of at least $5,000, limit your inventory to the amount needed for a 90-day period. If these items can be purchased locally within one or two days, it may not be necessary to stock them at all, especially if the repair requires one or several days of preparation work before the part is needed.

Make sure you weigh the cost of keeping big-ticket items in stock against the cost of customer out-of-service times. You may find that limited out-of-service times are more economically sound than maintaining inventory of relatively expensive items.

Tip 7: Invest in Your Brain Power
If a large inventory is your only solution to create a high level of vehicle availability, you will be hard-pressed to find ways to reduce inventory costs. The reality is that you must be consistently vigilant at keeping your inventory as lean as possible. The more you learn about the parts inventory business model, best principles and practices, successful analysis and applied corrective strategies, the better you will be at effectively planning a successful inventory strategy.

Tip 8: Don’t Confuse Price with Cost
Too often, price and cost are used interchangeably and in error. Price is what you pay in dollars to acquire a product or service. Cost takes into consideration all the factors that add up to return on investment. Ease of installation, frequency of service, labor required and safety are only a few of the considerations in determining cost. In essence, if you are to justify the high initial price of a product, you will have to do so based on cost. Make sure you analyze and understand all of the costs of your operations prior to beginning any inventory strategy.

Tip 9: Require Vendor Guarantee of On-Time Delivery
Don’t resort to expensive stockpiling of key materials in order to avoid inventory shortfalls
caused by late delivery of parts by suppliers. Instead, put the burden of responsibility for
prompt delivery on suppliers – where it belongs. One way to do this is to guarantee the vendor a minimum monthly purchase in exchange for the vendor promising both on-time delivery as well as a penalty payment if you have to purchase materials on the spot market to fill a gap when a delivery is late. The penalty payment should be equal to the cost you expended to obtain the materials.

Tip 10: Negotiate, Negotiate, Negotiate
When mounting an effort against waste in inventory handling, a manager should first consider the company’s purchasing policies and past experience with parts suppliers. Are the prices the lowest possible? If lower prices can be negotiated elsewhere based on volume, will service and delivery remain acceptable? It is futile to negotiate with no idea of realistic costs or possible price reductions. Therefore, purchasing guidelines must be established early in negotiations by someone familiar with parts-pricing discounts.

Tip 11: Brand Loyalty Doesn’t Pay
Negotiations should not be brought to a standstill by a fleet manager’s insistence on one
and only one brand of a part. In virtually every area, there are competitive lines available. This
can be a negotiation advantage. For example, if one line is not available at a jobber price – which is usually between the MSRP and warehouse distributor price – perhaps a competitive brand would be. Flexibility in this aspect can be profitable.

Tip 12: Don’t Overlook the Small-Ticket Items
Bolts, nuts and other similarly sized shop supplies constitute an often-neglected expense that can be significantly reduced. A common mistake on the part of managers is thinking that nuts and bolts are small-ticket items. In fact, such supplies will generally account for around 8 percent of the total parts bill each month. Much of this expense is waste attributable to poor purchasing habits. For instance, if you purchase these expendables from a salesperson who offers free bolt bins and other inducements to buy, you might be paying two to five times more than you should for these supplies. Even though they may be easy to overlook, it’s important to be aware of the cost of these materials.

Tip 13: Do Your Pricing Homework
If you don’t have an ongoing method for checking parts prices, you’ll have a hard time creating inventory efficiency. You should always have the latest price sheets from all the vendors with whom you do business.

As merchandise is received and volume changes, the prices on several items should be spot-checked to make certain the proper discounts are in effect. Without this monitoring, you will miss pricing and discount mistakes made by the vendor. To reduce any confusion over agreed-upon pricing, deal with one designated representative from each vendor whenever possible.

Tip 14: Plan Ahead for Hard-to-Get Parts
Availability of hard-to-get parts can obviously present problems, but longer delivery times shouldn’t necessarily preclude the use of a particular vendor. For instance, a part might be available locally at a cost of 20 percent greater than an out-of-town vendor would charge. If the part is ordered from the local vendor, delivery would require only a few days while the other supplier would need two weeks to deliver the part. However, given the substantial cost savings, it would be better to use the out-of-town vendor and simply stock an extra two weeks’ supply of the part.

Tip 15: Keep the Old Inventory Cycle Going
Simply put, old inventory needs to be removed from the parts room. A formal inventory should be taken every six months. Items that have not been used in those six months should be taken off the shelves, assuming that a system of cycle counting – frequent, random sampling of inventory line items – is not being used.

About the Author: John Dolce is a fleet facility and maintenance specialist employed by Wendel Companies, an architectural and engineering firm. He is an active consultant, instructor and fleet manager with more than 40 years of experience in the public and private sectors. Dolce has written three fleet-related textbooks and teaches fleet management courses at the University of Wisconsin’s Milwaukee and Madison campuses. He can be contacted at [email protected].

Reducing Costs

While independent electric grids power each of the Hawaiian Islands, servicing all of those grids is the responsibility of the Hawaiian Electric Co., which serves 95 percent of the state’s 1.4 million residents. Hawaiian Electric’s subsidiary Hawai‘i Electric Light serves more than 80,000 customers on Hawai‘i Island, the chain’s biggest island at more than 4,000 square miles.

The challenges that Hawai‘i Electric Light face are unique, said Kelvin Kohatsu, fleet administrator. “Our terrain ranges from tropical growth on the east side, to desert-like conditions on the west side, to freezing temperatures atop Mauna Kea mountain,” he said. “To serve the people who live and work in that vast and diverse terrain, we have a distribution system comprised of more than 3,300 miles of overhead distribution lines, more than 780 miles of underground distribution lines and 641 miles of overhead transmission lines.

“We operate a wide range of more than 300 vehicles and pieces of equipment,” Kohatsu said. “Due to our location, we focus very closely on uptime and product support, along with traditional metrics like life-cycle costs, and on safety and ergonomics. Every week, we generate a report on uptime percentage, costs for fuel, tires, repairs, maintenance and inspections, and damage and accident costs. With this information, we can determine the best equipment to purchase for longevity, not to mention operator acceptance and safety.”

Employee Safety
The large service area, diverse terrain, and variable weather make maintaining infrastructure and reliability a challenge, but safety is Hawai‘i Electric Light’s top priority. Drivers log 1.7 million miles on the road annually. Crews can work in distant, remote areas, and some employees work alone.

Proven Support
The equipment and vehicles used by Hawai‘i Electric Light have the best product support in Hawai‘i, which keeps the fleet’s uptime consistently between 96 and 98 percent, according to Kohatsu. Major suppliers include Kenworth for Class 7 T370 and Class 8 T800 trucks, Dodge for Class 3 and 5 trucks equipped with service bodies, and Altec aerial devices and digger derricks. Also in the fleet are a mix of Nissan, Toyota, Dodge and Ford sedans, pickups, vans and SUVs, along with trailers, forklifts, golf carts, sweepers and stationary equipment.

All diesel-fueled vehicles at Hawai‘i Electric Light run on biodiesel; nearly all use B20 with the rest on B100. The fleet also includes light hybrid vehicles, electric-powered Nissan LEAFs, plug-in hybrid electric Toyota Priuses and a Class 7 Kenworth T370 diesel-electric hybrid truck, the first of its kind in the state. Spec’d as well are Altec JEMS 48 AT37G aerial units.

“We’ve standardized in many cases to enhance the ability to maintain equipment and streamline product support,” Kohatsu said. “While we’ve ascertained that the systems we have in place work very well for us, we continue to evaluate new systems and components and ask other fleets about their experiences.

“At the vehicle and equipment level, we’ve been fortunate that manufacturers have involved us in some of their product development and in the testing and evaluation stages before production release,” Kohatsu said. “For example, we added a new Altec HiLine AH151 Model aerial on a Kenworth T800, along with a digger derrick with a rear-mounted spool handler that can be driven loaded.”

Key Focus
Fuel economy is key to improving the efficiency of the Hawai‘i Electric Light fleet. “After installing a telematics system in 2008, we reduced our diesel fuel consumption by more than 22,000 gallons in the first six months compared to the same time period one year earlier,” Kohatsu said. “We were essentially traveling the same number of miles, but we were seeing a huge reduction in fuel use from better routing and less idling.”

By 2009, telematics systems were installed on all trucks in the fleet. In 2012, the company switched to Zonar’s telematics system and also began using its electronic vehicle inspection reporting (EVIR) application. “After the Zonar telematics equipment was installed, we realized a further reduction in diesel fuel consumption of about 18,000 gallons,” Kohatsu said. “Combined with the 22,000-gallon reduction from 2008 to 2009, fuel savings totaled more than 40,000 gallons even though the fleet’s annual mileage stayed constant at about 1.7 million miles annually.”

Telematics also is helping Hawai‘i Electric Light improve safety. “With telematics, we can better monitor equipment – a feature that is critical for the safety of employees who work alone in remote locations,” Kohatsu said. “Telematics also results in safer driving practices because it gives us a much higher degree of transparency in our fleet operations.

“We can now monitor behaviors and correct those that are costly,” Kohatsu said. “For example, drivers aren’t driving as fast, and when they stop at company offices or job sites, they turn off the engine instead of leaving it idling. It’s clear to me that telematics strongly influences driver behavior. You can’t hold drivers accountable and change their behaviors without an objective way to measure their performance.”

Effective Tool
Zonar’s EVIR system has also proven to be an effective tool for Hawai‘i Electric Light’s maintenance operation.

Kohatsu believes drivers must complete pre- and post-inspection reports fully and consistently to effectively limit downtime and keep costs low. “Zonar’s EVIR holds drivers accountable since it tracks when they did their inspections and how long it took them,” he said.

Using Zonar’s EVIR inspection tool, Hawai‘i Electric Light’s drivers conduct inspections by placing a reader within inches of radio-frequency identification tags that are placed on equipment in critical inspection zones. The tags contain information about their location on the unit, the components to be inspected, and the identity of the vehicle or piece of equipment.

Using the reader, drivers indicate the condition of the components within each zone. When a defect is discovered, the driver selects a description from a predefined list and indicates whether the equipment is safe to operate. When the inspection is complete, drivers place the hand-held unit into the EVIR mount inside the cab. Zonar’s telematics platform then wirelessly transmits inspection data and remote diagnostic information to a Web-based ground traffic control data management application.

Ensuring Compliance
At Hawai‘i Electric Light, the Zonar data is integrated into FleetFocus, a maintenance management system supplied by AssetWorks. This integration generates service requests automatically and transmits them by email through the FleetFocus portal to Hawai‘i Electric Light’s maintenance vendors, Kohatsu said. Once repairs are performed and marked complete in FleetFocus, they are automatically uploaded to the Web-based management application, indicating to dispatchers that the vehicle is in full compliance for operation and can return to service.

“The integration of Zonar and AssetWorks has made the generation of work orders resulting from driver-identified defects or vehicle sensors seamless,” Kohatsu said. “As a result, along with effective specifications, our uptime has increased and our life-cycle costs have dropped. Most important, we have a safer fleet operation.”

Hawai‘i Electric Light Class 7 and 8 Truck Specifications
Models: Kenworth T370 and T800
Engine: PACCAR
Transmissions: Allison; Eaton UltraShift PLUS
Front Axle: Dana Spicer
Power Steering: TRW
Rear Axle and Suspension: Dana Spicer; Reyco; Chalmers
Brakes: Bendix air disc
Wheels: Alcoa aluminum; Accuride steel
Tires: Michelin

About the Author: Seth Skydel has more than 29 years of truck- and automotive-related publication experience. In his career, he has held editorial roles at numerous national business-to-business publications focusing on fleet and transportation management, vehicle and information technology, and industry trends and issues.

Train for Efficiency

Today’s trucks and automobiles have hundreds of programmable features that can be used to customize these vehicles for a fleet, and today’s technicians need to understand how to program these parameters as well as how to utilize the many diagnostic modes in modern vehicles. Since technological change is one of the few constants in our industry, such demands make ongoing training critical to keep technicians efficient.

Darry Stuart, president and CEO of DWS Fleet Management Services (, echoed such sentiments. “Ongoing training for technicians is critical,” he said. “The advent of electronics has made the truck a very sophisticated machine. While it incorporates sophisticated control systems, it contains even more sophisticated diagnostic systems, which have taken a good portion of the guesswork out of troubleshooting. As a result, fleet technicians need regular training to keep up with these changes.”

Most employees – and certainly those with a desire to succeed – seek as much training as possible so they can better perform their jobs, qualify for monetary rewards and elevate their positions. And knowledgeable fleet professionals understand that staff training will help their companies gain operational efficiencies. On the other hand, it’s important to understand that you may have someone who is satisfied with what he or she is doing and really doesn’t want to progress. You may have to find a place for such a person if you want to keep him or her on your staff.

New Hires
When fleets need to make additions to their shop staff, most fleet professionals prefer to hire technicians with some practical experience, but all too often such personnel are not available. While trade schools are a source of young people who have been exposed to some of the basics, vocational school graduates generally still need a good amount of support before they’re ready to handle assignments on their own.

New hires, without a few years of practical experience, are usually assigned tasks such as cleaning parts, fueling and lubricating vehicles, and driving vehicles into and out of the shop. Beginners are then promoted as they gain knowledge and experience and as vacancies become available. These workers advance to increasingly difficult jobs as they prove their ability and competence. During this time they are often assigned to work under a more senior technician on engines and other systems such as brakes, transmissions and electrical systems.

Sometimes, however, fleet managers are faced with a lack of ample training time for new hires, or simply do not set aside the appropriate amount of time. “The most important activity in any shop is preventive maintenance,” Stuart said, “but it seems very difficult for a fleet manager to take a new technician, sit him down in the break room and let him review the fleet’s PM procedures, which, of course, should be available for review. A new hire, even one with experience, should have two or three hours every day for at least a week to go through established procedures. Too often, a new technician is put to work immediately.”

Determine Training Needs
Stuart suggests you practice management by walking around the shop floor. If you establish an atmosphere of open communication, technicians won’t hesitate to tell you their problems and potential training needs as you wander by. In your wanderings, you can also check scrapped components to see if they really need to be replaced.

Vehicle OEMs and major component manufacturers can supply you with standard repair times for many of their products. Compare these times with those needed in your shop for particular jobs and you might find that you need an evening in the break room with pizza and vendor training for your staff. If you require staff members to attend these types of sessions, be sure they are on the clock.

Our industry is fortunate to have suppliers who consider aftermarket training as part of their cost of doing business. Most have personnel in the field who can conduct training at fleet locations to ensure their products continue to perform satisfactorily, but it’s up to you to make sure that what’s being presented is in line with your policies. Remember, vendors want to sell parts; fleets want to avoid buying parts unnecessarily.

What’s the best training for shop technicians? “Some classroom training is fine, but training by an older mentor is best,” Stuart said. “Too often, though, a mentor simply shows the trainee how to do something, and the young tech never gets a chance to put his hands on the work. The mentor should do some awareness training, then let the young man do the work using the five-minute rule. If you can’t figure what’s wrong or need help after five minutes, ask the question.”

Whether it’s to familiarize technicians with new technology or to reduce the purchases of high-cost maintenance items, ongoing training is a necessity. You’re going to part with some money to get that training, but if you’ve done your homework and scheduled the proper training, the money will likely come back to you in improved efficiency, making it an investment – not an expense.

About the Author: Tom Gelinas is a U.S. Army veteran who spent nearly a decade as a physicist before joining Irving-Cloud Publishing Co. While at Irving-Cloud, he worked in various editorial capacities for several trade publications including Fleet Equipment, Heavy Duty Equipment Maintenance and Transport Technology Today. Gelinas is a founding member of Truck Writers of North America, a professional association, and a contributing writer for Utility Fleet Professional.

Getting Involved

Regulatory issues continue to dominate legislative agendas. In his annual regulatory and legislative update during this year’s Electric Utility Fleet Managers Conference, Pat O’Connor, legislative counsel for the NAFA Fleet Management Association, covered a range of topics for fleet executives to consider.

“Phase 2 greenhouse gas emissions and fuel economy standards for work trucks are an opportunity to get involved,” O’Connor said. “That includes while EPA and NHTSA are drafting proposed rules, during the comment period and as Congress exercises its oversight authority. A notice of proposed rulemaking is now expected by March 2015, and a final rule should be in place by March 2016.

“As EPA sets GHG standards, it needs data for finer segmentation of the vocational vehicle market,” O’Connor continued. “There is a lack of data on segments where there is significant idle time, and how best to define categories of idle time on a time- or fuel-consumed basis.”

Another opportunity to offer input is in regard to new clean car and fuel standards issued by the EPA. Starting in 2017, the Tier 3 new vehicle emissions standards will lower the sulfur content of gasoline, considering the vehicle and its fuel as an integrated system. Tier 3 will reduce volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxide tailpipe standards by 80 percent over today’s fleet, establish a 70 percent tighter particulate matter standard and reduce fuel vapor emissions to zero level.

Safety is also on legislative agendas. “For example,” O’Connor reported, “the National Transportation Safety Board studied the safety record of single-unit trucks in an attempt to identify appropriate countermeasures for these vehicles. In response to the findings of the study, the NTSB made nine recommendations to NHTSA and four recommendations to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

“However,” O’Connor said, “while FMCSA has little credible data with respect to the safety performance of managed fleets that include single-unit trucks, in the future it will be exploring options for setting different regulatory requirements for medium- and heavy-duty trucks. One option mentioned was to make a distinction for mandated fleets in the federal motor vehicle safety regulations.”

On March 31 of this year, O’Connor also told EUFMC attendees, NHTSA issued a final rule that, by May 2018, all new vehicles under 10,000 pounds GVWR must be equipped with rear-visibility technology. Approved systems will expand the field of view to enable the driver to detect areas behind the vehicle in an effort to reduce deaths and injuries resulting from backing incidents. Manufacturers have petitioned to allow cameras as an option to the conventional side-view and rearview mirrors.

For utility fleets, according to O’Connor, getting involved in these issues can help avoid having technology forced upon them when new standards are implemented, and can help legislators and regulators consider incentives that will lead to true fuel-saving and safety solutions. By bringing data into the decision-making process, including information on diverse and unique vehicle duty cycles, fleets will also be better positioned to address life-cycle and capital budget challenges and serve as a more valuable resource to senior management.

“Public policy includes legislation, regulations, implementation and enforcement activity, and administrative actions,” O’Connor said. “Engagement by fleet managers can inform and influence public policy.”

Seth Skydel

Fix That Money Drip

Fleet managers who develop objective, fact-based, data-driven decision-making processes often are successful because they don’t let emotions, irrational estimations or surface-level perceptions factor into their decisions.

Unfortunately, when it comes to properly staffing a fleet’s maintenance and repair teams, some managers waste valuable budget dollars by making shoot-from-the-hip decisions without taking time to drill down into the data to uncover facts that can help steer them toward more financially efficient, prudent paths.

This mistake can have a serious impact on the bottom line because, on average, maintenance and repair expenses can account for as much as 25 percent of annual fleet costs. This is why it is so important that you make sure you allocate every maintenance- and repair-staffing dollar wisely.

Needs Analysis as a Starting Point
On average, fleet professionals perform approximately 500 different maintenance and repair tasks on their vehicle and equipment fleet. When considering adding staff to your maintenance and repair team, you will have to determine whether or not you want new employees to have the skill sets needed to complete some or all of those tasks.

Look at the costs associated with hiring industry workers with varying degrees of skill sets. Salary amounts can range depending on what skills you want your employee to have, whether or not he or she has a professional certification, experience level and where you are located within the U.S. When you research salaries, you also are likely to discover the size of the talent pool you have to recruit from in your area.

True Productive Time and Its Impact on Value
Another mistake some fleet managers make is believing that hiring a full-time maintenance and repair worker who works eight hours a day, five days a week for 52 weeks a year will provide a value of 2,080 total hours of productive work.

A value investor does not make decisions based on this type of surface data; you must dig deeper to find the true value. First, factor in holidays, sick leave, vacation hours, jury duty, outside training and personal days, all of which is time not spent on maintenance and repair tasks. On average, these days away from the bay add up to about 580 hours per year. So, the actual work time is now down to 1,500 hours.

Next, add in on-the-job, at-work, indirect time. This is a term for the nonproductive time when staff members are engaged in administrative work and other tasks that remove them from their bays, such as ordering parts, completing paperwork and pre- and post-trip reports, taking coffee breaks and attending meetings. It’s non-wrench-turning time, and it typically accounts for 500 hours a year, which brings the total down to 1,000 hours a year of wrench-in-hand productivity.

Now dive deeper into those 1,000 hours to establish their true productive work time value. Of the 500 tasks that the maintenance and repair staff performs, only 5 percent are performed on a repetitive, continual basis. This 5 percent makes up an estimated 30 percent of their workload and consists of tasks like replacing batteries, changing oil and so on.

The good news is that these are the tasks from which you’re truly going to get one hour of productive work out of a one-hour job. That’s because workers benefit from the repetition – it increases their task efficiency and skills. In other words, the more they perform the tasks, the better they get at them. So, of the 1,000 hours, there will be 300 hours of high-value, productive work.

But this means that the other potential tasks will take up 70 percent – or 700 hours – of their workload. These tasks can slow productivity because they are more challenging and haven’t been retained in employees’ muscle memory. As a result, a one-hour task could take double, triple or even quadruple the time to complete.

On average, this drop in productivity reduces the 700 hours to about 400 hours of high-value, productive work time. Now we see that a full-time employee is going to give us a total of approximately 700 hours of maintenance and repair value – 300 hours performing repetitive tasks and 400 hours engaging in tasks that are less frequently performed.

Let’s do the math. Seven hundred productive hours is about a third of 2,080 full-time hours. That means that in the case of a $20-per-hour employee, you really are paying $60 for each productive hour.

When you add in benefits at an estimated $8 per hour, and also add in facility costs – including amortization of the floor space, heat, electricity, clerical times and everything else in that category – the actual figure gets close to $95 to $100 per hour.

Doing this calculation not only shows the value you are getting from your existing maintenance and repair staff, but also provides more revealing data about what it costs to hire new staff. How do these numbers stack up against the available outsourcing options? And where can you find other sources of value in your in-house staff that will help you lower that $95- to $100-per-hour cost?

You certainly can look at your existing staff and assess some of the intrinsic value in them, such as the efficiency and quality of work that is a result of their experience. You can also look at the cost of replacement for those workers. Finding a new worker to replace a good, reliable employee that you’ve properly trained can become a very time- and dollar-consuming task.

If you keep these concepts in mind when you make investment decisions, you’ll be much better equipped to put your organization in the best position possible to minimize its vehicle and equipment maintenance and repair outlays, maximize its vehicle availability, minimize your fleet size and maximize your fleet utilization – which adds up to lowering your fleet’s overall billable costs without reducing productivity.

About the Author: John Dolce is a fleet facility and maintenance specialist employed by Wendel Companies, an architectural and engineering firm. He is an active consultant, instructor and fleet manager with more than 40 years of experience in the public and private sector. Dolce has written three fleet-related textbooks and teaches fleet management courses at the University of Wisconsin’s Milwaukee and Madison campuses. He can be contacted at [email protected].

Five-Point Checklist for Selecting the Right Service Van for the Job

The cargo van landscape has undergone an extreme makeover the last few years, providing more options than ever for utility fleet managers to consider when purchasing new vans.

In 2008, there was only one small van available in the U.S. – the Ram C/V Tradesman, a stripped-down version of the Dodge Caravan. But then came the Ford Transit Connect in 2009, with the Nissan NV200, Chevrolet City Express and Ram ProMaster City (expected 2015 model year) also entering the fray.

The full-size van market has also experienced a major transformation since 2008, when there were only three players: GM (Chevrolet Express/GMC Savana), Ford (E-Series) and Freightliner/Mercedes (Sprinter).

Today, there are five automakers in this segment, offering a much wider range of configurations and capabilities. Ram (formerly Dodge) recently re-entered the full-size segment with its ProMaster. Nissan launched its NV full-size van in 2011. And Ford is phasing out its traditional E-Series van in favor of the new high-roof, Euro-style Transit.

So, how do you sort through all the new options to select the right van for your fleet operations? Use this five-point checklist as your guide.

1. Payload Capacity
What equipment, parts, tools and products will the van be hauling? How much will that cargo weigh at maximum load? Your answer to the weight question will help you determine what size van you need (see “Van Classifications” sidebar).

As fuel costs continue to escalate, a growing number of fleets have been considering whether to move out of full-size vans and into more fuel-efficient compacts, like the Ford Transit Connect and Nissan NV200. But before you downsize, make sure that the actual payload is in line with the smaller van’s capabilities, cautioned Mike DeCesare, regional truck manager for ARI (, a full-service fleet management firm.

“Although very fuel-efficient, mini cargo vans are extremely easy to overload,” DeCesare said. “Where the fit is right, there could be tens of thousands of dollars in fuel savings, but companies would be wise to make sure that the van they select can actually do the job. Otherwise, a less expensive, more fuel-efficient van could end up being a very costly mistake if it’s not up to the task.”

2. Trailer Capacity
Will the van pull a trailer on a regular basis? If so, what will be the total weight of the trailer and its cargo at maximum load?

This is an important consideration because van manufacturer and engine selection are impacted depending on how much weight the van needs to pull.

Take one-ton vans, for example. The Chevrolet Express 3500 offers maximum trailer capacities of 7,400 pounds with a 4.8-liter V-8 gas engine, and 10,000 pounds with the 6.6-liter V-8 Duramax diesel engine, whereas the Ram ProMaster 3500 is limited to 5,100 pounds towing.

Both are one-ton vans, but there’s a wide gap in their towing capabilities. And even with the Chevrolet Express 3500, engine selection alone can make the difference of more than 2,500 pounds in trailer capacity. So, check the trailering guidelines for any of the vans you’re considering to confirm they can do the job.

3. Van Length/Wheelbase Options
How much space do you need inside the cargo area at maximum load?

If you’re considering a full-size van, you’ll have multiple wheelbase options to consider that impact cargo volume. For applications that require hauling pipe, conduit and other long materials inside the van, the extended wheelbase options give you that flexibility.

4. Roof Height Options
Will your drivers spend a lot of time working inside the cargo area of the van?

If so, the Euro-style full-size vans – such as the Ford Transit, Ram ProMaster, Freightliner Sprinter and Nissan NV – offer high-roof options, with cargo area heights above 6 feet, in some cases, that make it easier and safer for drivers to work inside the van without having to strain or bend down.

5. Gas vs. Diesel
Most full-size vans offer the option for gas or diesel. But with an upfront premium of $7,000 to $10,000 for diesel, how do you determine which is the best engine for the job – and your budget?

One factor to consider is the projected annual miles for the vehicle. “Since diesel tends to be more fuel-efficient than gas, the vehicle needs to travel about 40,000 miles per year to recoup the upfront investment in diesel through fuel cost savings within a reasonable time period,” said Don Scare, manager of truck excellence for fleet management firm PHH Arval (, now part of Element Financial Corp.

In addition to better fuel economy, diesel also offers higher torque for towing and driving on mountainous terrain.

“The key question is, what’s the ROI? Because at the end of the day, you’re looking at about a several-thousand-dollar investment to go to diesel. The application needs to justify that higher investment,” Scare said.

Keep TCO in Mind
When it comes to proper van selection, “always keep total cost of ownership in mind,” advised Marcin Michno, business consultant, enterprise consulting and analytics for PHH Arval. “If you have a van that’s not spec’d correctly, then you risk driving up operating expenses [in terms of excessive repair and fuel costs] while diminishing resale value due to excessive wear and tear. In the end, choosing the right van with the right specification makes a huge difference in the total cost of ownership of that vehicle.”

About the Author: Sean M. Lyden is a nationally recognized journalist and feature writer for a wide range of automotive and trucking trade publications, covering fleet management strategies, light- and medium-duty trucks, truck bodies and equipment, and green fuel technologies. He blogs at Strategy + Writing (

Van Classifications
Consider the four van classifications below and their corresponding payload capacities as you evaluate the optimal van size for your requirements.

Examples: Ford Transit Connect, Nissan NV200
Payload Capacity: 1,500-1,700 pounds

Examples: Chevrolet Express 1500, Nissan NV1500
Payload Capacity: 2,300-2,500 pounds

Examples: Ford Transit-250, GMC Savana 2500
Payload Capacity: 3,000-3,300 pounds

Examples: Ram ProMaster 3500, Ford Transit-350
Payload Capacity: 4,000-4,600 pounds

Note: Although terms like “half-ton” and “one-ton” historically corresponded with actual payload capacity, today – as you can tell – that’s not the case. However, the industry has retained those terms as standard classifications for trucks and vans.

Effectively Meeting Needs

“NV Energy is unlike many other utilities our size because we have two metropolitan areas in Reno and Las Vegas, and the rest of the service territory is spread out across nearly 60,000 square miles,” said Joe Pellissier, the company’s process improvement manager. “The terrain ranges from lower desert areas to the alpine forest of Lake Tahoe, with temperatures from over 110 degrees in the summer in Las Vegas to below zero in many areas in northern Nevada.”

NV Energy supplies electricity across its whole service territory, in addition to gas in northern Nevada. “The fleet department must provide vehicles to meet these conditions as well as provide maintenance and repair support,” Pellissier explained. “Attempting to standardize our fleet is very challenging given the different geographical areas and conditions. Additionally, drivers with similar job titles have differing job functions due to operational differences in metropolitan and rural areas, and that also drives differences in vehicle and equipment needs.”

Currently, the NV Energy fleet includes approximately 1,500 vehicles, trailers and pieces of equipment. To accommodate the varying terrains, NV Energy has standardized the chassis and drivetrains of many vehicle types. Most heavy-duty trucks are equipped with 425-horsepower Cummins engines, Allison transmissions and 6×6 drive axle configurations. Recently, the company relaxed the drivetrain requirement in Las Vegas, allowing some vehicles to have a 6×4 configuration. Most of the heavy truck fleet is made up of Internationals as well as a few Freightliner, Peterbilt and Mack units.

The majority of the Class 3-5 fleet at NV Energy is supplied by Ford, along with some Ram trucks, and most light-duty pickups, vans and SUVs are GM models. Since 2005, digger derricks and aerials have been supplied mainly by Altec, although several larger specialty units have been supplied by Terex. Most of the Class 3-5 service bodies and flatbeds have been Knapheide units from local high-quality suppliers.

“We don’t have preferred suppliers,” Pellissier related. “We develop specs and any manufacturer can bid on our business. When evaluating bids, specification compliance is the first issue considered. If a vendor doesn’t meet the specs, we dive deeper into why, how important are the deviations, and whether we can accept them. After that, the second consideration is quality, but that is becoming less of an issue as we weed out suppliers that don’t meet our quality expectations.

“While we do very little evaluation of new systems and components,” Pellissier added, “when we find something that will make the user more effective or reduce our costs, we incorporate the new components into our specifications. We require suppliers to be in compliance with our specs. This allows us to reduce spare parts for many components as well as minimizes the knowledge base necessary for repairs. On some occasions, we discover new technologies or features that we incorporate into the specifications for testing development. If the tests successfully meet the desired outcome, these become standard items, which subsequent vendors are required to meet.”

Passing Hurdles
“After passing the first two hurdles in the bid evaluation, in most cases the low bidder gets the order,” Pellissier continued. “We do factor in standardization of similar units, because if we have similar vehicles and historically they have not been a problem, we look more favorably at them. We also consider life cost, including depreciation, in our purchase decisions, but generally that is addressed upfront, prior to the bid.”

As the depreciation rate has changed a few times over the years, Pellissier explained further, users are sometimes reluctant to accept new vehicles if the expense is too high. Fleet explains to users that operating costs will rise significantly as vehicles age and will meet or exceed the higher costs due to depreciation. NV Energy has been leasing vehicles since 2005, and the depreciation issue went away, Pellissier also related, but as the utility has gone back to purchasing, depreciation again becomes a bigger issue.

“Recently NVE has worked on improving reliability of vehicles and equipment, addressing the impact of extended idle time on engine wear, and reducing operational costs due to additional maintenance and fuel,” Pellissier said, “We are focused on the reduction in idle time and the increased engine life and reliability. We evaluate idle time on most vehicles and its effect on fuel costs and maintenance.

“Our specifications now require options for minimizing idle time by using various types of plug-in electric hybrid systems on any unit with a service or larger utility body,” Pellissier continued. “We use GPS data from the existing vehicle, look at historical idle time and fuel cost, and project that to the new vehicle to determine if selecting and paying for anti-idle technology is justified. If so, we add the hybrid system to the vehicle price and determine if the payback is achievable within the life cycle of the vehicle.”

NV Energy uses two methods to calculate the payback on hybrid systems, Pellissier explained. “First,” he related, “we use actual historical idle time and, secondly, idle time as a percentage of 1,600 work hours per year. We use 1 gallon of fuel use per hour of idle time and the actual cost of fuel. For a fuel use payback calculation, the company uses actual mileage and gallons used in the previous year, as well as fuel cost per gallon.”

Promoting Development
NV Energy was one of the first early adopters of Altec’s JEMS system and has been very active in promoting development of hybrid solutions. During NV Energy’s first few years of hybrid system adoption, the focus was on vehicles with hydraulically powered equipment. More recently however, the focus has shifted to hybrid technology to support anti-idle and power requirements for 12-volt truck chassis systems and 110-volt systems for external power.

In addition to trouble trucks with 38-foot lifts, NV Energy has deployed hybrid systems on other vehicles to eliminate idle time. One example is a gas crew truck that utilizes an Odyne system to power an under-chassis air compressor and electric gas pipe fusing equipment. The company also recently added four Altec JEMS systems to vehicles without any hydraulic systems. The hybrid system manages the 12- and 110-volt truck and tool load while minimizing idle time.

“We recently ordered two more gas crew trucks and a vacuum gas valve maintenance truck with the next-generation Odyne system,” Pellissier related. “The only alternative fuel we utilize today is electricity, so we’re pushing to get electric-powered vehicles, including plug-in hybrid technology, into the fleet.”

NV Energy’s hybrid-electric plan includes an expanded focus on light-duty OEM vehicles when the make, model and type of unit meet the fleet’s needs. Included are extended-range electric trucks and the ability to utilize plug-in technology while taking into consideration the challenge posed by a limited infrastructure for plugging in vehicles.

The company is also now requiring options for anti-idle technology on work trucks. “If we have vehicles with a history of long idle time, we are likely to require anti-idle/hybrid technology on the new vehicle,” Pellissier said. “NV Energy’s anti-idle system requirements include systems that power supplemental cab air conditioning and heating, as well as provide exportable power for generators, inverters and other tools.

“Altec and Terex have done a good job with their anti-idle systems,” Pellissier continued. “However, we need to extend this to other vehicle types. Our relationships with Altec, Terex and Odyne are part of our sustainability commitment to deploy alternative vehicle technologies that promote reduction of emissions and fuel consumption in appropriate work task applications.”

First Hybrid
After deploying several Altec JEMS systems, NV Energy looked for other opportunities and fielded its first truck with a hybrid system for use in the utility’s gas operation. The truck was ordered under the U.S. Department of Energy/South Coast Air Quality Management District EPRI grant awarded to Odyne to deploy 120 vehicles throughout North America.

For the next round of vehicles in the new EPRI program, the company ordered three more trucks. Two of the trucks are crew cab International models similar to the first unit, with hybrid systems to power a Vanair under-chassis air compressor and to supply power for 12- and 110-volt electrical needs. The other vehicle is a Class 7 standard cab International with a hybrid system that will power a vacuum unit, a high-pressure washer, an air compressor and a grease pump for gas valve maintenance work.

Odyne’s plug-in hybrid systems interface with Allison 3000 automatic transmissions to help save fuel during drive cycles and to provide 10,000 watts of power for stationary operations at work sites. The systems, which consist of 14.2-kWh or 28.4-kWh Johnson Controls’ lithium-ion battery packs and Remy HVH250 electric motors, are installed by Odyne and shipped to final stage manufacturers such as Altec and Terex.

Recently, Pellissier participated with EEI and other utility fleet leaders to draft a white paper making the case for utilities to increase their support of electric plug-in hybrid vehicles and systems. This paper was delivered to attendees at the EEI Annual Convention held in Las Vegas in June.

Managing the Fleet
As a former fleet manager and now a manager of process improvement, a relatively new role, Pellissier supports the NV Energy fleet on behalf of the company’s vice president of electric delivery. Victor Figueredo, director of transmission and distribution support services, oversees direct management of the fleet. Reporting to Figueredo are four fleet supervisors – Jeff McKenzie and Tom Rich in northern Nevada and Todd Seibert and Randy Koss in southern Nevada. The management team also includes a fleet administrator and a coordinator.

“We have two shops in Las Vegas, one in Reno, and five mechanics assigned to shops in small towns or at power plants,” Pellissier said. “There are also mechanics with mobile maintenance trucks who work in the field or at one of several unmanned shops. We constantly have crews assigned to work on long-term construction projects, so that too presents a challenge for the fleet department. When these projects start, we usually have a mechanic on-site for the duration of the project to ensure all vehicles and equipment are performing as expected.

“With vehicles spread out across such a large territory, it can be difficult to keep up with maintenance and compliance,” Pellissier continued, “but we have a zero tolerance for compliance items beyond the due date. Much of our repair work is outsourced due to staffing limitations, so it’s very important that we do the best maintenance we can to minimize repairs to the greatest extent possible.

“When it comes to preventive maintenance, the fleet department is challenged with getting vehicles ready for service,” Pellissier explained further. “Without the mandatory compliance issue, it is difficult to get vehicles serviced before they are considered overdue, but we have set up reporting to monitor compliance and maintenance scheduling.

“We have a complex vehicle fleet in order to meet NV Energy’s operational needs in a wide-ranging and diverse service area,” Pellissier concluded. “In addition to maintaining the fleet effectively, we continue to monitor and evaluate emerging and maturing technologies and new vehicle options, and introduce technology when it is cost-effective and applicable to the needs of NV Energy.”

About NV Energy: NV Energy Inc. provides a wide range of energy services to 1.3 million customers throughout Nevada and nearly 40 million tourists annually. NV Energy is a holding company whose principal subsidiaries, Nevada Power Co. and Sierra Pacific Power Co., do business as NV Energy. The company is headquartered in Las Vegas.

About the Author: Seth Skydel has more than 28 years of truck- and automotive-related publication experience. In his career, he has held editorial roles at numerous national business-to-business publications focusing on fleet and transportation management, vehicle and information technology, and industry trends and issues.

Using Benchmarks to Improve Fleet Operations

A benchmark is something that can be used to judge the quality or level of other, similar things. As such, a benchmark is a very nice thing for a fleet professional to have when some difficult questions are being asked. Are we competitive? When should we replace our equipment? Exactly how many technicians do we need to effectively maintain our equipment?

Those are three questions that Chris Shaffer, one of the founding partners of Utilimarc (, believes fleet managers should be answering at least annually. His company analyzes fleet data and, using its proprietary analytic software, generates a number of management tools. Benchmarks are one of those tools.

If you’re going to compare your performance with supplied benchmark data, keep in mind that it’s essential to compare apples to apples. “We have found that it’s very important to benchmark like vehicles doing like work in like applications,” Shaffer said. “If you consider, for example, a heavy-duty bucket truck, it’s important to compare yours with trucks in other fleets that have exactly the same kind of truck doing exactly the same kind of work.”

Michael Riemer, vice president of products and channel marketing at Decisiv Inc. (, echoed the importance of benchmarking on a regular basis. “It can greatly help improve the performance of maintenance operations and generate greater returns on investment in assets and personnel,” he said. “Regularly scheduled benchmarking enables fleets and their service providers to compare their performance with competitors and best-in-class performers. This analysis can help fleets better prioritize and measure key maintenance initiatives.”

Both Utilimarc and Decisiv represent fleets totaling more than 300,000 vehicles. As a result, both are capable of generating meaningful data that fleet professionals can use to benchmark their operations. There are, however, other opportunities available that enable fleets to generate yardsticks against which their performance can be compared.

One Fleet Association’s Approach
One example of other benchmarking opportunities comes from Frank Castro, transportation manager for the Snohomish County Public Utility District based in Everett, Wash. The utility’s fleet consists of light pickup trucks, Class 8 vehicles and everything in between. Castro participates in a regional professional group – the Northwest Electric Utility Fleet Managers Association (NEUFMA) – which represents 5,000-plus vehicles throughout Idaho, Washington and Oregon.

Regarding the organization’s benchmarking activities, Castro said, “If you’re just looking at your own fleet, how do you really know if you’re doing a good job unless you can compare against another organization? Maybe the best scenario would be to compare against a much larger organization.”

NEUFMA members realized that they already had the much larger organization they needed in the form of their association, which meets quarterly but has more frequent contact through email. As a result, they decided to generate a list of fleet-related issues that all members were asked to respond to at their meetings. The idea was to have a discussion about the various topics, giving members the opportunity to ask how some fleet managers were getting better numbers than others might be getting.

According to Castro, “If nothing else, we were hoping to get some help answering the question: Are we doing well or are we doing poorly? When we find a fleet that’s doing something better than we are, we talk about what they’re doing differently to see if their procedures would work in our fleets.”

Approximately 25 percent of the association’s members regularly contribute information about the various topics scheduled for discussion, but, as it turns out, that’s often enough. “In reality, everybody loves the information, but not everybody is willing to spend the time to prepare a report for the meeting,” Castro said. “Fleets who do not participate are still able to reap the benefits of our benchmarking discussions. It’s all open discussion. If they’re at the meeting, they can hear what’s going on. We also send out summaries of our discussions to the entire membership.”

The association also encourages regular email contact among its members. As a result, if anyone is having a particular issue, he or she can send out a question to the entire membership for input. Castro believes NEUFMA’s benchmarking studies provide added value to the members of the association.

A Benchmarking Caveat
While benchmarks can be valuable tools, they can also plague fleet professionals. Consider the possibility of a fleet professional having a benchmark imposed on him not by an experienced individual who understands what it means to maintain a fleet of utility vehicles, but by a middle manager who lacks the practical knowledge it takes to actually keep equipment operating and ready for service.

As Decisiv’s Riemer put it, “The ability to ensure the right information is captured [and understood] as part of the core service and repair process is the foundation for good benchmarking.”

About the Author: Tom Gelinas is a U.S. Army veteran who spent nearly a decade as a physicist before joining Irving-Cloud Publishing Co. While at Irving-Cloud, he worked in various editorial capacities for several trade publications including Fleet Equipment, Heavy Duty Equipment Maintenance and Transport Technology Today. Gelinas is a founding member of Truck Writers of North America, a professional association, and a contributing writer for Utility Fleet Professional.

Moving the Needle

Wherever we turn these days, it seems that CNG is one topic on everyone’s mind. At the 2014 Electric Utility Fleet Managers Conference held in June, for example, CNG was the subject of the first technical session, including a report by Nina Kisch, manager, fleet administration, transportation services at PG&E. Among the more than 3,300 on-road alternative-fueled and high-efficiency vehicles in the PG&E fleet, she reported, there are more than 720 natural gas units.

“CNG has a lower equivalent cost than gasoline or diesel, and lower carbon intensity than biodiesel, LNG, ultra-low-sulfur diesel, ethanol and reformulated gasoline,” Kisch reported. “CNG is also considered an alternative fuel under the Energy Policy Act of 1992. In addition, while the number of light-duty natural gas vehicles from OEMs are limited but growing, a wide variety of heavy-duty natural gas vehicles are available from manufacturers, and CNG conversions are readily available.

“While the current generation of equipment is much more reliable than first generation,” Kisch continued, “CNG vehicles aren’t available in large quantities, there are range limitations due to storage and density, and fuel storage space on the vehicle is an issue, so CNG often requires us to build a bigger, less fuel-efficient truck than diesel. There is also still a significant premium on purchases of $5,000 to $8,000 for light-duty models and $15,000 to $30,000 or more for a heavy-duty vehicle, depending on the size of the fuel system and technology, higher maintenance costs due to durability and parts availability, and in some cases a lack of qualified technicians and service centers.”

Werner J. Schweiger, Northeast Utilities president, electric distribution, delivered the keynote address at EUFMC, and CNG was also on his agenda. “The utility industry is addressing how efficiently it manages its energy portfolio,” he said, “and sustainability is a fleet issue as well. As a result, the debate about alternative fuels is a challenge in the Northeast Utilities fleet of more than 5,000 assets.

“Idling has become a significant issue,” Schweiger went on to explain. “Along with fostering a culture of more responsible operational practices, we also need to adopt technological solutions that promote environmental responsibility and enhance the image we portray in our communities.”

Increasingly in use at Northeast Utilities, Schweiger noted, are alternatives to gas and diesel vehicles and equipment. In particular, CNG-powered units are being added to the utility’s light-duty fleet. However, there does remain the challenge posed by a fuel supply infrastructure for natural gas vehicles.

“Fueling infrastructure is one of the largest limitations on CNG vehicle adoption,” Schweiger said. “With respect to the solution, expansion of more fill stations must be driven by a larger demand that has to come from more CNG-enabled fleets and more progress in cost-effective solutions among the choices available for CNG models. Other partners in finding a solution can be local, state and federal agencies that promote conversion of fleets to alternative fuels such as CNG through grants and other programs.”

Schweiger encourages dialogue among industry stakeholders. “Forums such as the Electric Utility Fleet Managers Conference are ideal for the collaboration that is needed to bridge the requirements of utilities with the gas industry and automotive vendors,” he stated.

“As an operations executive, I have always valued the role of fleet,” Schweiger continued. “While fleet was once viewed merely as a cost center, it is now a strategic asset as utilities work to effectively manage their fuel costs and to enhance a culture that is environmentally responsible. The theme of this conference – driving fleet value and performance – is timely as the industry continues to focus on fuel diversity, a challenge that will grow. The amount of progress you have already made is impressive, and the collaboration between fleet professionals and vendors has moved the needle with respect to the transportation needs of the utility industry.”

For more information about EUFMC, visit

Seth Skydel

Latest Developments in Self-Inflating Tires

What if tires could inflate themselves and maintain optimal pressure at all times, with no human intervention required? How much of an impact could that make on fuel efficiency, tire life cycle, driver safety and a fleet’s bottom line?

New self-inflating tire technologies being developed today may provide a glimpse into future possibilities.

Cost of (Improper) Inflation
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a tire that’s underinflated by just 10 pounds per square inch (psi) can reduce fuel efficiency by up to 1 percent per tire.

That’s because an underinflated tire, as it flexes, creates greater friction with the road surface, requiring more energy – or fuel – for the vehicle to overcome the added resistance.

This friction also causes heat to build up in the tire, leading to accelerated deterioration and increased risk of blowout. A report by the Technology & Maintenance Council of the American Trucking Associations on tire pressure monitoring and inflation maintenance states that tires operating constantly at 20 percent below appropriate pressure levels could increase the wear of the tread by 25 percent.

The challenge is that many fleets don’t do a great job of keeping up with tire pressure on a regular basis, with more than half of truck tires on the road operating outside of their target pressure range, according to research by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

This is important because tires left on their own, just by natural diffusion, will leak about 2 psi per month. Then there’s the issue of pressure fluctuations resulting from extreme climate temperatures that impact tire performance and longevity. So, it can be difficult and often impractical for fleet managers and drivers to manually keep up with tire pressures all the time.

Self-Contained, Self-Inflating System
One solution under development is Goodyear’s Air Maintenance Technology (AMT), a self-maintaining tire inflation system that enables tires to remain inflated at the optimum pressure without the need for any external pumps or electronics. All components of the system, including the miniaturized pump, are fully contained within the tire.

The project was unveiled in 2011 and has been aided by a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Vehicle Technologies Office. The grant money funds research, development and demonstration of the AMT system for commercial truck tires.

How does AMT work?

“AMT has an internal regulator that senses when the tire inflation pressure has dropped below a specified level,” explained John Kotanides Jr., project manager at Goodyear ( in the Akron, Ohio-based Global Innovations Group. “Once the system senses the pressure drop, the regulator opens to allow air to flow into a pumping tube. And as the tire rolls down the road, under the load of the vehicle, the deflection of the tire will flatten that pumping tube, pushing puffs of air back into the tire through the inlet valve. The air flows into the tire cavity and continues to fill the tire as it rolls down the road until the regulator senses that the specified tire pressure has been met and then shuts the system off, until it senses another pressure drop.”

Kotanides said that the company expects to begin piloting AMT on commercial trucks by the end of 2014, but he could not comment on pricing and when the system will be available for sale.

What fleet applications will benefit from AMT?

“Right now, our focus is on the long-haul Class 8 tractor-trailer setup. But we think this type of system could work on almost any tire that has inflation and that travels down the road under a load,” Kotanides said.

Bolt-On Hub System
Another solution to the problem of underinflated tires is Halo, which was launched earlier this year by Burlingame, Calif., startup Aperia Technologies (

Halo is mounted outside the tire, onto a truck’s axle hub, and is designed to use a wheel’s rotation to maintain optimal tire pressure in dual and wide-based tires on the drive and trailer axles of trucks, tractors, trailers and buses.

“Halo operates on a similar principle to a self-winding watch,” said Josh Carter, chief executive officer and co-founder of Aperia. “It uses a wheel’s rotational motion to pump and maintain optimal tire pressure and therefore does not require any connection to a compressor.”

This is an important distinction because using compressors to power self-inflating tires increases complexity – and cost – and could add weight to a level that negates the fuel economy savings generated by maintaining proper tire pressure in the first place.

Carter said that Halo, which bolts on to the hub on each side of an axle, weighs about 5 pounds per unit and requires fewer than 10 minutes to install by a service technician, without expensive tools.

Since the system is mounted on the axle hub and not integrated into the tire itself, each Halo unit can be remounted for use with multiple sets of tires for up to 500,000 miles or 10 years, the company said.

This bolt-on approach also gives fleet managers flexibility in tire choices, Carter said. “Fleets have a lot of loyalty with a tire manufacturer and they get into a groove with a tire program. With Halo, they can use whichever tire manufacturer they want.”

Carter said that Aperia’s first Halo production run was allocated quickly after launching in March, and the company is currently taking orders for the next round of production. List price is $299 per unit.

Will this system be made available for applications besides long-haul trucking, such as utility fleets?

“Right now our focus is on Class 7 to 8 trucks, primarily those used in long-haul applications because of the payback time frame those fleets can expect from cost savings driven by improved fuel economy,” Carter said. “But we have received a lot of interest for tailoring the system for a wider range of truck sizes and applications. And we have plans in place to conduct a pilot program for the utility market later this year.”

The Bottom Line
Since tire inflation is a critical factor to reducing fuel consumption and overall fleet operational costs, it’s likely that some form of self-inflating tire technology will gain widespread market acceptance. But when? And will the systems of the future look more like Goodyear’s AMT that is integrated within each tire or Aperia’s Halo that is bolted on to the axle hub outside the tire? Or will there be a new, even more effective approach to solving this problem? Keep your eye on this space.

About the Author: Sean M. Lyden is a nationally recognized journalist and feature writer for a wide range of automotive and trucking trade publications, covering fleet management strategies, light- and medium-duty trucks, truck bodies and equipment, and green fuel technologies. He blogs at Strategy + Writing (

Driving Toward Discounts: How Telematics is Reshaping the Auto Insurance Marketplace

Here’s a pop quiz for you: Driver A is a 17-year-old single male who conservatively drives his car a total of 12 miles a week to and from his high school. Driver B is a 52-year-old married female who aggressively drives her car 500 miles a week to and from her late night/early morning job at a restaurant. Both have perfect safety records and no traffic violations. Who is likely to have the more expensive vehicle insurance premium?

With a traditional insurance plan, Driver A would more than likely have the higher premium. This is based on the fact that the risk data that insurance companies use to calculate premium rates indicates that young, inexperienced, single male drivers are more likely to get into accidents.

However, the reality is that Driver B is the higher-risk driver. She drives during the most dangerous hours of the day. She’s an aggressive driver. And she drives a considerable number of miles.

This is where usage-based insurance plans – also referred to as pay-as-you-go plans – come into play. By installing telematics devices in vehicles to gather more accurate risk data, insurance companies are now setting personalized rates based on individual driver activities, behaviors and actions. They look at a number of risk indicators, including:
• How often a driver slams on the brakes.
• How many miles a driver drives.
• The time of day a driver drives.
• How often a driver speeds or drives aggressively.
• Whether or not a driver uses a phone while driving.
• How long a driver drives without taking breaks.

Telematics insurance products have been available in the U.S. for a number of years, and their future popularity is projected to skyrocket. According to a study by ABI Research, telematics insurance will see a massive boost in popularity – growing from 5.5 million subscribers at the end 2013 to approximately 107 million subscribers in 2018.

With constant advances in technology added to vehicles at both the OEM and aftermarket levels, it is safe to say that usage-based plans may soon become the insurance industry standard.

About the Author: John Dolce is a fleet facility and maintenance specialist employed by Wendel Companies, an architectural and engineering firm. He is an active consultant, instructor and fleet manager with more than 40 years of experience in the public and private sector. Dolce has written three fleet-related textbooks and teaches fleet management courses at the University of Wisconsin’s Milwaukee and Madison campuses. He can be contacted at [email protected].

Driving Fleet Value and Performance

“The Electric Utility Fleet Managers Conference is an unparalleled opportunity for fleet professionals,” said Gerald Owens, fleet manager at Oncor Electric Delivery and EUFMC president. “EUFMC offers educational sessions on management topics by industry experts, manufacturers and fleets, and roundtables where fleet managers share best practices and work with suppliers and service providers to address challenges. This conference is a unique forum where fleet managers can exchange ideas and network with suppliers who showcase new technologies and are prepared to discuss technical and operational issues.”

EUFMC continues to attract a record number of attendees. In 2013, more than 100 fleet professionals from about 75 investor-owned electric utilities in the U.S. and Canada came to the conference.

“I knew after attending my first EUFMC in 2009 that this conference would be one that I could not afford to miss each year,” said Chris Wilson, supervisor at Knoxville Utilities Board, Transportation Department. “Having the ability to network with some of the top fleet managers in the country, as well as the informative and detailed display of products presented by manufacturers, has been well worth my attendance. EUFMC is an excellent learning environment, and at the end of each year’s conference I leave with knowledge, real-life solutions, ideas and contacts that have proven to be invaluable.”

“For me professionally and for my company,” stated Dave Fisher, fleet manager at PNM Resources, “EUFMC hits home because it’s relevant for electric utility fleets. Unlike other conferences we’ve attended, everybody at the Electric Utility Fleet Managers Conference is dealing with the same issues, and the exhibits at the show are all focused on the same types of equipment we use. EUFMC is a great place to interact with top utility fleet people from across the nation.”

Driving Fleet Value and Performance
For 2014, EUFMC educational program presentations will include:
• CNG – Hear the facts from utilities and industry experts about their experiences, success and issues regarding the use of CNG in a utility fleet.
• Regulatory Update – Get information on current federal and state regulatory issues affecting utility fleets, and learn how to influence decisions.
• Safety – Hear about the process one utility used to investigate and reduce recordable incidents, and lessons learned.
• Managing Driver Performance and Vehicle Information – Get expert advice on the risks and advantages of telematics and other onboard systems.
• Vehicle Electrification – Utility executives explain their position on vehicle electrification.
• How Do You Do It? – A panel of utility fleet professionals provides insight on a variety of current, relevant topics, including technician recruiting and training, sourcing parts, fuel cost reduction and more. Presenters on the agenda include Gregg Doeden of Arizona Public Service, Dave Fisher of PNM Resources and Diana Weaver of American Electric Power.
• Tires: Minimizing Failures and Managing Cost – Fleet managers and manufacturers discuss minimizing tire costs with successful management programs and advancements in tire technology, tire pressure monitoring and failure analysis.

Featured Speakers
Werner J. Schweiger, electric distribution president at Northeast Utilities, will offer valuable insights to EUFMC attendees based on 30 years of utility industry experience. Currently, Schweiger is responsible for overall operations at Northeast Utilities’ four electric operating companies that deliver electricity to more than 3 million customers in 525 cities and towns in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

Previously, Schweiger served at NSTAR as president of NSTAR Electric, where he was responsible for distribution, engineering and investment planning across a system serving 1.1 million customers, and as senior vice president of operations with responsibility for electric and gas operations, engineering, metering, fleet, training and investment planning. Earlier in his career, Schweiger held positions at Long Island Lighting Co. and KeySpan Corp.

Bonnie St. John, who has been called one of the five most inspiring women in America by “NBC Nightly News,” will bring her message of success to the 2014 EUFMC. St. John is a highly successful Paralympics athlete, best-selling author, television and radio personality, business owner and consultant to senior Fortune 500 business executives.

Today, St. John travels the globe speaking and leading seminars for corporate clients, and researching writing projects. She frequently donates personal appearances to schools, homeless shelters, community groups and other organizations. St. John is also the author of six books.

Supplier Support
EUFMC is supported by suppliers who take part in a drive-through utility equipment demonstration and an exhibition of more than 60 displays of the latest equipment and services for utility fleets. In 2013, 250-plus representatives from more than 95 manufacturers and service providers were in attendance.

“Preco Electronics Inc. has been attending EUFMC for a number of years,” said Peter Evans, vice president at Preco Electronics. “The unique format of the event creates the perfect atmosphere for sharing ideas and building strong business relationships that continue long after the last day of the conference.”

“Equipment Technology has been a proud sponsor of the Electric Utility Fleet Managers Conference for many years,” added Chris Neuberger, president of Equipment Technology. “ETI believes strongly in the value of the conference as it provides an environment to dialogue and work collaboratively toward industry solutions.”

At EUFMC 2014, the International Fluid Power Society will present its range of hydraulic and pneumatic certifications and membership and education offerings for utility fleets and equipment manufacturers. Included is the IFPS Mobile Hydraulic Mechanic certification, a third-party assessment of an individual technician’s skill level. Also offered by the organization are membership programs for individuals and corporations, and online and on-site education through a network of service providers.

Excellent Opportunity
“EUFMC is one of the best conferences,” said Marvin Snyder, manager of operations at Adams Electric Cooperative. “The exchange of ideas, the viewing of new equipment and technology, and meeting vendors and other fleet managers are excellent opportunities that occur as a result of attending. The roundtable discussions are also very informative. Adams Electric Cooperative is relatively small compared to the larger utilities in attendance, but we have most of the same issues, so listening to others is very helpful and gives us insights on solutions.”

“EUFMC is one of the only conferences that I go to annually,” said Pat Procaccini, manager of transportation and equipment at PSE&G. “The topics that are presented are always timely and the information provided is extremely useful. This conference also provides adequate time to network with other fleet professionals. I continue to reach out to the professionals that I meet during the conference on a regular basis to leverage their vast combined experience to help better my organization, and to share my experiences.”

For more than 60 years, EUFMC has lived up to its objectives, which include providing educational and technical information in a forum where utility fleet professionals can exchange ideas, and promoting cooperation between manufacturers and service suppliers and fleet executives.

Future EUFMC meeting dates are May 31-June 3, 2015, and June 5-8, 2016. For more information, visit

About the Author: Seth Skydel has more than 28 years of truck- and automotive-related publication experience. In his career, he has held editorial roles at numerous national business-to-business publications focusing on fleet and transportation management, vehicle and information technology, and industry trends and issues.

Worthwhile Investment

“Like many utility fleets, we have gone down the rebuilding path before and then moved away from it,” said Al Mascaro, fleet manager at Connecticut Light & Power Co. “Today, however, several key factors caused us to rethink our aerial replacement practices.

“There were economic and financial issues,” Mascaro continued, “such as the higher cost of new equipment and the relatively low residual value of used units. There were also changes in technology that have significantly improved equipment longevity and durability, including truck chassis and bodies that are favorable for rebuilding.”

Last, but certainly not least, Mascaro added, “We have the talent, tools and facilities to rebuild trucks and aerials in-house for less than half the cost of purchasing new equipment. The bottom line is that from operational and maintenance standpoints, we can have a boom going out that is better than when it came in.”

When the decision was made to embark on an in-house aerial rebuilding program at CL&P, Mascaro, a 32-year veteran of the utility, turned to the fleet’s highly qualified management personnel. Heading up the effort are Ronald Henne, transportation supervisor – Central Services, who has more than 33 years of fleet work experience, including 28 years at CL&P and 23 years as a supervisor, and Jack Deen, transportation supervisor – Aerial Overhaul Program, who joined the company after retiring from the U.S. Navy and has additional experience at Cummins and truck stop service facilities.

Selling Points
“One of the biggest selling points for this program,” Henne said, “is that we can rebuild aerials to reflect the latest designs and technologies. Everything manufacturers have developed and changed over time can be applied to the rebuilt units, from the turret to the bucket.”

The same philosophy, Mascaro noted, is applicable to the trucks’ chassis and stainless steel bodies. “We looked at our maintenance costs for a bucket truck in our fleet, which has a typical life cycle of 10 years, and realized we weren’t spending a lot of money on major components,” he said.

“Our specs and spending up front were designed for longevity, but we weren’t keeping trucks in service for a longer time,” Mascaro related. “With this program, we’re extending a 10-year life cycle to 17 years, which also frees up capital for customer reliability projects.”

The CL&P chassis in the rebuilding program are International 4400 models with DT466 engines and Allison automatic transmissions. Deen noted that to date, of the 61 trucks that have received rebuilt aerials, fewer than 20 percent – or about 10 to 12 units – have required powertrain rebuilds.

Aerial equipment makers involved in the CL&P rebuilding program include Holan, Lift-All, Terex and Altec. “We work closely with suppliers and manufacturers to maintain a sufficient inventory of parts to support the rebuild program,” Deen said. “This partnership facilitates long-range planning and ordering of supplies before a truck is scheduled to be rebuilt.”

According to Deen and Henne, one challenging part of the process has been to stay ahead of changes among manufacturers, particularly aerial equipment companies that have merged or been bought out. “That is an ongoing issue, particularly for inventory control and engineering support,” Henne stated.

“Manufacturers are also key to making sure our technicians have the skills necessary to support the rebuild program,” Deen added. “Our suppliers helped technicians develop those additional skills through on-the-job training, including specialized skills associated with the aerial rebuilds which are done in-house, such as machining bushings from raw stock, custom fabrication of hydraulic hoses and rebuilding hydraulic cylinders.”

For completed rebuilt units, dielectric testing is handled for CL&P by Diversified Inspections/ITL, which is the same outside service provider that certifies the company’s aerials on a regular basis. In addition to dielectric testing, rebuilt units also have an acoustic emissions test performed in-house prior to being returned to service.

Under Mascaro’s direction, the CL&P fleet includes approximately 300 bucket trucks, 50 digger derricks, 500 Class 2 pickups and vans, 12 tractor-trailers, and a range of specialty and heavy equipment such as cranes and bulldozers. Specifications and purchases are handled by the Corporate Transportation operation headed up by Ron Thresher, manager at Northeast Utilities, CL&P’s parent company. The CL&P fleet is maintained by 80 technicians at 16 shops across Connecticut.

Exceeding Expectations
“There are always changes that can adversely affect equipment reliability,” Mascaro stated, “but we’re keeping tabs on every facet of our rebuilding program, and we are confident that it’s meeting and exceeding our expectations in every way. That not only includes financially, but in other very important ways as well.

“We could have outsourced this process very easily, and the numbers were very good either way,” Mascaro continued, “but we feel that performing this work in-house contributes to the program’s success. We have full faith in the skill of our staff, and our lineworkers feel the same way.

“Their confidence in this program was especially apparent this past January when we dispatched crews to help with storm restoration work in another state,” Mascaro concluded. “While the company selected the crews that would go out of state, the lineworkers chose the vehicles to take, and among them were two units from our rebuilding program.”

CL&P Truck Specifications
Model: International 4400
Wheelbase: 175 inches
Body: Reading ZAT148ADW Utility Body
Engine: International DT466 HT, 250 HP at 2300 rpm
Transmission: Allison MD3060P
Front Axle and Suspension: 12,000-pound leaf spring
Power Steering: TRW
Rear Axle and Suspension: 23,000-pound leaf spring
Brakes: Air
Wheels: 22.5-by-8.25 steel disc
Tires: 11R22.5 Michelin XZE

About CL&P: Formed in 1917, Connecticut Light & Power Co. is the state’s largest electric utility. Serving 1.2 million customers in 149 cities and towns, the company has a service area bordered by New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island covering about 4,400 square miles. CL&P’s transmission network includes 1,625 miles of overhead transmission lines, 403 miles of underground cables and 19 substations. Its distribution network has 18,375 miles of overhead lines, 1,154 miles of underground lines and 212 substations.

CL&P is part of Northeast Utilities, New England’s largest utility system serving more than 3.6 million electric and natural gas customers in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Sister companies include NSTAR Electric, Public Service of New Hampshire, Western Massachusetts Electric Co., Hopkinton LNG Corp., NSTAR Gas and Yankee Gas Services Co.

About the Author: Seth Skydel has more than 28 years of truck- and automotive-related publication experience. In his career, he has held editorial roles at numerous national business-to-business publications focusing on fleet and transportation management, vehicle and information technology, and industry trends and issues.

Managing Warranty Recovery

Even though warranty coverage is automatically included with each new vehicle and replacement part bought for your fleet, nearly every fleet professional fights with suppliers for more. It’s also a lot like accident insurance policies; good warranty coverage is nice to have, but it’s something that no one looks forward to using.

Like it or not, part of every dollar you spend on a new truck or replacement part goes to pay for warranty. Doesn’t it make sense to maximize the return you’re getting on those dollars? To do that, you need to have a warranty recovery system in place to be in a position to recover all the warranty money that’s coming to you.

“Warranty recovery is worth about a penny a mile over the life of a truck, so it is a vital part of controlling costs,” said Darry Stuart, president and CEO of DWS Fleet Management Services ( “Too often, however, fleets lack an organized procedure to store failed parts. There needs to be a specific location for failed parts and a procedure to mark and identify the parts. That way, if a manufacturer calls for one of those parts, shop personnel can go directly to where it can be found.”

Sources of Warranty
Warranty is readily available from several sources. All new vehicles come with standard warranty packages provided by manufacturers, generally through their dealer networks. In addition to these standard packages, some fleet managers are able to obtain supplementary coverage from truck manufacturers based on the size of the order and the fleet professionals’ negotiating skills.

In some instances, manufacturers will approve reimbursement for repairs after the standard warranty expires; these have become known as policy adjustments. If you need to repair a vehicle, and you believe the repair should be covered by the vehicle or component manufacturer, don’t hesitate to ask for reimbursement under a policy adjustment.

Another widely available source of potential warranty reimbursement is the additional coverage available to fleets when a new vehicle is purchased. This can come from two sources: major component suppliers and extended warranties offered for sale by truck builders. The former, which normally comes at no extra charge, commonly covers major drivetrain components. Most knowledgeable fleet managers, however, do not consider the purchase of extended warranties, the latter source of additional coverage, to be a good business decision.

An additional source of warranty reimbursement comes from aftermarket parts suppliers, many of whom offer warranty coverage on their products. This is where most fleets struggle to make the claims necessary to successfully maximize their warranty recovery. When many fleets in the industry were using three years as their trade cycle, new truck warranties dominated in importance. Now, however, with trade cycles extending five and even seven years, more replacement parts are being used that are not covered by new truck warranties. The successful management of an effective warranty recovery program is an important opportunity for a fleet to recover dollars.

Recovery Management
While most fleets have some kind of program to track warranty, only those that have a formal program – and properly manage it – are successful. “Many people claim they collect warranty, but I find most don’t have an established procedure to track it. So they really don’t have a handle on it,” Stuart said.

Management’s challenge is to make sure technicians know what opportunities exist for warranty recovery. When analyzing why warranty reimbursement has been lost, too many fleet professionals find it was because they hadn’t done a satisfactory job communicating to the people in the field what was needed from them to properly file for warranty. When a problem is encountered with a warrantable transaction, try to identify who was missing necessary information and what that information was, and then figure out how to eliminate such errors from recurring.

Maintenance management software can help. The most effective software modules are designed specifically to help fleets maximize warranty recovery. “The software should help the fleet know that the repair about to be done is warrantable,” said Dave Walters, technical sales manager for TMW Systems (, a provider of enterprise software to transportation and logistics companies. “If you can have that information in front of you early in the process, it may influence how you make that repair and where you get that repair done. Our software will identify and bring to the forefront potential warranty claims.”

“It’s always possible to discover warranty information after a repair has been completed or the information makes it into the fleet’s maintenance system, but that’s an after-the-fact, reactive approach,” said Michael Riemer, vice president of products and channel marketing at Decisiv Inc. ( “When information about warranties becomes available to fleets and service providers at the beginning of the process, it saves time and lets fleet managers know upfront what will and won’t be covered. Some fleets estimate 30 percent savings from warranty recapture using the Decisiv platform. With the right technology, those are valuable opportunities for warranty recapture that won’t be missed.”

Decisiv’s cloud-based Service Relationship Management (SRM) software enables fleets to manage, monitor, and report on service and repair events independent of asset type or service provider. The SRM platform, which integrates with many maintenance management systems, makes warranty information available in real time as soon as a vehicle identification number is entered.

Value Received
What’s a good warranty recovery system worth? Consider a fleet with a six- or seven-year trade cycle. In that fleet, there will be a broad range of vehicle ages, and therefore a range of warranty needs. “For vehicle ages of 1 through 3 years, we see a warranty recovery of about 10 percent of the amount spent on maintenance annually,” Walters said. “In years 3 and beyond, we see a 4 to 5 percent return from a combination of extended warranties and aftermarket parts warranty.”

Clearly, there are some significant dollars available for fleets that are willing to correctly set up a warranty recovery system. Remember, you pay for warranty every time you purchase a new truck or replacement part. Make sure you’re getting an acceptable return on that investment.

About the Author: Tom Gelinas is a U.S. Army veteran who spent nearly a decade as a physicist before joining Irving-Cloud Publishing Co. While at Irving-Cloud, he worked in various editorial capacities for several trade publications including Fleet Equipment, Heavy Duty Equipment Maintenance and Transport Technology Today. Gelinas is a founding member of Truck Writers of North America, a professional association, and a contributing writer for Utility Fleet Professional.

Struggles and Strategies

To some, spare vehicles are presumed to be extra units that, for the most part, sit idle and therefore have no real cost associated with them. For the unfortunate fleet managers and end users who believe this, they will inevitably find out how inaccurate they are.

A vehicle deteriorates when it sits idle for too long, and spare units kept at an end user’s location are usually idle more of the time than if they are shared with other departments. When it comes time for these vehicles to be put to work, they typically have deteriorated from lack of use – regardless of whether they are stored inside or outside – and are not functional unless serviced to avoid breakdowns. Deterioration can come in the form of rust, corrosion, component cannibalization, lack of preventive maintenance and dead batteries due to parasitic drain from new technology.

So, why would someone keep spare vehicles, particularly when many units that have been replaced with new vehicles are auctioned off, traded in or scrapped? The logic behind keeping spares is that the fleet will have properly configured extra vehicles in the event that they are needed, providing convenience and an alternative to renting units that may be costly and not fully meet the fleet’s needs.

This logic, however, is faulty. If these units were truly capable of functioning as required, why were they replaced instead of having their lives extended? Once vehicles exceed their life cycles, maintenance costs increase, making old units more costly than new ones to own and operate. If a unit has been replaced, it should be removed from service because it does not support reliability, safety or cost-efficiency.

It’s crucial for fleet needs to be reviewed on an annual basis. This assessment gives fleet personnel the opportunity to define and refine the mix of their motor pool as well as determine what units should be removed from the mix due to lack of use. These units typically should not be replaced because if they are not being used, they are not needed. At the same time, if there is an underutilized vehicle in the mix that still has some economic life left, it can replace a unit in the same vocational class that is higher in cost, and that more costly unit can be removed from the fleet inventory.

A Spare Solution
As previously stated, keeping spare units at an end user’s location can result in them being idle more often. This is not the only end user-related obstacle fleet managers run into when addressing spare vehicles.

The reality is that sometimes vehicle replacement programs have politically and culturally powerful end users at the top of the pecking order. Their influence and authority allow them to bend or even break rules that were put in place to keep the fleet running in a cost-effective manner.

As fleet managers, we support these end users who, due to their power and perceptions, still want spare vehicles even though they are idle and costly. In the face of their choices, our vehicle support personnel can only do their best to provide operating and cost information, furnish return-on-investment analyses, and support end users’ work methods in the most fiscally responsible way possible.

It is worth the time spent to educate yourself, your staff and end users about arguably the best use of true spare vehicles (not those units that have been replaced by newer, better vehicles) – making them part of the fleet’s central motor pool. The motor pool usually consists of a number of reliable light-duty and vocational units that are put into service when other, more frequently used vehicles are in need of maintenance or repair, or during peak service times when the workload is greater than usual.

Adding these reliable spare units to the pool has multiple benefits. First, since they are being added to the rotation, they will not sit idle and continue to deteriorate. This leads to lower costs of operation and ownership, as well as greater safety and reliability. Second, fleets will potentially spend less on rental units if they have more vehicles in the central motor pool. And third, if it appears they are no longer needed after three to six months, units can and should be removed from service and cost-effectively disposed of.

It is a good idea for all companies with fleets to take the time to create a written policy that details why and how the company rotates vehicles in a central motor pool, and why and how units should be removed from the fleet. The policy should be signed by the company’s chief operating officer and published for all departments to review and follow.

Changing Times, Changing Technology
Times are changing, and it’s to a fleet’s advantage to adapt to new technology and adopt the most recent best practices, including how to handle spare vehicles. Due to global competition, a vehicle manufactured today is designed to last longer and achieve more miles than one produced 20 to 25 years ago.

The lives of top maintenance and repair components – among others, tires, brakes, steering, air conditioning, starters, alternators, drivelines, engines and transmissions – have also been extended due to better technology. In turn, they are more reliable for greater periods of time in their application-specific environments. Today’s vehicle warranties are also better and longer than in the past, which is further proof the vehicle components are more reliable and last longer.

On top of all that, vehicle maintenance technicians, mechanics and related workers are more highly trained now than ever before. Their input to management continues to improve fleet best practices every day, and we’re seeing repairs we have never seen in the past. For example, it was previously unheard of to replace a vehicle’s hydraulic brake line because the brake lines used to outlive the vehicle. Now, vehicle life cycles are much longer, so many components need to be replaced or have their lives extended, which also extends the cost of the unit beyond its original purchase price.

Today’s fleet service personnel are also highly aware that young vehicles require different services than older vehicles. Mounted equipment needs are different from chassis to chassis and application to application, and usage keeps spares more reliable for longer periods of time and better controls costs.

In summary, spare units should be removed from fleets if at all possible, but if an end user insists on keeping spares, adding them to a central motor pool is the best way to prevent them from becoming idle and unduly costly. The bottom line is that chief executives, fleet personnel, and all departments need to communicate and work together to establish spare vehicle guidelines that best meet everyone’s needs.

About the Author: John Dolce is a fleet facility and maintenance specialist employed by Wendel Companies, an architectural and engineering firm. He is an active consultant, instructor and fleet manager with more than 40 years of experience in the public and private sector. Dolce has written three fleet-related textbooks and teaches fleet management courses at the University of Wisconsin’s Milwaukee and Madison campuses. He can be contacted at [email protected].

Cooling System Maintenance Considerations for Fleet Managers

Automotive engineers have made great strides in recent years in their attempts to increase the efficiency of engines. Their efforts, unfortunately, cause them to butt heads with various principles of physics. As good as they are, today’s gasoline engines are usually less than one-third efficient. Diesels do a bit better with efficiencies running generally just over a third. With the exception of post-combustion heat recovery systems, that leaves approximately two-thirds of the heat energy either going out the tailpipe or being handled by the cooling system.

Thermodynamics says that any heat engine will run more efficiently as its operating temperature increases, but, of course, there’s a limit since parts will start to melt. Engines are designed to operate efficiently within a relatively narrow heat range. Too cool means less power output. Too hot means overheating problems. Keeping the operating temperature in that narrow heat range is the job of the cooling system.

Producing an efficient cooling system is the job of automotive design engineers. Keeping the system operating efficiently is the job of a fleet’s maintenance department.

Ethylene glycol, propylene glycol or long-life/extended-life coolant should be used in cooling systems year-round as the glycol provides both freeze and boil-over protection. It also provides a stable environment for gaskets and hoses, which might leak if only water is used as a coolant. Antifreeze products offered by reputable manufacturers will comply with applicable ASTM standards and should be used only with distilled water in a blend of between 40 percent and 60 percent. A 50 percent blend is ideal.

Coolant containing too high a concentration of antifreeze can cause silicate dropout and water pump leakage. A study of water pump failures by Cummins ( found an overconcentration of antifreeze in 78 percent of the pumps they examined.

Because magnesium and calcium found in most tap water can cause scaling on internal cooling system components, tap water should not be used in cooling systems. In addition, sulfates in tap water can corrode these parts. Distilled water should always be used when filling a cooling system to help avoid these problems.

Engineers at Baldwin Filters ( outline the various functions required of an engine coolant:
• Removes heat
• Lubricates components such as water pumps
• Provides freeze protection
• Prevents scale and sludge formation
• Protects against corrosion

The first three can be handled by a simple mix of a low-silicate antifreeze and distilled water. Supplemental coolant additives (SCAs) must be introduced to the system to prevent scale and sludge formation and to provide corrosion protection. SCAs typically contain inhibitors designed to prevent generalized corrosion and cavitation erosion, and they keep hard water scale from depositing on engine surfaces and use buffers to reduce the acidity of the coolant.

Fleets need an effective preventive maintenance program to keep the cooling system clean. Because this can be labor intensive, it’s too often not done. All commercial trucks should be equipped with coolant filters, and fleet managers should strongly consider working with cleaning filters that are used for a relatively short time instead of normal coolant filters. Manufacturers have developed spin-on cleaner/filter cartridges that chemically clean the system while the truck is used in normal operations. These units are left on the truck for a few weeks. After that, the coolant is checked with test strips to ensure that dissolved solids are within OEM-recommended levels. The cleaner/filter contains the chemistry needed to clean a cooling system as well as what’s needed to protect it against further corrosion.

Check for Leaks
In many cases a small coolant leak might not be noticed because of the high temperatures under the hood during operation. The leaked coolant simply evaporates as the truck travels down the road. The result could be an automatic shutdown.

The best way to check a cooling system for small leaks is to pressurize it before making an inspection. Too often, fleets that pressurize cooling systems on a regular basis only pressurize to cap pressure. System pressures up to 18 psi should be used.

Arctic Fox ( makes a tool called a Coolant Dam Pressure Tester that uses shop air to quickly pressurize systems up to 18 psi. After pressurizing the system, the technician lets the truck sit for a while and then looks for problems. After checking for leaks, he or she can use the same test unit to check the cap.

High-quality silicone coolant hoses and heater hoses are found on most commercial trucks today, yet cold water leaks are still a problem faced by the trucking industry. To obtain good sealing at the coolant hose connection, the entire system – stem, hose and clamp – must be considered. Constant tension or spring-loaded clamps generally seal better than constant diameter screw clamps, especially for sealing in low temperatures. These generally work better because they contract as the material in the hose wall thermally contracts and loses resilience.

Cooling systems require maintenance on a regular basis. Antifreeze needs additives. Systems need to be cleaned and checked for leaks. When cooling systems are working properly, most engine problems can be avoided.

About the Author: Tom Gelinas is a U.S. Army veteran who spent nearly a decade as a physicist before joining Irving-Cloud Publishing Co. While at Irving-Cloud, he worked in various editorial capacities for several trade publications including Fleet Equipment, Heavy Duty Equipment Maintenance and Transport Technology Today. Gelinas is a founding member of Truck Writers of North America, a professional association, and a contributing writer for Utility Fleet Professional.

Helping Fleets Shine

Managing a fleet can be a challenging task. In addition to the day-to-day procedures and duties, it is essential to think long term as well. Whether a seasoned professional or a new arrival to fleet management, it is necessary to utilize new strategies and technologies to find efficiencies, cut costs and lower the total cost of ownership (TCO). How this is achieved can be a different strategy for each fleet.

ARI is a privately held vehicle fleet management services company with a workforce of more than 2,500 in offices throughout North America, Europe, the United Kingdom and Hong Kong. Founded in 1948 by parent company Holman Automotive Group, ARI manages more than 1 million vehicles in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Europe.

According to Rob Hoysgaard, director of sales support at ARI, “Having a strategic partner with the knowledge, experience and flexibility to help run an efficient fleet and manage the data the fleet returns is critical to ensuring the fleet is achieving maximum cost savings and the lowest TCO possible. We work with customers to solve complex problems with fleet vehicles and equipment, combining business insight and optimal life-cycle analysis, best-in-class services, and high-powered technology to push up vehicle fleet efficiency and cut costs.” ARI helps the fleets it works with to achieve this through controlled management of vendor-out maintenance and repair, in-house garage maintenance, fuel management and more.

SEMCO Energy
One of ARI’s partnerships is with Port Huron, Mich.-based SEMCO Energy, a regulated public utility that delivers natural gas to approximately 290,000 residential, commercial and industrial customers in the southern half of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, as well as in the central, eastern and western parts of the state’s Upper Peninsula.

According to Hoysgaard, SEMCO understood that its core competency is delivering natural gas to its customers, and therefore it made sense to partner with a company like ARI to assist in managing its fleet. SEMCO’s Fleet Analyst Chris Kowalski said that ARI’s expertise and focus on the utility market made them a logical partner for his company. SEMCO chose ARI after an exhaustive request for proposal with several other vendors, including face-to-face meetings with finalists. The company was very satisfied with the seamless transition from a previous vendor to ARI.

“Our processes seem to be streamlined in terms of ordering and preventative maintenance repair,” Kowalski said. “ARI received high marks in our internal survey of fleet users on ease of maintenance, in essence, how improved the process for getting a vehicle in and out of a shop for preventative maintenance was as compared to the previous vendor.”

One strategy SEMCO uses to lower its TCO is the use of GPS technology, which Kowalski said has been a large driver in controlling fuel costs and work management.

“In retiring vehicles, ARI has allowed us easier access to our cost per mile and has completed studies for us that let us pinpoint the vehicles we should retire, not just the ones we think should be retired,” Kowalski said. “We have been able to input our internal repair orders at our one maintenance facility, which greatly enhances our preventative maintenance exception accuracy and assists in capturing our internal costs – both of which were missing previously.

“For SEMCO’s fleet, fuel cost is a challenge,” Kowalski continued. “Leasing costs are down due to interest rates being nil and maintenance is a cost of doing business, as trucks will break when used. However, fuel is something we have no control over the price of. We have control over the size of engines, size of our vehicles, idle time and weight that we carry. How to balance operations’ wants and needs while optimizing our fuel costs will always be a challenge. As a fleet manager, I cannot help but feel that ARI representatives truly care about my business, no matter what their role.”

Piedmont Natural Gas
Piedmont Natural Gas provides natural gas to more than 1 million residential and business customers in North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. According to Hoysgaard, Piedmont was seeking a partner to offer guidance and insight on running a more efficient fleet – not just a leasing partner.

“Piedmont decided to partner with a fleet management company to eliminate both on-site vehicle and equipment maintenance and all of the company’s garages,” said Keith Gindoff, Piedmont’s manager – fleet and inventory control, finance, who noted that while the company still operates two garages, its three mechanics primarily assist with vehicle management. “In addition, it allowed Piedmont to gain an expertise in vehicle purchasing, maintenance, licensing and more that we didn’t have at the time. Our partnership also allows us to free up some resources to perform other value-added activities.”

According to Gindoff, ARI assists Piedmont with the specification and procurement of company vehicles. ARI also manages the maintenance issues, as well as the title and licensing programs, for all of Piedmont’s vehicles and heavy equipment. Gindoff added that Piedmont is very happy having ARI as its business partner.

“We are happy for many reasons,” Gindoff said. “The biggest reason is the day-to-day expertise of the ARI employees. They have experts in procuring the vehicles, licensing and registration, maintenance, report generation and more that we can utilize without having to hire specific individuals for those positions.

“ARI has the ability to group many companies together throughout the country to assist us with pricing that we normally wouldn’t be able to receive by ourselves,” Gindoff continued. “They also have other utility companies like ours as clients, which help to facilitate industry best practices through an annual utility fleet forum where other fleet managers from utility companies across the country get together to discuss important topics affecting our industry. That, coupled with real-time technological platforms for communications with peers, definitely increases everyone’s awareness and knowledge about new ideas and more efficient ways to operate.”

Integrys Energy Group
Electricity and natural gas provider Integrys Energy Group is headquartered in Chicago with approximately 3,500 vehicles in its fleet. According to Hoysgaard, Integrys has multiple operating units spread across several states, and ARI’s advanced technologies have helped the company to integrate its data and systems for easier access and understanding, making sure its fleet is running as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible.

“To sum it up, [using ARI as a strategic partner] provides better management tools and improves the bandwidth and knowledge base of our fleet department employees,” said Tim Harteau, customer strategy leader, Integrys Energy Group.

Harteau said choosing to work with ARI came down to understanding the current needs of Integrys’ different utilities and identifying a service provider that gave them a wide range of products to meet the varied requirements of those utilities going forward. The relationship with ARI started out with activities related to the implementation and support of a specific product, but now is a blend of support for the current programs and strategic planning to address challenges within Integrys.

One new strategy Integrys has implemented is third-party maintenance management of its vehicles for a small segment of its fleet, with an ongoing effort focused on vehicle acquisition and procurement activities.

“There have been some inroads to establish standard vehicle designs across multiple business units,” Harteau said. “As we speak, there is a pilot project to implement a new garage management system. Soon we will be looking at the title and licensing area that will free up internal resources to work on new fleet initiatives.”

According to Harteau, one of the best features of the partnership for Integrys is that it can select the product that meets the needs of a specific subsidiary. One subsidiary may have a need for a garage management system and licensing services while another subsidiary is looking for better fuel and maintenance management.

“From a corporate perspective, I now have all of the information consolidated to support compliance and performance reporting for the entire company,” Harteau said. “With this partnership, Integrys is now starting to capture consistent data from six different subsidiaries and present it in a consistent format to measure our performance. Ultimately, these measures will provide the support for the best possible decisions.”

About the Author: Wade Vonasek is a writer and editor. His work has appeared both in print and online for publications such as Mass Transit, Professional Tool & Equipment News, Fleet Maintenance and more. He resides in Bristol, Wis.

How to Measure Performance

Informed, effective decisions are rooted in accurate data. That was precisely the goal behind a survey on Key Process Indicators (KPIs) conducted by the Electric Utility Fleet Managers Conference. At its 2013 gathering, EUFMC presented results of that survey, which was completed by more than 100 utility companies. The findings provide a helpful list of valuable KPIs:

Availability: Vehicle Downtime, Mean Time between Repair, Ratio of Time in Shop to Time in Service, and Total Hours Available are used to prioritize engineering focus, make decisions about overtime and staffing levels, and address service level commitments by identifying hiring needs as well as areas for outsourcing specific repairs and services.

Budget Compliance: YTD Budget and Spend Comparison, Capital Budget Compliance, and Actual vs. Budget Financial Reports are used to adjust business plans, spend rates and purchase plans, and for controlling expenses for overtime, outside services and staffing. This metric is viewed as a primary driver for overall fleet direction.

Cost Per Customer: Fleet Cost Per Retail Customer, Total Cost Per Internal Customer, and Fleet Cost Per Customer – External all help target improvement goals and more efficient purchasing for specific departments, as well as help reduce overall fleet size based on underutilization findings. Management decisions based on this KPI have led to new vehicle standards, increased utilization by right-sizing fleets and streamlined processes.

Fuel Consumption: Average MPG, Fuel Consumed Per 100 Mile/KM, and Fuel Usage Comparison measures are used for defining areas of focus for driver performance improvement, forecasting fuel costs and validating fuel purchasing programs, and making vehicle acquisition and technology decisions, including selection of more fuel-efficient vehicles.

Mechanic Time: Indirect vs. Direct Labor Comparisons, Monthly Vehicles Worked On and Work Orders Completed, Technician Billable Hours, and Overtime Report tracking help prioritize work and identify slower times that can be used for employee training, determine staffing levels and fleet size by location, and perform cost analyses for specific activities.

PM Metrics: PM Completion Rate, Percent of Units Meeting PM Scheduled Deadlines, and PM Average Completion Rate help ensure preventive maintenance program compliance, align the workforce to support locations, develop plans to address overtime and outsourcing, and evaluate PM workload goals.

Safety: Miles Driven without a Controllable Vehicle Accident, Number of OSHA Incidents by Department, and Near Miss Reports are helping with purchasing decisions on type/brand of equipment, addressing workforce shortages, overtime and outsourcing activities, and with the focus on compliance.

Cost Per Mile: Average Total Cost Per Mile and Total Cost Per Mile by Unit Type are eliminating excess idle time and lowering acquisition costs. Operating Cost Per Mile/KM and Operating Cost Per Vehicle enable more effective cost management decisions.

Total Cost Per Unit: Monthly Expense Reports by Unit, Cost Per Unit, and Total Expense by Type of Unit (with a Ten Year Comparison) are helping evaluate operating costs for labor, materials, supplies/tools, outside services and internal shops, and introduce programs to reduce maintenance costs.

Utilization: Fleet Utilization, Projected Miles and Monthly Mileage by Department reports are optimizing fleet size.

Work Order Metrics: PM Mechanic Time vs. Repair Time, Preventive Maintenance, Corrective Work Percentage, and Repair and PM Turnaround Time tracking help focus on education and training, and making shift personnel and workload evaluations.

Across the board, these fleets reported that business decisions made as a result of focusing on measures that gauge the effectiveness of management strategies are an important part of raising performance standards. For more information about EUFMC, visit

Seth Skydel

Towing Vehicles Over Snow and Ice

Now that fall has turned into winter and snow threatens to ice over roads and deliver countless traffic jams and detours, what would normally be a four-hour job at a remote site will likely be transformed into a backcountry expedition. As we gear up our fleet for the wintertime, we need to remind ourselves and our drivers about the driving and trailering hazards that snow- and ice-covered roads create. Breakdowns and accidents may not be entirely avoidable, but some potentially disastrous situations can be prevented even before leaving the shop.

Pre-Trip Inspections
Pre-trip inspections are a must for all work-related driving and trailering. In addition to inspecting all of the critical components of a tow vehicle and trailer before embarking, following are a few more common points that are often overlooked:

Tire Inflation
Most everyone will reiterate how important proper tire inflation is, but when was the last time anyone put a gauge on those tires? Every 10-degree drop in temperature will reduce your tire pressure by approximately 1-2 psi. Check tire pressure often because even a small psi drop can significantly compromise tire traction and dependability, especially over snow and ice.

Hitch Capacity
Ensure the capacity of the trailer hitch is properly rated for the trailer you are about to tow. Don’t assume that because it’s on the trailer, it’s the right capacity. You also might want to consider installing a weight distribution hitch. These hitches greatly improve towing capacity, brake performance and general stability in winter driving conditions.

Survival Gear
A vehicle breakdown in a remote area can quickly escalate from an uncomfortable situation to a potentially dangerous one if no heat is available. A fully stocked survival kit should be stored in any vehicle traveling off road or to remote locations. If you don’t have a survival kit, here are a few critical supplies that all vehicles should have:
• Ignition sources: Always have multiple sources of ignition – such as lighters, strikers or matches – in the event that you need to build a fire nearby to warm up.
• Emergency space blankets: Taping up space blankets in the cab of a broken down truck can raise the inside temperature from below freezing to 70 degrees in minutes.

These are critical supplies that are too inexpensive to overlook. A few space blankets and boxes of matches can cost less than $10 and save your life if you become stranded in the wintertime.

Trailer Loading
Ensuring the center of gravity (CG) is properly placed on the trailer is crucial for trailer towing. A load that is out of CG from front to back will lead to dangerous vertical loading and unloading at the hitch point and possibly to a loss of front axle brake performance. Placing the load CG too far to the rear also can lead to dynamic instability of the trailer and cause it to fishtail side to side. It is extremely important to avoid this when the traction coefficient of the tires is compromised due to snow and ice on the road.

Another important point to keep in mind is that safety regulations require that all cargo control equipment used is to be inspected prior to each and every use. Do your straps have any cuts or tears in the area that will be used for securing the load? Are the straps protected against sharp edges? Are securement chains free of any damaged links? Even after securing the load and driving a few miles, especially when off road, it may be necessary to stop and check the tension on the securement chains or straps since it is possible that they have loosened.

Stopping Options
Do each of your vehicles and trailers have antilock braking systems (ABS)? Even with an ABS, a driver still has to understand how to provide driving inputs that allow the ABS to work most effectively. Since the ABS only assists in decelerating, the speed at which you are traveling, as well as the steering inputs that you provide, may hinder how quickly the ABS can help bring you to a stop.

Stopping in a Turn
When attempting to stop in a turn, should you straighten the wheel and apply the brakes even though you might be steering off the road? You have more traction and would stop faster by straightening the wheels, but is there a ditch or is the road on flat ground where it may be safe to drive off straight? It would be much safer to go straight into the ditch and much easier to tow the vehicle out of the ditch after going in straight as opposed to going in sideways.

Another option is to continue in the turn and apply the brake at the same time to try to stay on the road. Doing this may keep you on the road, but you also have the least amount of traction and face the consequence of sliding sideways and possibly off the road.

The key factor here is understanding when you have committed to going off the road. Many untrained drivers don’t think they are going off the road until their tires have crossed over the white line, which can be a deadly mistake. A trained driver will understand that if they make a mistake, such as approaching the turn too fast, they actually committed to going off the road well before they hit the ditch. Understanding this point a split second earlier can allow you to make a better decision of the two bad choices that you now have. Putting it another way, you could ask yourself, “Do I want to end up in the ditch?” or “Do I want to end up in the ditch sideways and possibly roll over?”

Descending Steep Grades
Steep grades can pose some of the most dangerous driving conditions in winter. Stopping distances can be exponentially larger when traction is reduced by snow and ice and momentum is increased due to the weight of a trailer. Starting a decline too fast can put you in the same situation as approaching a turn too fast – you may have committed to going off the road well before you realize it.

There are no absolute safe driving procedures to follow when driving on snow and ice. Every road, every patch of ice, every vehicle and every tire is different. It is important to train drivers about how to utilize the vehicle-trailer combination to properly perform in the conditions in which they are expected to drive. While you may think that you have acceptable traction at one point, conditions can quickly change and that traction may not be there when it is needed. The most important thing you can do is understand the conditions that surround you and drive in a manner that allows you to safely react if something does start to go wrong.

About the Authors: Nick Bassarab is Safety One Training International’s operations manager and a lead trainer for the company’s ice driving and trailering classes. Safety One, based in Littleton, Colo., also offers training classes on snowcat operations and winter survival, tower climbing and rescue, and other critical safety subjects. Learn more at

Carl Maxey is the president and general manager of Maxey Manufacturing and Trailer Sales in Fort Collins, Colo. He also is a former president of the National Association of Trailer Manufacturers and a lead trainer for Safety One’s ice driving and trailering classes.

Shop Safety and Efficiency

Safety is a high priority of professional fleet managers. Fleets are known to spec their operating equipment to be the safest possible for the work they will be doing, and they train their operators to always work with safety in mind. In addition to safety, efficiency also is an important aspect of operations in well-run maintenance shops.

“Since labor accounts for about 60 percent of a fleet’s vehicle service and repair budget, it makes sense that anything a fleet can do to maximize technician efficiency will result in a bottom-line savings,” said Doug Spiller, heavy-duty product manager for Rotary Lift ( “The biggest factors affecting technician productivity are access to vehicle components and room to work efficiently. Vehicle lifts provide more convenient, comfortable access to every serviceable part on a truck, enabling technicians to perform more work in less time. In fact, productivity studies conducted by fleets have found that installing a single vehicle lift in the shop can reduce labor overhead by $100,000 or more.”

According to Ken Atha, OSHA’s regional administrator in the West, “Workers in the automotive industry are exposed to crushing hazards from automotive lifts when servicing vehicles. These risks can be limited by properly maintaining automotive lifts and providing workers with effective training regarding inspection and use of lifts.”

“Safety starts at the top,” said R.W. “Bob” O’Gorman, president of the Automotive Lift Institute (ALI). “It begins with buying the right lift. Responsible managers know to only buy lifts that wear the gold label demonstrating that they have been third-party tested and certified to meet the ANSI safety and performance standard for lifts, ANSI/ALI ALCTV-2011.”

Lift Training and Inspection
After purchasing a lift, O’Gorman continued, “Next is training. It is very important that all technicians receive training on the proper use and maintenance of the lifts installed in the shop.”

Recognizing the need for such training, the National Conference of State Fleet Administrators recently asked Steve Perlstein, president of Mohawk Lifts, to prepare and present a webinar on vehicle lift safety. In his presentation, Perlstein pointed out that OSHA requires vehicle lifts to undergo annual inspections completed by experienced lift inspectors and that anyone using such equipment must receive training on an annual basis.

“Proper vehicle lift certification, installation and inspection have come under increased scrutiny in recent years by OSHA and other local, state, provincial, and federal health and safety officers,” O’Gorman said. “This has resulted in an increase in shops looking for qualified automotive lift inspectors.” Certified inspectors can be contacted through the ALI website (

All reputable lift manufacturers provide training on the proper use of their products when new equipment is installed in a fleet’s shop, and training also is available on their websites. Mohawk Lifts’ website (, for example, has several videos that include safety information about their lifts as well as information about other safety-related items available through the company.

With regard to management responsibilities relative to OSHA regulations, be aware that you won’t get a free pass because you don’t know about the regulations. Management has the responsibility to know the regulations and to follow them. As Perlstein noted in his webinar, there are two important standards fleet managers need to understand. The first is that lifts must be inspected annually by a qualified automotive lift inspector. The second is that the technicians who work on the lifts must be trained each year on how to safely and properly use them. Such training time must be documented by the fleet.

Research Product Specifications
While a vehicle lift offers a great opportunity to increase shop efficiency, it also opens up the fleet to liability for any injuries incurred by employees if the installed lift does not meet performance or manufacturing standards for the application.

According to ALI, purchasers of lifts often are confused by claims made by sellers. Such claims are sometimes made in good faith by inexperienced salespeople, but other times they may be made intentionally to confuse a potential purchaser and obtain an order for equipment that may not actually meet the purchaser’s requirements. Every lift in your shops should have an ALI/ETI certification label affixed to it, which will offer the assurance that the lift in question meets the current national safety standards.

Certification indicates that a third-party organization has determined that a manufacturer has the ability to produce a product that complies with a specific set of standards. Certified products undergo periodic re-evaluation and are required to be produced within the requirements of a documented quality program. The program is audited quarterly, regardless of the production facility’s location, to ensure continued compliance with the applicable standards.

“All lifts are not created equal,” Spiller said. “The best all-around lift for heavy-duty vehicle maintenance remains the modular in-ground lift. In-ground lifts have been the top choice of heavy-duty maintenance operations for more than 80 years because they provide the best access to maintenance items on a vehicle in the most ergonomic, space-efficient way.”

A lower price doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re getting a lift for less. Too often it means you’re getting less lift. You want a lift that delivers the lowest total cost of ownership. The most expensive lift you can buy is one that is out of service.

About the Author: Tom Gelinas is a U.S. Army veteran who spent nearly a decade as a physicist before joining Irving-Cloud Publishing Co. While at Irving-Cloud, he worked in various editorial capacities for several trade publications including Fleet Equipment, Heavy Duty Equipment Maintenance and Transport Technology Today. Gelinas is a founding member of Truck Writers of North America, a professional association, and a contributing writer for Utility Fleet Professional.

Replace, Rebuild or Repair?

How do you complete an economic analysis to cost-effectively determine whether to replace, rebuild, repair, sell or scrap vehicles and equipment? How do you ensure that your choice is the right one made at the right time, and that it supports your fleet’s tactical and strategic operating plans?

To start, you must assure yourself that your fleet’s vehicles and equipment being considered for replacement are fully utilized. If they’re not, instead of replacing them, think about reducing them from the fleet inventory and renting the units as needed. You can measure your fleet operation by laying out figures of activity-based costing to evaluate the facts, which will give you a picture of your fleet’s productivity and profitability.

Let’s look at an example of activity-based costing. The chart below shows the eight-year cumulative costs of an $18,500 light vehicle. The seven lines of the chart reflect the following:
• Line 1: Principal of $18,500 spread (depreciated) over five years.
• Line 2: Interest of 5 percent for the full principal in Year 1 and 5 percent interest for each year thereafter.
• Line 3: Annual parts and labor costs.
• Line 4: Estimated annual fuel costs.
• Line 5: Total costs of lines 1-4 divided by 15,000 miles for each year.
• Line 6: Resale value of the vehicle.
• Line 7: The resale value of each year divided into the maintenance cost.


Note that the numbers in parentheses over Line 3 are the cumulative maintenance costs for each year. The first line of penciled-in numbers under Line 7 is the cumulative average of the maintenance cost divided by the resale value. The second penciled-in line is the average increase in maintenance cost divided by the resale value. This information turned out to be meaningless.

Time for Replacement
According to the industry best practice, it’s time to replace a vehicle or piece of equipment when the total maintenance cost of the unit being evaluated equals the total original purchase price. It’s also important to consider the unit’s reliability. For instance, in Year 8 the cumulative maintenance cost is $14,210, the maintenance cost is $6,200 and the vehicle’s residual value is $2,716. This vehicle is not reliable in its eighth year because it is often down for maintenance, plus it’s not available for use while it is being repaired. A low utilization rate costs your fleet an excessive amount of money.

It is desirable to give yourself enough time to be proactive in deciding when to replace a unit. You need time to propose its replacement and fund it with capital dollars to be accepted for your coming year, or fund it with operating dollars to rebuild it. If the unit is not needed, you need time to sell or scrap it.

Rebuilding is cost effective if you can spend half the cost of a new unit and get two-thirds to three-quarters the life of a new unit. For example, the $18,500 light vehicle’s cost-effective life cycle appears to be seven years, and it should be replaced at the end of its seventh year. If we were to consider a rebuild, half the cost of a new $21,000 vehicle would be $10,500, and its rebuilt expected life span would be five to six years.

In my experience, when a vehicle’s repair cost reaches 30 percent of its residual value, that gives you time to evaluate the vehicle to decide whether you want to replace, rebuild, repair, sell or scrap it. Costs for each alternative would be provided to management, and the capital and operating budgets should also be summarized. While a vehicle maintenance management information system would be very helpful with this, it’s not mandatory. You could set up a spreadsheet to start with and migrate to a management information system at a later date.

Vehicle Condition
Now, let’s deal with the condition of the vehicle. In this type of situation, it’s best to use numbers as descriptors instead of words so meanings are interpreted the same way by each person who reviews them.

Using a digital camera, take pictures of the fleet vehicles, capturing all four sides – front, rear, left side and right side. Next, assign numbers 1 through 5 to rate the vehicle’s condition. Five would be an excellent rating, 4 would be a very good rating and so on. Then, after you’ve made number assignments, identify components to rate, including the chassis, body, brakes and engine. Rate component sections so that each, added together, totals 100. This will allow you to rate the unit with 100 as the top score. Numbers lower than 100 indicate deficiencies for each vehicle.


After rating each unit, prioritize each one being considered for replacement, rebuild or continued repair. The worst units should be prioritized first. Determine the capital and operating funding that fits your strategic company plan, as well as the tactical funding needed to support service levels for efficient availability and productive and reliable utilizations. If you watch duty and life cycles annually, some units, whose maintenance costs are at a starting point of 30 percent of their residual value, may be able to have their life extended because of good maintenance and operating methods.

The ultimate goal is to come up with an acceptable average age for all classes of your vehicles so you can monitor the entire fleet. Watch and pay attention to everything and measure what’s meaningful to support timely, proactive, cost-effective corrective actions.

About the Author: John Dolce is a fleet facility and maintenance specialist employed by Wendel Companies, an architectural and engineering firm. He is an active consultant, instructor and fleet manager with more than 40 years of experience in the public and private sector. Dolce has written three fleet-related textbooks and teaches fleet management courses at the University of Wisconsin’s Milwaukee and Madison campuses.

Tire Expenses: Manage to Minimize

Effective management of tire costs is more important now than ever and will continue to grow in importance, but if you are not able to accurately measure what your fleet spends on tires, there is no way you will be able to manage those expenses. Unfortunately, many fleets have not initiated a comprehensive tire management program, nor do they accurately know the expense they incur for tires.

“At the end of the day, it is cost per 1/32nd of tread wear per mile, but most people do not have that information,” said Darry Stuart, president and CEO of DWS Fleet Management Services ( “The best way to accurately account for tires is to use a good computerized system and charge tires by 32nds as they go on and credit tires the 32nds when they come off. Also, most fleets include the cost of tires in the cost of a new truck, therefore failing to include those tires when they are calculating their tire cost per mile.”

Programs that do this kind of accounting are available and have been designed to interact seamlessly with most computerized maintenance management systems. Services are also available through tire vendors who will input fleet tire data, then store and analyze it. Goodyear (, for example, recently launched a next-generation version of its TVTrack program that is designed to do exactly what needs to be done if fleet tire costs are to be managed. It is available through the company’s dealer network and will accept and analyze cradle-to-grave financial information about any brand of tire.

Retread tires deserve to be included in all commercial fleet tire programs. Many fleets operating Class 3 through 6 vehicles already use retreads, and due to economic pressures over the last few years, there has been a growing interest in the use of these products among fleets not using them. “There has definitely been an increased interest in using retreads,” said Guy Walenga, director of engineering for commercial products at Bridgestone Firestone ( “You could say people have found religion. They have been looking for any place where they can save some money. Many fleets that never considered retreading before have taken another look at the use of retreads because it is such a good way to influence the overall cost per mile.”

Fleet managers need to realize there is no definite age limit on the life of a tire carcass. Steel body plies and steel-belted commercial tires are designed to be retreaded. Every casing that goes into a reputable retread shop will be inspected visually and with a nondestructive testing system that will find any nail holes invisible to the naked eye. They are also put through X-ray tests to find ply separations.

“Because each tire casing goes through this extended inspection process, there is no time frame that would limit the casing for retreading,” Walenga said. “A retreader is liable for the quality and performance of his product. As a result, he’s not going to put a dime of unnecessary expense into a tire that isn’t going to retread and perform for his customer. He does all of his testing before he buffs the tire.”

The high cost of tires has caused an increased interest in recapping in heavy-duty fleets that had not taken advantage of this proven technology. Fleets that regularly use recapped tires are looking to get another cap or two on their casings. Many fleet managers recapped a casing only until it was about 5 years old, and then sold it instead of capping it again.

That strategy is changing. “Some years ago, most fleet managers would take a casing out of service after about five years,” Stuart said. “That increased to six years and now, in many cases, is at seven years and in some cases eight years. The strategy has been working well, but the applications those older casings go into need to be managed. If the tire is going to be used in a low-mileage trailer application, 40,000 or 50,000 miles a year, it will very likely offer you no problems. Capping technology has also improved, helping to make this strategy possible.”

Ryder System ( has a policy of not going down to the legal limit for its over-the-road units. “The DOT legal is 2/32, but we target 4/32, which gives us a little bit of room to plan the replacement,” said Scott Perry, Ryder’s vice president of supply management. “We recognize the importance of the casing and not wearing the tread package too thin. Our customers are on full-service leases so they will bring their trucks into our service facilities on a regular basis, and our goal is to perform as much of the required maintenance on our leased vehicles at our facilities as possible. As a result, we have multiple touch points throughout the year. Because of that, we can predict when the tires will need to be removed from the vehicle.” Consequently, it’s a scheduled procedure and not a road call.

Air Pressure
Inflation pressure is always the most important factor of tire maintenance relative to tire costs. Correct inflation will help to maximize a casing’s retreadability while minimizing wear and the tire’s negative contribution to fuel economy rolling resistance. “If you don’t have the right air pressure, you’re giving up tread mileage, giving up casing durability and you’re giving up fuel economy,” Walenga said. “A casing can be destroyed if it is run at the wrong air pressure.”

Tires will always be an expensive commodity for fleets, so it makes sense to do everything you can to control costs. Maximize the life of every casing, and when a tire comes out of service, make sure you know why. Use retreads. Keep tires aired to the correct pressure. If you’re not doing this, you’re wasting money.

About the Author: Tom Gelinas is a U.S. Army veteran who spent nearly a decade as a physicist before joining Irving-Cloud Publishing Co. While at Irving-Cloud, he worked in various editorial capacities for several trade publications including Fleet Equipment, Heavy Duty Equipment Maintenance and Transport Technology Today. Gelinas is a founding member of Truck Writers of North America, a professional association, and a contributing writer for Utility Fleet Professional.

Measuring Your Fleet Operation

In order for us to measure our fleet operation, we need to lay out numbers that illustrate our activity via activity-based costing. This gives us a picture of what is happening in terms of our fleet productivity and resultant profitability. The photo seen below is an excellent example of basic information that doesn’t make sense until it is explained, which is one way activity-based costing can assist your fleet. If we put our finger on the number 1 in the photo, we then look sequentially for 2, then 3 and so on.

Try this exercise: Give yourself 30 seconds and see how far you get sequentially during that time. After the 30 seconds is up, determine the number you achieved. Look at the sheet – how are the numbers laid out? Draw an imaginary line down the middle of the sheet. Note that odd numbers are on the left side; even numbers are on the right. Knowing this layout pattern, if we do the exercise a second time, we will focus on a 4-inch-by-10-inch layout rather than an 8-inch-by-10-inch layout. That should increase our productivity by 50 percent. Now, repeat the exercise and measure your productivity improvement.

Case Study Review
Next, review the case study below. Let’s go through the 22 line items to lay out the condition of this fleet. These categories will give us a picture of our fleet and its productivity. I’ll explain the meanings of each line item and, after that’s done, we can look at the overall condition illustrated by these categories and the numbered value for each line item.


Column 2, Line 1 shows we have 421 vehicles. Line 2 states the total operating expenses are $119,000 for the month of January. In Line 3, you can see the operating dollars budgeted for the month are $90,000. Line 4 highlights an important point – that we are 32 percent over the operating budget for the month. Since we spent it, we have to get the extra spent money from somewhere. The money could come from another department’s savings or an advance from next month’s budgeted items, or it could be borrowed from a lender.

Line 5 indicates that our actual cost-per-mile average for our 421-unit fleet is 82 cents. In Line 6, you can see that our budgeted cost per mile for this month is 64 cents. Based on those figures, we are 18 cents per mile over our operating budgeted mileage cost. Line 7 shows that our fully burdened labor rate is $83.12 per hour. That includes direct labor plus benefits and all overhead such as heat, electric, supervision and clerical costs. This tells us that if an outside organization can do our maintenance and repair work for less than this number, they should be hired. Our shuttle time also needs to be included in the analysis.

Line 8 notes that direct labor is approximately $53 per hour, so if we pay our staff $15 dollars per hour for 2,080 hours per year (52 weeks x 40 hours per week), a third of that time is spent working on maintenance and repair tasks. Line 9 tells us 320 of the 421 vehicles are power units; the remaining 101 units are nonpower. In Line 10, you can see that the average age of the 421 units is 8.2 years. According to Line 11, 185,000 miles were accumulated for the month. We want that number to stay high because those are revenue miles that deliver our product and thus make money for the company.

Line 12 tells us that on average, 75 percent of the 421 vehicles are operating day to day, while 25 percent are not used. Line 13 indicates that each of the 421 vehicles averaged 579 miles this month (185,000 ÷ 421). However, if you divide 185,000 by 421, that equals 439, not 579. Don’t presume all your numbers are always correct; before you accept their accuracy, test the numbers and believe nothing until you have verified their integrity.

Line 14 shows that, of the 75 percent of the vehicles in operation, 15 percent are down. That means a net of 60 percent of the 421 vehicles are running; the other 40 percent are not running and probably are not needed. Line 15 tells us there is a 20 percent backlog of work waiting to be done, which indicates that the backup is excessive. There is a road call every 2,500 miles based on the information in Line 16. As we address our problems, we want this number to increase to validate our maintenance and repair efficiencies.

In Line 17, you can see that there are 35 staff members. Preventive maintenance (Line 18) is 10 percent of our workload, and scheduled work (Line 19) accounts for 35 percent. Line 20 tells us our parts and materials inventory is increasing 10 percent each month. According to Line 21, we’re taking in 20 percent more than we issue, which is one reason why our parts and materials are increasing 10 percent per month. Line 22 lets us know that we are ordering more than we need, supporting the fact that our parts and materials inventory is increasing 10 percent more than we need each month.

Corrective Actions
Now, what’s wrong here? We’re 32 percent over budget, but there are three activity-based numbers that tell us what to do to help correct our situation:
1. Forty percent of our vehicles are not needed. If we remove 100+ unneeded vehicles, the fixed costs of these vehicles will reduce our expenses.
2. Hopefully, most of these targeted reductions will be our power vehicles, which are more costly to own and operate than nonpower vehicles.
3. The third pertinent number is the average vehicle age. We want to remove older units since they are the most costly and least reliable.

Column 3 Review
Let’s review Column 3 to follow up on our corrective actions. We removed 56 vehicles from the 421 units, leaving 365 total units – a 13 percent reduction. Depending on your expertise and experience, some of you will remove 35 to 40 percent or whatever you’re comfortable with. That is fine, too.

Line 2 indicates expenses have dropped from $119,000 in January to $109,000 in April based on the reduction in vehicles, and in Line 3 you can see that the operating budget has been lowered an estimated $8,000. Line 4 shows that we’re still 33 percent over budget, but we’ll catch up next month – we have to reduce our budget for our reduced fleet. In Line 5, note that the actual cost per mile has gone down 2 cents, while Line 6 shows the planned cost per mile is steady.

The fully burdened labor rate has now dropped $1.02 per hour (Line 7) and direct labor is down 63 cents per hour (Line 8). In Line 9, note that power units are down by 43. Thirteen units are nonpower, which is good because power units are more expensive than nonpower units.

In Line 10, you can see the average age has dropped 1.5 years. That signifies the majority of the 56 units removed were older units. In Line 11, the revenue miles are holding relatively steady, so we’re not negatively impacting revenue. The percentage operated (Line 12) has increased 9 percent. More of our vehicles are being used, but we have more units to remove. Of 40 percent, 13 percent have been cleared out, so we have 27 percent to go. Usage per unit (Line 13) has risen from 579 miles (after testing the numbers, this should actually be 439 miles) to 650 miles. You will notice in Line 14 that downtime is still a problem; we need to take the time to prioritize and sequence our workload. However, backlog (Line 15) is down 10 percent, a positive event.

Road calls, per Line 16, now occur every 2,800 miles, a step in the right direction. Since a reduction in work requires fewer staff members, we are down two people since January (Line 17) who have hopefully been reassigned within the company. Line 18 shows that preventive maintenance is up from 10 percent to 30 percent of our workload. Scheduled work (Line 19) remains steady. Because Lines 20, 21 and 22 have not moved, we have to get the parts people up to speed. The fleet reductions are reducing the average age of the fleet, thus requiring fewer parts.

All in all, the numbers are falling in line with our corrective action. There are many problems that are responding to one corrective action – reducing the fleet by getting rid of older vehicles, thereby lowering the fleet’s average age.

Post-Audit Action Items
Generally, when an operational audit is completed, the following are common items that require corrective action. These items are listed in order of priority.
• Written policies and procedures are needed.
• Work standards and productivity measures are needed.
• Fleet size is too large.
• Management practices need improvement.
• Utilization and availability criteria are needed.
• Supervisors need training in participatory methodology.
• Communication upgrade on each level is needed.
• Quality must improve.
• Vehicle purchasing and procurement procedures need improvement.
• Transportation organizations need to look at centralization and decentralization strategies.
• Work scheduling needs to be quantified and upgraded based on frequencies, time, mileage and fuel use.
• Technical training is needed.
• Management by objectives needs to be implemented and upgraded.
• Look at in-house and outsource maintenance balance.
• Cost control systems need to be established and implemented.

About the Author: John Dolce is a fleet facility and maintenance specialist employed by Wendel Companies, an architectural and engineering firm. He is an active consultant, instructor and fleet manager with more than 40 years of experience in the public and private sector. Dolce has written three fleet-related textbooks and teaches fleet management courses at the University of Wisconsin’s Milwaukee and Madison campuses.

Gas vs. Diesel in Utility Fleet Applications – Which is Better?

A decade ago, the choice between gasoline and diesel engines in most Class 3 to 7 truck applications was a no-brainer – diesel, of course. At that time there were few gasoline engine options available in heavier trucks and diesel held a significant advantage in terms of fuel efficiency, low-end torque and longevity, for only $3,000 to $4,000 more up front.

Today, however, the decision is a bit more complex. New gasoline engine technology has begun to narrow the fuel-economy and performance gap with diesel. And after progressively stringent federal emissions standards for diesel engines were put into effect in 2004, 2007 and 2010, requiring expensive exhaust reduction technologies, the price gap has essentially doubled, with diesel engines costing about $7,000 to $10,000 more than a comparable gas-burner, causing utility fleet managers to take a hard, second look at gas, when it’s available.

So, in instances where both gas and diesel are available in a particular class truck, which is better for utility and telecom fleets? Utility Fleet Professional spoke with experts at GE Capital Fleet Services ( and Donlen ( to get their take. Here are the criteria they recommend when deciding between gas versus diesel.

When Diesel is Better
Despite the substantially higher price tag, when does diesel make the most sense from a performance and life-cycle cost perspective?

“When the fleet expects the truck to run longer periods of idling time powering auxiliary equipment, they tend to lean towards diesel,” said Ken Gillies, manager of truck ordering and engineering at GE Capital Fleet Services, a leading full-service fleet management company based in Eden Prairie, Minn. “Also when there’s heavy towing necessary, they’ll choose diesel because of the engine’s higher torque output.”

Steve Jansen, manager, fleet services and regulatory compliance at Donlen, a full-service fleet management company based in Northbrook, Ill., and wholly owned subsidiary of The Hertz Corp. (NYSE: HTZ), agreed. “If you’re taking a [Ford] F-550, and you’re putting on some sort of small crane or bucket truck or you’re going to do some high-wire stuff, you’re probably not even going to think about gas. You’ll jump into diesel because it’s going to give you the torque you’re going to need and the longer life,” Jansen explained. “The torque is important to get you up and down the road with the weight you’re pulling. And if you’re taking the truck off-road into brush or something like that, you’re going to need a lot of low-end torque of the diesel to help drive the truck out of those situations.”

What’s the difference in life expectancy between diesel and gasoline engines?

“I’m still a firm believer that gas engines are built to go 200,000 miles. Diesel life is in the 300,000 to 350,000 to almost 400,000 miles range, depending on the size truck and application,” Jansen said.

According to Gillies, another factor that drives diesel selection is fuel economy. “Although the gasoline world has done a great job with efficiencies for fuel injection and various controls, diesel still holds a miles per gallon advantage, which we see as a way to help fleets control fuel costs in high-mileage, high-idle situations,” Gillies said.

What exactly is diesel’s fuel economy advantage?

“The diesel is 15 to 20 percent more fuel efficient than gas,” Jansen said. “And even though the gasoline engines have improved, the one thing that remains the same is that the diesel fuel itself is still 30 to 35 percent more efficient than gasoline [in terms of energy density]. So, theoretically, for every gallon of diesel fuel you put in, you’re having to put in 1.3 gallons of gasoline because of the efficiency ratio.”

Gillies estimated the diesel advantage at about 2 mpg, but said that at that rate, “it still takes a long time to clear the higher [initial] cost of the diesel engine, depending on the specifics of the application and the actual road mileage the vehicle is encountering.”

When Gas is Better
In what utility fleet applications is gasoline a good fit?

“A gas engine is suitable in a light utilization vehicle,” Gillies said. “By that I mean light-duty Class 2 to 3 and, in some cases, Class 4, when it’s operating with relatively short idle time. The diesel starts to make more sense if the application requires longer idle time [to operate cranes, buckets and other specialty equipment], even if it’s a lighter-class truck.”

Also, if the fleet is considering converting vehicles to gaseous alternative fuels such as CNG or propane autogas, a gasoline engine would be the most economical option because it’s inherently more “gaseous-fuel ready” than diesel, according to Gillies. “It’s about a $9,000 or so conversion cost to equip a gasoline-powered Class 6 truck for CNG. If you take the same truck, spec’d with a diesel engine, and you want to convert it to gaseous fuel, you’re looking at, on average, three times the cost,” Gillies said.

The Bottom Line
Jansen summed up the gas versus diesel deliberation this way: “The whole decision is based on what the job is you’re going to call on that truck to do. If it’s running from job site to job site to check on workers or as an estimator, carrying a small amount of tools or equipment going out to inspect well sites, then gas is going to be fine. The heavier the job, that’s where diesel is really going to pay off, giving you the long life and low-end torque and start-ability you need to drive that truck out of a ditch, whereas the gas [engine] is going to struggle a little bit in that scenario.”

About the Author: Sean M. Lyden is a nationally recognized journalist and feature writer for a wide range of automotive and trucking trade publications, covering fleet management strategies, light- and medium-duty trucks, truck bodies and equipment, and green fuel technologies. He blogs at Lyden Fleet Strategies (

Valuable Insight

For the Facilities & Transportation Fleet team at Indianapolis Power & Light Co., the key to productivity and efficiency is not just the programs and technologies that have been put in place. Equally important and absolutely essential, they note, is to ingrain a process of organizational efficiency throughout the culture of the operation.

Keith Dunkel, team leader and fleet manager, Kim Garner, fleet administration, and Les Gose, fleet maintenance at IPL, all point to the successful implementation of the 5S methodology within the fleet maintenance operation. This workplace organization methodology, based on five Japanese words all beginning with the letter “S” when translated into English (Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize and Sustain), has benefited the fleet’s maintenance shops through improved organization of work spaces.

“A primary focus was on the efficient and effective storage of work tools and supplies, maintaining the work area and these items, and sustaining the new order,” Dunkel said. “The decision-making process usually comes from a dialogue about standardization, which builds understanding among employees of how their work should be done.”

At IPL, the 5S methodology has brought a new cultural mindset to shop floor efficiency and safety within the fleet maintenance operation. “It’s a process that builds collaboration among employees and management specific to work design and flow,” Dunkel stated. “In addition to improving shop safety by reducing hazards, it has also provided structure within the shop environment to identify and reduce waste.”

Today, IPL crew leaders, technicians and management personnel use the 5S methodology to effectively run shop operations. A weekly safety walk, for example, is used to identify housekeeping issues, such as defective lighting or other concerns, based on a comprehensive checklist of items specific to the operation and environment.

Organized Approach
An organized approach is also in place in other areas of the IPL fleet and maintenance operation. “Three years ago,” explained Gose, “we brought in NAPA to manage our parts system. NAPA now operates our parts room as a private store, staffed 16 hours per day. The facility exclusively serves the IPL fleet, handles paperwork for our business with a local tire vendor, and as an added convenience, IPL employees can make purchases for personal use.

“With this arrangement,” Gose continued, “we are ensured competitive pricing within a consigned parts format. This has given us access to a substantial inventory without tying up financial resources for owned inventory.”

Gose also explained that IPL and NAPA are working closely together to ensure that the parts supplier is prepared to provide the wide variety of standard and specialized items needed for utility vehicles. “Our initiative is to ensure that NAPA understands our needs,” he said. “We do not want to wait for parts that we should have in stock and we expect NAPA to adjust the consignment inventory as our specs change.

“We have established and track metrics specifically to the NAPA operation,” Gose continued. “Those target wait times, fill rates and inventory location accuracy. We believe these to be core competencies for parts management and are integral to the productivity of our technicians.”

The IPL fleet is serviced in two locations, Dunkel noted. “At our main hub in Indianapolis we house about 80 percent of the fleet of 422 vehicles,” he related. “At a satellite facility we handle the other 20 percent. About 80 percent of the fleet is used in operations across our 528-square-mile service territory and the rest is allocated to our three generating plants.”

Meeting Needs
The composition of IPL’s fleet is designed to meet the needs of field operations that maintain 835 circuit miles of transmission lines and approximately 12,668 circuit miles of distribution lines, as well as 144 substations. A total of 88 heavy-duty units account for 20 percent of the fleet, another 92 are medium-duty models and the balance consists of 242 light-duty vehicles.

Primary makes represented in the IPL fleet include International heavy-duty, Freightliner and Ford medium-duty, and Chevrolet and Ford light-duty models. IPL’s alternative fuel vehicles are primarily within the light-duty segment of the fleet and use E85 from a central fueling station.

Vehicle types at IPL are varied for line, substation maintenance and construction needs, Dunkel pointed out. Aerial units supplied mainly by Altec include 45-foot models for trouble trucks, 55-foot models for line truck material handlers, 85-foot high reach noninsulated and 125-foot insulated units, and there are 42-foot material handlers and articulating squirt booms.

Also in operation at IPL are digger derricks, light-duty cranes, cable pullers and rodders. Truck types include step and hi-cube vans, 3/4-ton vans, and 1/4-, 1/2-, 3/4- and 1-ton pickups. The fleet also has sedans, minivans and SUVs, and the maintenance staff services and repairs support equipment such as easement rigs, backyard buckets, tensioners, wire reel trailers, forklifts, backhoes and small excavators.

“We have established replacement cycles based on vehicle size and use,” Garner said. “Light-duty models are in service for five years or 60,000 miles, trouble trucks are replaced after seven years and line trucks see 10 years of service in our fleet.

“For remarketing our retired heavy-duty trucks, and some nonroad equipment, we have been using the services of J.J. Kane Auctioneers,” Garner related. “We were working with a local auction company, but Altec brought J.J. Kane to our attention because of their specialization in selling construction utility equipment.

“They know the markets where we can get the best resale value for our trucks,” Garner added. “Overall, it’s been a very smooth and effective process. We have maximized our recovery dollars using the J.J. Kane process.”

Software is also in place to help specify and manage the IPL fleet, Gose noted. For example, there’s Diamond Logic Builder at International Trucks’ Body Builder Resource Center, as well as the CFAW fleet maintenance management solution and E.J. Ward automated fuel management software and reporting tools.

In the shop, Gose reported, technicians are trained on a regular basis and have multiple diagnostic tools at their disposal. Included are the Rotunda (IDS) service tool for Ford vehicles, Mentor, Pegasus, INSITE (Cummins) and Tech II diagnostic equipment, and the ServiceMaxx diagnostic and programming tool for Navistar MaxxForce engines.

Accelerated Implementation
“In 2010, we started using the Telogis Fleet management solution for vehicle telematics,” Dunkel said. “Initially, we phased in 50 trucks, but once we experienced the wealth of the data available, we accelerated our implementation plan.

“By the end of the first year we had over 300 vehicles on the system,” Dunkel continued. “The telematics solution reports GPS location data, engine performance, idle, PTO and battery time, and odometer readings, along with hard braking and acceleration information.

“Now that we have over two full years of baseline data from vehicle electronics systems over the Telogis solution, we’re taking it to the next level,” Dunkel added. “We have completed the next step [Enterprise Level] using the system’s InSight Alerts function to develop driver scorecards and a [key performance indicators] Dashboard.

“With these capabilities,” Dunkel stated, “our field operation teams use the system to enhance productivity by determining arrival and departure times at job sites. In the fleet department, we will be able to model scenarios that will show us the impact on costs of reducing idle time and get alerts to mechanical conditions previewing potential costly breakdowns and repairs.”

IPL’s management team, Dunkel added, has given strong support for this investment in vehicle telematics. “This technology has provided new and valuable insights into how our trucks are used,” he said, “giving us opportunities to lower operating costs, improve driving behaviors and better manage our assets.”

About IPL: Indianapolis Power & Light Co. provides retail electric service to more than 470,000 residential, commercial and industrial customers in Indianapolis, as well as portions of other central Indiana communities surrounding Marion County. During its long history, IPL has supplied its customers with some of the lowest-cost, most reliable power in the country. Its parent company, AES Corp., provides affordable, sustainable energy to 25 countries through a diverse portfolio of distribution and generation businesses.

About the Author: Seth Skydel has more than 27 years of truck- and automotive-related publication experience. In his career, he has held editorial roles at numerous national business-to-business publications focusing on fleet and transportation management, vehicle and information technology, and industry trends and issues.

Changing Brakes

A primary concern of every fleet professional is the safe operation and stopping ability of the vehicles in his fleet. A truck’s ability to stop, of course, depends on the condition and quality of its braking system, particularly its brakes’ friction material. The friction material used in truck brakes has changed a great deal over the last few decades and continues to change. As an integral part of the braking system, friction material must be chosen to provide the stopping power necessary in a truck’s specific application. This is especially true for commercial vehicles since any given truck model may be put into a wide range of applications. Light-duty vehicles, however, may well benefit from the use of other-than-normal friction material. Consider, for example, police cruisers that may be used in high-speed pursuits with heavy braking demands.

Replacing Asbestos
Years ago, asbestos friction material was commonly used in vehicle braking systems – commercial trucks in particular – because of its ability to withstand the high operating temperatures that could be generated in stopping a heavy vehicle. Indeed, temperatures more than 2,000 F created a substantial fire hazard. The health hazards of asbestos, however, have all but eliminated its use in friction materials intended for vehicle applications. Although domestic manufacturers claim that asbestos materials are no longer used in friction products, foreign manufacturers of aftermarket brake parts have no requirement to stop distributing asbestos friction material. OSHA regulates the amount of asbestos dust that is present in vehicle repair facilities, which is where potential problems are found.

Ceramic or non-asbestos organic friction materials were developed to replace asbestos-based products in specific applications. These materials typically exhibit low friction and/or unacceptable wear rates at high temperatures and are very useful in light-duty applications, but are not suitable in many commercial and most heavy-duty operations.

Semi-metallic material was developed, along with ceramic material, to replace asbestos. In comparing the two, Kevin Judge, sales manager of national accounts at Fras-le (, a major manufacturer of semi-metallic and ceramic friction material, said, “Semi-metallic material is a bit more aggressive, but can be more noisy than ceramic material. The performance, however, of semi-metallic material makes it a desirable product for use in trucks as well as automobiles used in applications that need high-performance braking performance. It has become the standard for use by the trucking industry.”

More Changes Coming
As a result of environmental concerns, two states have passed legislation that nearly eliminates the use of copper, in addition to several other materials, in friction material. Three years ago, both California and Washington passed laws mandating that friction material used in brakes contain no more than 0.5 percent of copper by weight. While various portions of the laws take effect at different times, they have spurred the industry to develop compliant materials that will deliver satisfactory stopping performance. “As an industry, we are being challenged in going copper-free after 2019,” Judge said.

Not surprisingly, these laws put additional financial burdens on manufacturers and distributors. They may well be enough to cause some suppliers to leave the business, resulting in fewer product choices for fleets.

Brake Repairs
While fleet managers seek a long service life from brakes, they also know that brake pads and blocks will wear out and need to be replaced. Be sure to do your homework before you go to market. “Fleet managers should be prepared to accurately describe their fleet’s applications when they go to market to purchase replacement brake pads or brake linings,” Judge said. “Terrain is important. The hills of Pittsburgh require different material than the flatlands in Des Moines. They should be aware of the load that they’re carrying. Is it a constant load? Is going to be variable? Is it going to be loaded off and on? Will the application be stop-and-go, or will it be over-the-road? This is the kind of information that brake service technicians need to know before they can make good recommendations regarding friction material.”

If you plan on making a change in friction material of replacement pads or liners, test the material before making a purchase. It’s not unreasonable for a fleet manager to request sample material for his own tests. Judge said that he often gets asked for samples. Tim Bauer, director for undercarriage products at Meritor Aftermarket (, concurs. “Always test the friction material you’re considering purchasing,” he said. “Look at long-term replacement [cost versus price]. Be wary of container loads of low-price friction. Do they meet safety standards like FMVSS 121? What kind of warranty is offered? Who will back you up in the case of a failure or other problems?”

Bauer also urges that you never replace or service a component on one wheel end only; always do both wheel ends. This is especially true for work on front axles. In addition, if hardware comes packaged with replacement brake pads or linings, use it. “Don’t forget your hardware works just as hard as the linings,” Judge said.

Anytime a technician pulls a wheel, have him measure the thickness of the pad or lining as well as the run-out of the rotor or drum. Have him inspect the hoses to make sure they’re not worn or frayed, and ask him to check all the hardware to ensure it’s in good shape.

Because friction material is just one piece of a very important system comprised of parts designed to work together, when it comes time to replace it due to wear, it should be replaced with material that is as close to original as is possible or with material that you have tested to ensure satisfactory operation in your application.

About the Author: Tom Gelinas is a U.S. Army veteran who spent nearly a decade as a physicist before joining Irving-Cloud Publishing Co. While at Irving-Cloud, he worked in various editorial capacities for several trade publications including Fleet Equipment, Heavy Duty Equipment Maintenance and Transport Technology Today. Gelinas is a founding member of Truck Writers of North America, a professional association, and a contributing writer for Utility Fleet Professional.

Sharing Ideas

Industry events are all about sharing information and ideas and this year’s Electric Utility Fleet Managers Conference ( was no exception. Held in June, the annual conference celebrated its 60th anniversary with a mix of networking opportunities and a host of technical sessions that focused on the latest utility fleet management techniques and technologies.

The keynote address at EUFMC this year was delivered by Greg Pruett, senior vice president of corporate affairs for PG&E Corp. and Pacific Gas and Electric Co. In his remarks, Pruett focused in large part on electric vehicles, a subject we continue to follow at UFP as well.

PG&E, which has a long history of incorporating efficient and sustainable transportation technologies, today has more than 3,400 alternative fuel models in its fleet. Included are electric, natural gas and hybrid vehicles. The company is also working with aerial device suppliers to develop and test plug-in battery-powered systems and is deploying extended-range electric trucks, plug-in hybrid material handlers and all-electric service body units. To support these new vehicles, PG&E has installed more than 80 electric vehicle charging stations.

“We have also worked to develop customized lease terms that take into account the life cycle of electric vehicles,” Pruett noted. “We believe that other utilities can take advantage of these opportunities as well. Collectively, when it comes to the electrification of transportation, the utility industry has an incredible opportunity to be a game changer across the U.S.”

Among the topics on the 2013 EUFMC agenda were electric PTOs, a regulatory update, safety, fuel, boom inspections and technology in fleet garages. In addition, roundtable sessions for fleet managers and suppliers covered common challenges and the sharing of best practices.

One presentation at EUFMC that attracted a lot of attention was a report regarding a recently concluded survey on key process indicators (KPI). Mike Allison, director at Duke Energy, provided an overview of results; full details will be available in the future.

The KPI Survey, conducted in April by Utilimarc, is the second annual survey commissioned by EUFMC. In 2012, the conference presented results of its PM Practices & Technician Training Survey. For 2013, the focus was on the measures fleets are using to gauge the effectiveness of their management strategies.

Included were metrics in place to monitor vehicle availability, such as downtime and mean time between repairs, budget compliance, costs, fuel consumption, mechanic time, preventive maintenance, safety and a number of other areas. In each case, survey respondents ranked individual KPIs in different categories and reported on how the metrics help make more effective business decisions.

A new idea introduced at EUFMC that also promotes the sharing of information was the recently unveiled MechanicsQA. Offered by FleetAnswers, the forum allows technicians to “reach out to other fleet mechanics at a job specific level to ask questions and provide answers” in a collaborative setting. The forum, which has been undergoing testing at fleets, will eventually include a searchable database and other capabilities. Access to the free forum is available at

“Fleet is the backbone of our industry,” Pruett told the more than 100 fleet professionals at EUFMC. “We cannot serve our customers without it and in many cases our fleet is the main contact our customers have with us. It’s essential that we field vehicles that are as safe, clean and reliable as the electricity we provide. Your role as leaders is not static. It is rapidly changing and increasingly important.”

For the 2013 EUFMC audience, that message was not a surprise. Founded in 1953, the association has been educating fleet professionals for six decades, proving that there is no better venue for sharing ideas and best practices.

Seth Skydel

Modernizing Your Shop: Solution Implementation

In the last issue of Utility Fleet Professional, we looked at what factors affect productivity in your current shop, how to calculate space and technician needs, and the options available to you once you determine you want to upgrade your existing shop or build a new facility. Now it’s time to explore the design and implementation process. This article will cover everything you need to know, from the different project phases to site selection considerations to the solicitation of bids and beyond.

Project Inception
Considerations at the inception of the project for either an expansion or build alternative should encompass the following:
• The goal is to reduce costs, increase safety and improve productivity.
• The cost to rehabilitate the present facility is only $125 per square foot.
• The equipment cost is 30-35 percent of the facility cost.
• The ratio of vehicles per square foot of facility.
• Circulation with inside versus outside storage.
• A new facility costs roughly $200 per square foot, plus an equipment cost at 33 percent of the square footage estimate, which is approximately $65 per square foot or an estimated $265 per square foot total.
• Twelve feet of mortar equals 18 feet of steel equals 30 feet of outside height or 26-28 feet of inside height.
• Allow for electrical, water, steel, mortar and a 10-foot concrete apron around the facility.
• Follow Wicks Law regarding the on-site supervision of the general contractor. Wicks Law states that federal funding for local projects requires a general contractor to oversee all costs as the project progresses to prohibit unnecessary change orders that needlessly increase costs.

Project Sequence
Most renovation projects typically follow this type of sequence:
• Pre-design, which includes gathering input from the fleet manager, architect and designer.
• Schematic design (six months).
• Design development (12 months).
• Contract documents development (six months).
• Request for bids, receipt of quotes and award of contract (six months).
• Design build, which takes approximately 24 months and is a combination of the preceding three line items.
• Wicks Law for construction management of federally funded projects requires an extra level of project management to supervise the general contractor. This is done to ensure that government policies and procedures are followed.
• Site progress, which includes developing a schedule and retainage.
• Involve prime contractors and subcontractors, and hold coordination meetings.
• Wrap-up, warranty, facility use program and move-in.
• Testing followed by final payment.
• On-site, turnkey and warranty management.
• Liquidated damages for latent defects.

Shop Design Sequence
The pre-design stage is a line sketch of the desired layout including items such as general sizing, stockroom, shop administration offices, lighting, plumbing, electrical, water, air, supplies, work areas, lockers, support areas, washrooms, and welding and cleaning areas. The occupant and construction management firm architect will rough out footprint processes, topography and compatibilities. This process can take up to six months with timing, what-ifs, changes, and the learning curve of the customer and architect. The most knowledgeable party is the customer who fits into the facility; the architect suggests, but the customer is both accountable and responsible.

The following must be considered in the pre-design stage:
• Pre-design of the site including site selection, site short list and cost considerations.
• Input from fleet managers, administrative personnel, shop personnel and drivers.
• Clerical needs including equipment and work flow.
• Work methods and changes.
• Design layout: architect versus client versus consultant.
• Drawing drafts of the present building that include scale, access and inside versus outside.
• Revisions to the present building including limits, codes to follow, and required permits and fees.
• Meetings:
o Bid preparation, solicitation of bids, and evaluation of bids and bidders.
o Awards: schedule start and track progress.
• Construction site progress:
o Penalties for on-site progress.
o Coordination meetings.
o Changes.
• Completion, warranty, retainage and date of return for evaluation.

Site Selection
Site selection involves consideration of the following:
• Cost to prepare the site.
• Demolition of the site; full and/or partial liability for contaminated sites.
• Site inspection; estimated renovation or rehabilitation required.
• Environmental issues, drainage considerations and wildlife protection.
• Mileage variations to the new facility and cost adjustment.
• Facility growth for five years, 10 years and beyond.
• Alternative fuel use to offset capital outlay.
• Utility access for water, electric and gas.
• Traffic flow.

Layout Alternatives
The following are layout alternatives:
• Stock room access.
• Floor drains: slope.
• Lights: natural and artificial.
• 110-, 220- and 440-volt outlets.
• Ventilation and skylights.
• Concrete finish.
• Water and air lines: freezing.
• Epoxy: hardening.
• Storage: light and heavy.
• Seal and color of concrete.
• Fans for heat and ventilation.
• Compressed air.
• Heavy-duty: workbench, light and air.
• Roof-mounted equipment.
• Drawers: rollout and slide-out.
• Roof integrity: ladders.
• Floor access versus overhead access.
• Floor bolting and painting.
• Oil, air, water and electrical disposal.
• Welding, gas and electric.
• Three-quarter- to half-inch: psi range.
• Posts and doors.
• Antifreeze: new and recycled.
• Brakes and drums.
• Silicon: permanent extended life.
• Cranes: overhead versus jib.
• Recovered oil: antifreeze.
• Waste storage.
• Hazardous versus residual versus commercial wastes.
• Primary, secondary and tertiary storage of hazardous material wastes.
• Line painting: safety.
• Vehicle exhaust system.
• Corner guards.
• Exhaust temperature.
• Convex mirrors.
• Electric fuse box index.
• Mark piping: color code fluid lines.
• Downspout: cast versus aluminum.
• Fifty candlepower at floor level.
• Continuous floor drain: inside diameter.
• Concrete aprons.
• Shop drains: oil water separator.
• Battery room.

Schematic Design
The next step is a schematic design phase during which a layout is drawn to scale, incorporating the customer’s wants and needs and fitting in equipment, HVAC, electrical and plumbing, plus general construction specifications and upgrade of pre-design ideas into acceptable reality. The architect brings experience to the following areas:
• Considerations of present work flow space.
• Whether to leave or transfer present equipment.
• Drafting a new, site-specific layout and defining dimensions.
• Identifying equipment.
• Stating the location of equipment.
• Proposing the fit of equipment in the location.
• Drafting dimensions for electric and fluid needs.
• Brainstorming meetings.

Schematic design issues include the following:
• The new facility is site specific.
• This will alter the present footprint and practices.
• Receptiveness of the occupant to the new layout.
• The cost of change from present practices to new practices.
• The cost per square foot of the new facility for budget purposes.
• Project start date.
• Present date.
• Budget changes.
• Build date.

Design Development
The next stage is design development, which is a solicitations document phase. The architectural drawings are priced from the schematic design phase, and the funding needed is dedicated to this project. If the funding is inadequate, the schematic design phase must be altered to fit the funding, which must include inflation because it will take two to four years to solicit, award, and initiate the project and accommodate the changes.

Retainage – when the general contractor, prime subcontractors and subcontractors are paid, minus a percentage that will be held for warranty resolution – must be defined at this point. What are the amounts, terms and conditions? Target retainage is 15 percent, negotiable to 5 percent. Payment times are six months from the date of occupancy, and any changes have a six-month warranty extension tied to the finish date of that change.

The following elements are included in the design development:
• Drawing submissions and review; traffic and work flow; as-built and final drawings.
• Unique issues:
o Work methods.
o Utilities.
o Communication and time clocks.
o Data processing.
o Security.
• Administration, shop, offices and parking:
o Access for pedestrians and vehicle flow.
o Numbering, odd and even parking spaces.
• Tools and equipment, electric, water and effluent.
• Shop needs:
o Rebuild, repair or preventive maintenance.
o Painting.
o Bodywork.
o Washing.
o Cleaning.

Strategies and Expectations
• Follow Wicks Law with a construction management plan.
• Provide construction management of the general contractor, prime contractors and subcontractors.
• Consider design build versus design and build by one or many architects and engineering firms.
• Company management of the architect and builder.
• Bid preparation, solicitation, evaluation and award.
• Start date, work schedule and coordination meetings.
• Meetings for site selection, design, schedule and site remediation as to its footprint.
• Payment and change orders, threshold limits and penalties.
• Warranty and retainage, training and manuals.

Management Expectations
• Construction progress updates, pictures and videos.
• Script: outline, lesson plan and library of videos.
• Facility maintenance schedule and tasks.
• Application-specific manuals for parts and service.
• Warranty and latent defects and liquidated damages.
• Extended warranty, replacement warranties and double extensions.

Equipment Program
A good equipment program involves consideration of the following:
• Specifications and cut sheet.
• Power: location and work flow.
• Delivery, setup and training.
• Acceptance and payment.
• Warranty and 5 percent estimated retainage.
• Liquidated damages for latent defects.
• Videos:
o One thousand dollars per minute, finished product and multiple choices.
o Tripod, script, outline and lesson plan.
o Equipment vendor instructor.
• Move-in:
o Parts, supplies and materials first (weekend one).
o Skeleton staff (weekday).
o Maintenance and repair staff and their tools (weekend two).
o Transition from one weekend to another weekend.
• A person on-site to manage the warranty-poor materials, poor workmanship and design defects.

A critical issue is that the customer who occupies the finished facility expects a turnkey environment. An experienced architectural and engineering firm will provide a professionally qualified employee to be on-site to manage the 5 percent retainage. This person will sit with the customer, teach him or her how the facility is designed to work, and walk him or her through that process. This costs one person’s salary for six to 18 months depending on the complexity and sophistication of the facility and the equipment installed.

Design development is the time during which specifications are developed for the facility and its equipment for solicitation. These specifications must be a combination of functional and technical details and should include training needs, service, parts and supply books, CDs organized in a standard format with a defined warranty for latent defects (i.e., design defects not readily recognizable), and installation expectations with liquidated damage (late installs) documentation for penalties.

Solicitation of Bids and Award
The solicitation phase details all phases so that subcontractors, prime contractors, general contractors and construction management firms can delineate their costs while being aware of specific time and quality issues.

The design documents convey expectations in every detail so that bid prices can be compared, with the best bid being the lowest bid that addresses all issues. Should the award be split, portions can be divided accurately and a valid comparative analysis can be made.

The next phase is to solicit the contract documents for a request for proposal, where the terms and conditions are reviewed with bidders and suggestions are taken and evaluated to make the documents more accessible to more bidders. This increases competition, which leads to more competitive pricing and better responses. With the bid proposal reviewed and updated as deemed appropriate, now a request for quote can be issued. It is important to solicit as many local job site firms as possible, noting start dates of each phase and technological assignments so that one phase is completed and another can begin. Should a phase be extended unnecessarily, it will force other start times to change. In turn, this will cause schedule delays, delay the project completion date and result in a delay for the new occupant to move into the new facility.

Once the bids are received, compared, analyzed and awarded, bonds are posted along with an agreed-upon completion date.

The principals of the project are named, and the construction site is set up with temporary quarters, phones, faxes, telecommunications, personal computers, networks, offices, files, security and information published to enable all principals to communicate.

Construction Begins
Weekly meetings on the job site are scheduled; the meeting format is agreed upon; a numbered day ledger is opened; daily notes are entered; the schedule is posted; meetings are taped and noted; and the meeting minutes are circulated with timetables established, variances noted, and windows targeted and measured.

On-site progress is monitored by weekly photos from four standard locations. Videotapes are made weekly and dated for historical reference. If it is a public project, appropriate notifications are provided to funding agencies of regular meeting schedules with progress reports and change orders. Contractor changes due to nonperformance are discussed, adjusted, and resolved to keep the project on schedule and to hold costs to estimates.

Most governmental projects have regulatory requirements to communicate project progress to the different agencies that fund prorated projects (e.g., 75 percent federal, 10 percent state and 15 percent city). Each entity would contribute, at predetermined times, percentages of the total funding of the monies to pay the contracted firms. A time and completion plan is defined to direct this process.

For example, Wicks Law states that a construction management firm must monitor the progress of the general contractor, prime contractors and subcontractors; facilitate changes to keep the integrity of the program on time and uphold the quality of work; and be responsible to the funding agencies to inform them of progress and corrective actions taken to keep the project on time and at the estimated cost. This must be done on a regular basis at a minimum of monthly or targeted quarterly intervals so that payments are received on expected due dates.

During the on-site construction phase, inspectors monitor the progress in the on-site job ledger and discuss issues weekly with the prime contractors and subcontractors.

When the project is completed, a walk-through is scheduled with the general contractor, prime contractors and subcontractors. The walk-through is videotaped and a punch list is developed. Also, a written summary is drafted for tracking fixes with reference to compliance for penalty and payment validation.

Move-In Program
Around the time when closure is evident from the punch list, a move-in program is started with the client. The move-in process is defined, sequenced and prioritized, with shelving, furniture, phones, and equipment in place and tested. A temporary certificate of occupancy is obtained. A person from the construction management firm is assigned to coordinate the move, supervise the start-up, and work out the glitches and bugs with the management of the retainage so that the transition is smooth and a comfort level is established and maintained.

The occupant needs support in the day-to-day operations of the facility, in familiarity with the as-built drawings, and in problem-solving or troubleshooting of equipment problems. The on-site representative of the construction management firm is familiar with the general contractor, prime contractors and subcontractors. He or she can facilitate any problem-solving and troubleshooting with the principals, or the retainage can be used to hire other firms to correct the problems.

The on-site person’s salary and expenses could be funded from retainage. When funding runs out in 18 months, that person would leave because the momentum of the new facility would be up to speed and would meet the design and functional expectations.

Each piece of equipment should have a manual that is standardized in a common format that complements a video of the equipment operations and training, with three sets of each. One set should be kept on-site for day-to-day use, one set should be maintained in the corporate library to copy in case the on-site copy is in use or missing, and one set should be stored off-site for reference and as a copy resource.

Client Involvement
In order for the project to be successful, close interaction is required by the design team from the construction management firm, the design firm and the occupants of the new facility.

The new facility, aside from site specifics and the design complement of topography footprint, should be built around the client-occupant if the client will manage his facility for five to 10 years upon its completion. Designs and work flows are flexible and should fit the client’s needs or perceived needs.

Depending on his or her experience, the architect has a perspective that is limited because he or she does not have experience working in this or any other similar facility. Given a set of circumstances and limitations, the architect can provide alternatives based on his or her experience.

The client will use the facility day after day, so he or she will need to move seamlessly into the new facility and show increased productivity because of the features and benefits the new facility will offer.

Day to day there are three perspectives we need to acknowledge:
• The way one person sees it (the architect/engineer).
• The way another sees it (the occupant).
• The way it really is (general contractor and/or construction management firm).

It is the general contractor and construction management firm’s responsibility to see that the architect, engineer and occupant see what it is in the same way.

This is a once-in-a-lifetime event. You need experience and savvy to do it. If you’ve never done this before, the architect and engineer bring experience and savvy for your consideration. They understand and are attuned to help you get the facility you need to increase productivity and improve your safety experience.

About the Author: John Dolce is a fleet facility and maintenance specialist employed by Wendel Companies, an architectural and engineering firm. He is an active consultant, instructor and fleet manager with more than 40 years of experience in the public and private sector. Dolce has written three fleet-related textbooks and teaches fleet management courses at the University of Wisconsin’s Milwaukee and Madison campuses.

Driver Behaviors that Waste Fuel – and How to Correct Them

As utility fleets look for ways to blunt the impact of rising fuel costs on their bottom line, one opportunity for substantial cost savings can be found in training and motivating their drivers to operate their vehicles with more fuel efficiency.

According to a 2011 study by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (, the cumulative impact of neglecting good eco-driving practices can take a highly fuel-efficient vehicle with baseline performance of 36 mpg down to 19.8 mpg, a 45 percent drop in efficiency. Considering that commercial trucks are used in much harsher duty cycles and conditions than passenger vehicles, there’s potential for even greater negative impact on fuel economy if drivers aren’t managed effectively.

Biggest Fuel Wasters
Three driver behaviors tend to be the biggest fuel wasters.

1. Unnecessary Idle
Engine idle wastes 0.25 to 0.5 gallons per hour depending on engine size and air conditioning operation, according to the Environmental Protection Agency ( “Whether it’s the guy that eats lunch in his vehicle or, in some cases, we see people who leave the vehicle running almost the entire the day [to keep it cool during hot summers], that’s a significant waste of fuel, as well as additional wear and tear on the vehicle,” said Karl Weber, vice president of enterprise sales for SageQuest (, which is owned by Fleetmatics Group (NYSE: FLTX) and a provider of GPS fleet tracking and management technology designed to improve mobile workforce efficiency.

As a frame of reference, if only one driver excessively idles the vehicle for two hours per day, that adds up to a nearly $1,000 annual hit to the bottom line assuming $3.75 per gallon. Spread that over 10, 20, 50 or more drivers and the loss compounds.

Not all idle can be avoided, however – especially in utility applications. “In some types of vehicles, you have equipment on them that requires the engine to run,” Weber said. “If you take a vehicle in the utility industry that’s equipped with a bucket, often the engine has to be running for the bucket to be engaged and go up [via a PTO provision]. In that instance, organizations are going to be interested in tracking their drivers’ PTO idle versus non-PTO idle.”

2. Speeding
“For every 5 mph you travel over 65 mph, you reduce your efficiency by 7 percent,” said Nick Ehrhart, telematics vice president of business development for Donlen (, a full-service fleet management company headquartered in Northbrook, Ill., and a wholly-owned subsidiary of The Hertz Corp. (NYSE: HTZ). “So, slowing down when it’s safe to do so will greatly increase your vehicle’s fuel economy.”

This is because as speed increases, so does the aerodynamic drag (wind resistance), which forces the engine to work harder and consume more fuel to operate at the higher speed.

3. Aggressive Driving
Rapid acceleration and harsh braking reduce fuel economy by as much as 33 percent at highway speeds and 5 percent in town, according to the EPA. Therefore, if you have multiple drivers who make it a habit to “punch” the accelerator “off the line,” weave through traffic or slam on the brakes, their behavior is eating a chunk out of your organization’s bottom line.

Correcting These Behaviors
What can fleets do to help drivers break these habits so they become more fuel-conscious? Here are three tips.

1. Hold drivers accountable. “By far the most critical strategy to changing driver behavior is to create a driver policy [that clearly states expectations and consequences for noncompliance] and enforce it,” Ehrhart said. “You want all drivers to have a chance to be recognized or given a token of thanks [for improving behavior], but for those that don’t try and continue to behave poorly, there needs to be some type of repercussion.”

2. Educate drivers on the big-picture consequences of fuel-wasting behaviors. “I think most people realize that aggressive driving is not good, whether it’s from a safety perspective, or wear and tear of the vehicle, or fuel economy,” said Art Liggio, president of Driving Dynamics (, a Newark, Del.-based driver training firm for corporate fleets. “We focus on challenging the drivers to think about the responsibilities they have when they’re on the road, getting a little bit deeper into the person’s psyche. Instead of just saying, ‘It’s because you’re going to reduce your gas mileage by 5 miles per gallon,’ the focus is more about how this activity, action or behavior has even deeper consequences, drilling down all the way to how much these [driver behaviors] affect the financial viability of the employer.”

3. Incentivize positive driver behaviors. Weber referred to one client that implemented a driver incentive program, based on vehicle data captured by SageQuest’s GPS/telematics system, that helped reduce daily idle per vehicle from two hours to 45 minutes, saving the company nearly $1,000 in fuel costs per day. “They said, ‘All right, we’re going to rank our drivers every week based on the average idle time per day. And if you hit a certain threshold, you go into a bucket. Once a week, we’re going to pull a name out of that bucket with drivers that qualify based on appropriate behavior. We’re going to give away prizes, such as Xboxes or 40-inch LCD TVs.’ They’ve significantly reduced their idle and maintained it with this [incentive] program.”

Learning Moments
When it comes to correcting driver behaviors, Liggio summed it up this way: “If you want to change behavior, it’s not about throwing facts and figures at your drivers. You have to give them a 360-degree view into how their behavior actually affects others, and their employer in particular. And that opens their mind. Then they have this learning moment where they say, ‘Hmm. Maybe being an aggressive driver gets me to appointments faster or on time, but maybe being three or four minutes late is not as painful as the other things my behavior can cause.’”

Said Weber, “Fleets are realizing that they’re not just going to be able to eliminate the behavior, they need to manage it. They need to help drivers understand the benefit to them – ‘If we can cut this [idle] down, we’ll have more money to do other programs.’”

About the Author: Sean M. Lyden is a nationally recognized journalist and feature writer for a wide range of automotive and trucking trade publications, covering fleet management strategies, light- and medium-duty trucks, truck bodies and equipment, and green fuel technologies. He blogs at Lyden Fleet Strategies (

Making Effective Choices

With about 14,000 units ranging from passenger cars to Class 8 trucks, the Pacific Gas and Electric Co. fleet is sizable by any measure. Add to that a fleet maintenance operation that encompasses 63 facilities and 80 mobile service vehicles, and employs about 375 technicians and nearly 60 administrative personnel.

Another challenging aspect of the PG&E fleet is that its equipment covers more than 70,000 square miles of service territory including urban, suburban and rural areas. For Dave Meisel, senior director – transportation and aviation services, it all adds up to the need to make highly effective vehicle choices.

“When we’re looking at replacing vehicles, we have several considerations,” Meisel said. “We operate entirely within the state of California, which has the strictest clean air regulations in the country. That means we need to take into account the number of vehicles we have to replace to meet alternative fuel and regulatory requirements.

“We also need to look at vehicle additions that are needed for our business model,” Meisel added, “along with questioning if owning a unit might be more advantageous than long-term rentals. Simultaneously, we have to consider units that are out of life cycle, or will be in the planning year.

“We determine a vehicle’s life cycle by benchmarking against other operations,” Meisel continued. “Once or twice a year, we exchange visits with other fleets, including utility and nonutility operations, to learn from each other. Every time we make those visits, we learn something that we can do better.”

Exchanging Knowledge
As a utility operating about 14,000 vehicles in a single state, Meisel noted, it’s hard to find other operations that can be compared to PG&E’s fleet. That challenge, he related, is addressed by sharing information with some of the few multistate utilities in the country that operate more than 10,000 units, and with other types of fleets such as package, food and beverage operations that are similar in size.

For an industry perspective, PG&E also turns to Utilimarc, a provider of benchmarking, fleet consulting and business intelligence services, to compare specific fleet metrics within its own organization and against an industry database of as many as 400,000 units.

“Utilimarc forces you to provide data in a consistent structure, which gives us a true comparison of where we stand and how we relate to other fleets,” Meisel said. “Their methodology lets us look at detailed reports on costs by mile, unit, type, region and fleet size. We can also poll individual and groups of fleets on specific issues. For a relatively low cost compared to the quality of information we receive, Utilimarc’s analytical data tells us where there are opportunities to improve.”

The PG&E fleet now includes primarily Ford and GM models through Class 5, and Navistar and Peterbilt Class 6 through 8 trucks. The acquisition decisions that are made about the fleet are also the product of an evaluation of financing alternatives.

“Capital is the desired method of purchasing long-term assets in a regulated and decoupled utility like PG&E,” Meisel said. “We buy our vehicles outright in most cases because there is a return on capital associated with that activity. The practice of decoupling also promotes the conservation of energy.

“When we replace vehicles outside of our normal replacement cycle, it’s most often when major components have failed or there’s a structural integrity issue,” Meisel continued. “All other costs are maintenance related, which we handle primarily in-house. We have an outsourcing strategy and it’s not to outsource – except for items that are hard to cost justify internally, such as glass and body work.”

Lessons Learned
PG&E’s approach to managing its fleet is also based on both Meisel’s experience and the lessons he learns by remaining involved in the industry. His career began in the late 1970s as a mechanic at his family’s tractor and trailer rebuilding facility. From there, Meisel went on to management roles at Roadway Express and the Frito-Lay fleet, and at Consumers Energy in Michigan before joining PG&E more than six years ago.

Meisel currently serves on the Electric Utility Fleet Managers Conference board of directors and is a regular attendee at shows like the International Construction & Utility Equipment Exposition. “Many conferences and shows don’t offer a lot of value,” he said, “but these events bring together major players and decision-makers. In a few days at ICUEE we can see a lot of the newest technology that suppliers have to offer. At EUFMC we get very valuable feedback from other fleet managers and get the opportunity to build relationships with some of the most senior players in the supplier world. It doesn’t get any more efficient than that.”

About PG&E: Incorporated in 1905, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. is the San Francisco-based subsidiary of PG&E Corp. and one of the largest combination natural gas and electric utilities in the U.S. PG&E currently provides natural gas and electricity to approximately 15 million people in northern and central California through 141,215 circuit miles of electric distribution lines and 18,616 circuit miles of interconnected transmission lines as well as 42,141 miles of natural gas distribution pipelines and 6,438 miles of transportation pipelines. That utility operation relies heavily on a fleet of almost 14,000 vehicles and the capabilities of a maintenance team that numbers more than 425. In turn, the decisions made by the fleet management operation at PG&E are driving efficiency in all respects.

About the Author: Seth Skydel has more than 27 years of truck- and automotive-related publication experience. In his career, he has held editorial roles at numerous national business-to-business publications focusing on fleet and transportation management, vehicle and information technology, and industry trends and issues.

Modernizing Your Shop: Productivity, Space and Technician Considerations

In order to keep up with the evolution of your fleet, it may be time to analyze the layout of your current shop to determine if you need to upgrade the facility or design and build a new facility.

To give you an idea of what happens when an organization doesn’t keep up with the evolution of its fleet, let’s review an example of a facility that operated when horses pulled wagons. The horses lived in barns. When the horseless carriage was introduced and there was no longer a need for the horses, they were sold and the barns were used to store, maintain and repair the horseless carriages. As the horseless carriage became more advanced, more were added to the fleet and the barn was modified to meet the needs of the carriages. The increase in the size of the vehicles forced the carriages to be stored outside so that maintenance, service and repair could take place inside the barn.

Lights and equipment such as jacks, lifts, drill presses, welding tools, gantry cranes, parts and supply areas, tire service areas, pits, wash areas and battery rooms were added. This addition process eventually converted the barn into a garage without physically replacing the barn. While it wasn’t an ideal situation, everyone made do. In this case, the symptom was treated, but the root cause was not addressed.

As the fleet increased in size, more staff members were hired. The space, however, stayed about the same. Two people worked on one vehicle in one bay, which was big enough to hold half the vehicle, but the other half extended outside. An unanticipated factor – weather – thus affected productivity. If it rained, the workers got wet and took significantly more time to perform the task at hand. If the weather turned cold, the door was propped open, the heater kept running and the heat escaped the building.

Built for Productivity
In contrast, let’s look at an example of a medical surgery facility that was designed and built for its specific purpose – efficiency and medical excellence. There is one operating room and multiple patients who are waiting to get procedures.

In this scenario, if a patient needs hip surgery, the surgeon speaks with the patient, diagnoses the problem at the office, determines the time it will take to complete the procedure and secures an operating room for a fixed period of time. Using a 10-hour time frame as an example, the surgeon, knowing a hip replacement takes approximately two hours, will schedule five patients for that period of time. Some patients will take 1.5 hours and some will take 2.5 hours.

After 10 hours and five procedures, with backup staff in the operating room to cover breaks and emergencies, this becomes a very efficient process. The operating room has all the tools, space and supplies for all staff members to be productive because it was designed this way before it was built.

In the case of the barn, servicing vehicles is less efficient in that space because – while there is the potential for numerous vehicles to be in the facility at the same time – it was originally built to house horses, not vehicles.

What Impacts Productivity?
With proper space allocation, a garage can offer both the potential of a reduced carbon footprint and the opportunity for increased productivity. Creating the garage is a once-in-a-lifetime event that demands experienced planning. Because almost every act is sequenced for efficiency and productivity, a fleet business requires order and discipline. Tools, supplies, equipment, fluids, monitors and support services must be laid out to efficiently maintain the fleet.

Due to funding limitations and other priorities, organizations often make do with existing facilities, outdated equipment and inefficient worker footprints, which can negatively affect productivity and result in energy loss. Space limitations and unscheduled work, in particular, can impact productivity.

Scheduled work, on the other hand, is easier to manage. When a vehicle is brought into a shop for a preventive maintenance inspection, the technician knows how much time the process will take – it has been performed many times and is sequenced with the technician’s activity. Mechanics are trained in this process, and since all the necessary resources are available, all inspections can be assigned to a bay for scheduled work in a predictable time frame.

When you consider the job requirements of a staff of technicians, there are more than 500 types of tasks they may be responsible for. Some of these tasks are done repetitively, including work on brakes, radiators and water pumps, wheel removal and replacement, and air/oil filter changes. These tasks, however, make up only 30 percent of total maintenance work, meaning just 30 percent of work hours can predictably be assigned to work bays. That means 70 percent of the remaining work is unpredictable and requires more space per job.

What is the impact of unscheduled work? Let’s say a technician brings a vehicle into the shop that has been identified by a driver as having noise in the engine and a lack of power. If the technician diagnoses the number five cylinder as the problem, removes the piston and finds the wrist pin is also defective, a delay occurs. Since the shop does not stock wrist pins or fit pistons, the work on this part will have to be sent out. This causes the bay to be tied up until the parts come in and the technician installs them. What do the technicians assigned to this bay do while waiting for the part? They should be put to work in another bay. Theoretically, each unscheduled technician needs one-and-a-half bays assigned to him or her to be productive. Doubling up people in a bay can lead to delays and is unproductive.

Calculating Space and Technician Needs
How, then, are space needs calculated? Since space is a capital issue, having too little space can be just as bad as having too much space. This expense has to be prioritized and a three- to five-year return on investment – or more – has to be justified.

Let’s assume that a fleet workload was 20,000 hours in the last 12 months. As the fleet gets older or grows, the work increases 10 percent per year with a limited replacement program. Of the 20,000 hours, 2,000 were completed outside the shop while responding to road calls, breakdowns and tire changes, leaving 18,000 hours for shop work. Based on that information, how much space is needed? If the shop is open eight hours per day, five days per week, 52 weeks per year on one shift, that is 2,080 hours per year, per bay available on one shift. The 18,000 hours divided by 2,080 hours in bay availability equals 8.65 bays on one shift, which means that nine bays are needed at a bare minimum for vehicle service. For 20,000 hours with one shift, 9.62 or 10 bays are needed at a minimum. If you have multiple shifts, this requirement could be broken down to five bays on two shifts or four bays on three shifts.

How many technicians are needed? If one technician works five days a week, eight hours per day for 52 weeks, that would equal 2,080 payroll hours. In addition, technicians are also paid for 280 hours when they are not at work, as follows:
• Three weeks for vacation (120 hours).
• Two weeks for holidays (80 hours).
• One week for training (40 hours).
• One week for illness (40 hours).

This brings the total working hours down to 1,800. If you factor in time for washing up and coffee breaks, this adds up to 225 hours. If another 275 hours are added for diagnostic, cleaning, parts retrieval and toolbox time, working hours now total a net of 1,300 hours per available technician.

If you divide the 20,000 hours (the 12-month workload) by 1,300 (the hours per technician), this equals 15.38 technicians. Let’s presume the .38 is used in overtime or vendor work and that 15 technicians are needed for the 12-month period. If you factor in 10 percent inflation for the aging of the vehicles, that equals 22,000 hours. Divide that by 1,300 for a total of 16.92, or 17 technicians that will be needed for the next year.

If the average of scheduled work is 30 percent and the unscheduled work average is 70 percent, the number of bays needed is calculated below:
• 17 technicians x 30% = 5 technicians who need 1 bay each for a total of 5 bays.
• 17 technicians x 70% = 12 technicians who need 1.5 bays each for a total of 18 bays.

This shows that 23 bays are needed for one shift, 12 bays are needed for a two-shift operation and eight bays are needed for a three-shift operation.

If this is a nine-bay shop and there is only one shift working, 14 bays need to be added. If it is a two-shift schedule, three more bays need to be added, the work needs to be sent to vendors or the staff needs to be reduced to fit the nine bays. Three shifts would work. In most cases, until space is expanded, productivity is being choked.

Keep in mind that there are reasonable solutions to these problems, but they first need to be identified. A logical process must be followed when determining whether to expand or reduce the size of the present shop, relocate to another facility or build a new shop.

Consider Your Options
What are the costs of upgrading an existing building compared to building a new facility? Which is more cost-effective?

Consider the impact of a no-build or existing building upgrade option at $125 per square foot. In addition to the square-foot cost, facility and shop equipment costs will add an estimated 30 percent to the total no-build estimated cost. These total costs for upgrading should be compared to the total costs to build a new replacement facility.

Next, consider designing and building a new garage with the proper number of work bays – which are typically 20 feet wide and 50 feet long – and a parts support area that is 20 percent of the total work space for a light-duty fleet, with 33 percent of the total work space allotted for a heavy-duty fleet, including offices, locker rooms, showers, toilets, a lunch area and other support services. The square-foot cost of a new facility is estimated to be $200 per square foot plus the cost of equipment such as lifts, lathes, benches, cranes, storage shelves and optional equipment. These costs will add an estimated 30 percent to the total new-build estimated cost. Note that some items can be disassembled from the old building and reassembled in the new facility depending on their age, condition and project life cycle.

A service provider may want to consider the option of building a shared facility that is equally accessible to other fleet maintenance providers. This option can significantly reduce funding requirements.

Environmental upgrades add cost to the new building option, and you will also need to consider the layout of the new site in terms of parking, traffic flow, and bay and support area configurations.

In addition, organizations need to determine if they can work in the present facility while upgrading or if they will need to relocate to a temporary facility. This is determined by the present operation and the type of equipment being used. Shuttle time from domicile to route assignments should be considered as well.

With the construction cost calculated and its features and benefits evaluated, a comparison of the new alternative can be made to the no-build alternative, and a choice can be made: rebuild the present facility, replace it with a new facility, partially rebuild the present facility or do nothing. With the do-nothing approach, the present facility is used as is, work not handled cost-effectively can be outsourced, and/or part of the workload can be relocated to another smaller facility closer to the domiciled vehicle location.

Unless you choose the do-nothing approach, the next step is implementing the chosen solution. Be sure to pick up the next issue of Utility Fleet Professional for an in-depth look at the implementation process.

About the Author: John Dolce is a fleet facility and maintenance specialist employed by Wendel Companies, an architectural and engineering firm. He is an active consultant, instructor and fleet manager with more than 40 years of experience in the public and private sector. Dolce has written three fleet-related textbooks and teaches fleet management courses at the University of Wisconsin’s Milwaukee and Madison campuses.

Pulling All the Levers

George Survant, senior director, fleet at Time Warner Cable knows exactly the direction he wants to focus on for the future of the telecom provider’s vehicle operation. “We have to manage for the minimum cost per month over the life cycle of the vehicle,” he said. “If we use best practices to drive up reliability, we not only have lower costs, but we’re in a better position to meet customer expectations and improve our customers’ experience.”

Joining Time Warner Cable in mid-2012, Survant brings more than 30 years of utility fleet management expertise to an organization full of highly skilled and experienced fleet operations professionals. “We have an opportunity to make sure that our service fleet and its management programs are as leading edge as the entertainment, communications and information technology that Time Warner Cable provides,” he stated.

Aggressive growth at Time Warner Cable, which now serves more than 15 million residential and business customers in 29 states, has presented the company’s fleet managers with a number of challenges. Its 21,000 vehicles are spread out from coast to coast, and in Hawaii. Large groups of trucks were brought into the operation as a result of acquisitions. More than 70 dealerships were involved in spec’ing equipment and negotiating purchases, and with 95 percent of the fleet’s maintenance outsourced, hundreds of service providers were in the mix.

Significant Muscle
“About three years ago,” Survant related, “the management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company Accenture began working with Time Warner Cable to address organizational strategies. The company was understandably decentralized in different areas, including fleet. Operating like many small companies rather than one entity meant lost opportunities to flex the organization’s significant market muscle.”

Applying that lesson to managing its fleet, Time Warner Cable has embarked on a comprehensive set of initiatives to take advantage of economies of scale, to centralize the fleet operation, and to leverage existing and new best practices across the entire equipment and maintenance organization.

“One objective is to drive up reliability,” Survant said. “There is a hidden cost of having many different vehicles sourced in small groups. Also, trucks simply become less reliable with age so we needed a consistent replacement plan that can only come from a national supplier relationship.”

Taking Advantage
In July 2012, Survant noted, the median age of a standard service van or pickup truck in the Time Warner Cable fleet was 6.7 years. “Ideally,” he added, “the median age target for this type of vehicle is 3.75 to 4 years. Moving in that direction, we’ve lowered the median age of our fleet to under 6 years in just six months, and we’ve reduced acquisition costs by working with OEMs directly on a national level, and by taking advantage of utility fleet pricing programs.”

The current Time Warner Cable fleet consists of 11,000 vans, primarily Ford E-150 and E-250 models along with some GM units. Its 4,000 quarter- and half-ton pickup trucks are also mainly Fords and there are 2,600 Class 5 Ford F-350 and F-450 bucket trucks. The balance of the fleet consists of fewer than 100 Class 6-8 trucks and some passenger cars and vans.

To adopt better solutions, remarketing of vehicles being phased out of the Time Warner Cable fleet has also been addressed. Today, when groups of vehicles become available, the company invites auction houses to bid and investigates the resale value it can realize by selling the trucks to dealer auctions or wholesalers, taking into account the cost of prepping vehicles and providing required paperwork. Resale value is going to be a factor in new vehicle purchases going forward, Survant also noted.

Nationwide Program
Turning its attention to maintaining the fleet, Time Warner Cable’s fleet management team focused on creating a single, nationwide program. In the fall of 2012, the company began using the vehicle fleet management services company ARI at all locations, except for the four in-house service facilities with on-site vendors that it operates in the Midwest and in New York City.

“ARI has an advanced maintenance management solution that it uses to leverage maintenance relationships with vendors nationwide on our behalf, and a breakdown call center that makes sense for the size and scope of our fleet operation,” Survant said. “We dictate preventive maintenance practices based on OEM recommendations and our own needs and experience, and ARI’s extensive network of dealers, leasing companies and independent service providers does the work. They also manage our national account program with Goodyear to meet all of our tire needs.”

ARI is also handling equipment upfitting when Time Warner Cable places new vehicles in service. Included is the installation of aerial devices supplied by Altec, ETI and Versalift, and Masterack interior shelving and ladder racks from Leggett & Platt. “A considerable amount of detail goes into the layout and correct upfitting of these items in service vehicles,” Survant stated. “We have a high volume of demand for field service so it’s essential to have the right tools, equipment and inventory on our trucks at all times.”

Customer Expectations
“It is increasingly challenging to meet customer expectations for time and service requirements,” Survant continued. “Along with fielding reliable vehicles, we need to ensure the fleet is in the right place at all times. While Time Warner Cable’s dispatch and operations management and planning practices have been very successful, enhancements to the installed AVL and GPS systems will continue to help them address that need even more effectively.”

For Time Warner Cable, the second largest provider of video, high-speed data and phone services in the U.S., a field service fleet operation that consistently achieves customer satisfaction goals is critical to success.

For the fleet management team at Time Warner Cable, Survant is quick to point out, reliable vehicles are at the top of the list. “It’s common sense,” he said. “A 4 percent failure rate means the same percentage of our service guarantees are at risk. Using best practices to field the right equipment and maintain it correctly eliminates those issues.”

About the Author: Seth Skydel has more than 27 years of truck- and automotive-related publication experience. In his career, he has held editorial roles at numerous national business-to-business publications focusing on fleet and transportation management, vehicle and information technology, and industry trends and issues.

Streamlining Choices

A valuable resource for utility fleet managers, the industry’s providers of rental and leasing services use their understanding of each fleet’s unique needs and objectives to match the most appropriate financing and acquisition strategies to particular operations.

For most fleets, a balance of ownership, rental and leasing is an effective choice. Utility Equipment Leasing Corporation (UELC) points out that understanding the benefits of those options is an effective way to run a fleet. Ownership is the clear choice for fleet managers, but gaps in fleet portfolios are a reality. Rental units maximize the immediate demand necessary to fill current gaps while leasing can be structured for longer-term, fixed and potentially lower payments that preserve capital for investment in a business and may not impact existing lines of credit. Depending on their structure, lease payments may offer a tax advantage and leasing can also avoid the risk of equipment obsolescence that comes with ownership through upgrade, trade-in and return provisions designed to provide flexibility.

In business since 1967, UELC provides utilities, municipalities, contractors and other fleets with a single source for their equipment rental and leasing needs. UELC has a complete rental fleet to meet daily, weekly, monthly or long-term needs. Late-model equipment in the nationwide rental operation averages 2.5 years old. This equipment is offered at a fixed cost without hidden charges for mileage or hours of use. The all-inclusive rental rate also includes maintenance for hassle-free utilization of the equipment. Customers are only responsible for fuel, lubricants and daily inspections to ensure safe operation.

Lease programs from the company include standard packages or customized solutions for long-term lease options toward the purchase of new or late-model equipment. Through DUECO Inc., a UELC sister company, Terex bucket trucks, digger derricks and cranes can be built to each fleet’s specifications. UELC structures financing programs for the equipment using capital, operating, municipal and split lease solutions.

Other UELC rental options include a rental purchase agreement that gives fleets the option to purchase or return the vehicle at any time during the term of the rental. This enables operations to test equipment prior to purchasing and to leverage the payments already incurred toward the purchase of the vehicle.

To learn more about UELC, visit

Empowering Solutions for Utility Fleets
When the cold winter winds whip across the prairie, folks there count on NorthWestern Energy to supply the gas and electricity they need to heat and light their homes. And the folks at this innovative and award-winning utility company count on ARI to help them manage a complex fleet of nearly 1,000 vehicles – from passenger cars and pickups to service vehicles to bucket trucks and digger derricks – ensuring vehicle readiness and reliability while providing up-to-date reporting, visibility, accountability and significant savings.

“We picked ARI because of the services they offered, their software and the way they managed vehicles,” said Ron Anderson, manager of fleet and equipment for NorthWestern Energy. Throughout its expansive service area, customers count on NorthWestern for dependable service – and ARI helps keep NorthWestern’s fleet on the road so the company can maintain its reputation for reliability.

The relationship dates back to 1995, when ARI began providing fueling and maintenance services for a South Dakota utility that NorthWestern later acquired. As NorthWestern grew into the company it is today, its relationship with ARI grew. Today, ARI provides a comprehensive range of fleet services for NorthWestern, including accident management for leased vehicles, licensing and title management, fuel management, renewal management, fleet administration, preventive maintenance and more.

“NorthWestern is a growing company, and we’re always looking for ways to support them, whether by reducing fleet-related costs or by helping make sure their vehicles are always ready for the road,” said Rob Hoysgaard, a utility fleet expert at ARI.

Recognized by Forbes as one of the nation’s 100 most trustworthy companies, and a five-time winner of the utility industry’s prestigious ServiceOne Award, NorthWestern operates in 121,000 square miles spread across Montana, Nebraska and South Dakota. For vehicle maintenance, the company often relies on vendors throughout the area, in towns large and small. In-house mechanics can’t always check up on shops in outlying towns. As a result, it can be difficult to ensure that preventive maintenance is done on schedule and to maintain high quality standards. To address this issue, ARI recently implemented its Garage Management System (GMS) application, customizing it to meet NorthWestern’s needs.

“We took a look at the system and said, ‘What if …?’” said Anderson. ARI responded by streamlining the process of opening and closing work orders, eliminating functionality not essential to NorthWestern’s operation, like scheduling, and making other changes to reflect the way NorthWestern works. ARI customizes all of its technology solutions in this fashion to meet clients’ needs.

A part of ARI’s Integrated Fleet Solution, the Web-based GMS combines maintenance data from internal and external sources for more efficient, accurate, up-to-date reporting and – ultimately – lower operating costs. It feeds cost information into the ARI insights system and tracks parts.

The GMS increases productivity, streamlining the maintenance process by helping the company manage technicians, vehicle preventive maintenance schedules, unscheduled repairs and parts inventories, while consolidating all vendor-in/vendor-out data with other fleet activities.

Using ARI insights, NorthWestern can capture all vehicle activity, including new vehicle delivery, licensing renewal, IFTA/IRP, DOT and ANSI inspections, accident repairs, and used vehicle removal and remarketing. The ARI fuel management program automatically captures fuel transactions and uploads them within 24 hours. All the company’s fleet information is available on the secure ARI portal – vehicles, preventive maintenance fuel costs and more.

“When I open the ARI website, I can take a look at the alerts we’ve established, look at fuel costs on an ongoing or monthly basis. It’s very helpful for my budgeting,” said Anderson. “If someone calls me about maintenance, I can put in the vehicle number and the information is all there – the last service, what was done. When we get ready to sell, if we take the vehicle to a local auction, we can print out a complete record from the day the vehicle came into the system.”
The site is easy to navigate and customize. Most important, NorthWestern can use ARI insights to improve operations, enhance productivity and, ultimately, reduce costs – and that all supports a better bottom line.

ARI is committed to its partners’ success, and it demonstrates that commitment every day. Robb Zavitz, ARI’s Minneapolis-based account manager, is often in touch with NorthWestern. Dave Robinson, the account coordinator, provides a daily single point of contact within ARI to ensure that everything is working smoothly. Jerry Allen, an ARI regional manager, served NorthWestern from 1995 until he retired from ARI in December 2009. That longevity is unusual in fleet management, but typical for ARI. In fact, most of the ARI team has more than 20 years of vocational fleet experience.

Whether it’s handling the paperwork for licensing and titling in every county in the three states where NorthWestern has operations, or providing insight into vehicle specifications, ARI does what it takes.

“If we have a question on specs, we can go to one person at ARI, and it gets taken care of,” said Anderson. Once the company, which has a contract with a vehicle manufacturer, finalizes the specs, ARI handles the ordering and then provides updates on the status of production and delivery, including everyone from the chassis manufacturer to the upfitters of bucket trucks or digger derricks. When it’s time to look at replacements, NorthWestern relies on a unique vehicle replacement analysis model (VRAM) designed to save maintenance dollars and ensure that mission-critical vehicles remain up and running. In addition to age and mileage, VRAM incorporates maintenance costs, model year, criticality and other factors that impact life cycle – all based on data already in the ARI insights system. VRAM then ranks each vehicle in the fleet for replacement priority.

“We can tell you which vehicle is No. 1 for replacement, and which is 956,” Anderson said. A faster, more accurate vehicle replacement model delivers value by helping companies like NorthWestern optimize their assets, lower their cost of ownership and ensure that mission-critical vehicles are available when they need them.

For more information, visit

Expert Advice
Each fleet has unique financing needs, notes PHH Arval, a provider of fleet management services. At the company, consultants work with fleets to tailor lease financing to meet needs while also making sound economic sense. Among the many variables considered are the expected service life of vehicles, current interest rates, and a company’s risk profile and business culture.

PHH offers multiple fleet lease structures to best meet each operation’s requirements. Included are fixed or floating rates, open or closed-end leases, and self-funding or bank plan options.

PHH integrates its experience with information provided by vehicle manufacturers, safety-rating agencies, and its own data to help select and order fleet vehicles appropriate to each set of needs. Online tools make it easy to perform side-by-side comparisons of fleet vehicles, and analyze life-cycle costs based on replacement policies.

PHH also offers a pool of fleet vehicles ready for immediate delivery and an out-of-stock vehicle locator system, which finds vehicles in existing dealer inventories.

For more information, visit

Proven Practices

During the 2011 Electric Utility Fleet Managers Conference, fleet managers detailed the successful approaches they’re employing for acquisition, maintenance and parts strategies in their operations.

Baltimore Gas & Electric
An affiliate of Constellation Energy, Baltimore Gas & Electric (BGE) provides electric and gas service in a territory of about 2,400 square miles surrounding the Baltimore metropolitan area of central Maryland. BGE Fleet Services, with 80 employees, including 46 technicians, manages a fleet of more than 1,500 vehicles and 400 pieces of equipment. The operation has a central shop at its headquarters location where all major repairs, new vehicle preparation and maintenance on local units is performed, as well as seven shops located throughout its service territory.

“Our replacement cycle has been based on economic life, the evaluation of units, user input and a review of maintenance records,” said Gill Nichols, supervisor, fleet engineering. “Budgetary and business cycle constraints can limit replacement activity, but our annual replacement plan is developed within current financial constraints and with the concurrence of users.”

BGE, Nichols reported, recently completed a five-year leasing contract. “A finance evaluation proved that leasing was less expensive than buying for BGE’s cost structure,” he said, “so we established a contract with a funding source and a separate services provider.”

BGE Fleet Services, Nichols explained, develops standardized specifications for each vehicle and equipment type in the utility’s operation. “A user-needs review identifies any necessary departure from standard offerings,” he added, “and modifications are controlled through an engineering review and user management approval of costs.”

Alliance agreements with major component suppliers have been established by BGE Fleet Services to provide for lower parts pricing and on-site training sessions. “The agreements cover most chassis, body and aerial components, and equipment types,” Nichols related. “These partnerships also allow us to collaborate with our suppliers on new product development and to serve as testing ground for new technologies.”

Preventive maintenance (PM) on the BGE fleet is usually based on manufacturers’ schedules, although BGE Fleet Services does modify schedules based on mileage, engine hours or fuel usage if those parameters are observed to be out of range. In addition, the fleet’s managers conduct data analysis of vehicles and equipment showing any higher than scheduled usage. In use is AssetWorks FleetAnywhere software. “We’ve been using this system for over 10 years,” Nichols stated. “It provides data on historic cost of repairs, labor hours, fuel usage, ownership costs and parts expenses, which we also use for setting charge-back rates and for benchmarking our operation.”

Maintaining the BGE fleet is a team of PM trainees, PM technicians, master technicians and senior master technicians. “We established these roles so our technicians can move from job to job based on attaining required certifications, meeting established performance standards and job qualifications, and demonstrating the ability to perform required tasks,” Nichols said.

“Our technicians are provided with information about what is required to advance and are given opportunities to advance at their own pace,” Nichols continued. “Manpower utilization in our shops is planned on a monthly basis using estimated repair activity and PM schedules. Shop-to-shop labor transfers are made to manage spikes in workload, vacations and long-term medical absences.”

BGE Fleet Services makes extensive training opportunities available to its technicians. An established program for new hires encompasses seasoned workers as well as high school graduates. The highly structured program teaches shop functions, computer systems, safe work practices, tool and equipment use, and basic elements of maintenance and repair work. Trainees are instructed daily on how to perform PMs and other repairs by working in the fleet’s central shop with a senior master technician.

Manufacturer training sessions are also provided to trainees and all technicians to familiarize them with new models, systems and functions of vehicles and equipment. Additionally, a contracted training program has been developed to provide basic through advanced training in electronics, braking systems, engines, hydraulic systems and other areas.

BGE Fleet Services has also worked with all of its major suppliers to establish warranty repair agreements, enabling the fleet’s technicians to perform repairs on covered items. “We actively manage the warranty recovery process, set annual recovery goals and include this in our bonus performance award program,” Nichols related.

Parts inventories are managed closely at BGE Fleet Services. Established through competitive bidding, contracts are in place for high volume items using specialty suppliers where applicable and larger suppliers for the majority of stocked parts. The fleet’s Operations & Support Unit monitors and manages inventories, orders stock parts, and collaborates with shop personnel to add or delete parts from stock based on usage patterns. The group also assists in ordering specialty or long-lead items.

Successful acquisition, maintenance and parts programs, Nichols pointed out, are the result of finding effective solutions on a consistent basis. “We address short-term issues through teams composed of members from all areas within the department and customers,” he explained.

“We also hold an annual planning conference to develop short- and long-term goals and initiatives for the department,” Nichols concluded. “Prior to the conference, feedback is solicited from all members of the department about improvement ideas or suggestions, and identification of problems or issues that need to be addressed. Department management and leadership use the responses to formulate strategies to improve performance, address issues and develop goals to pursue.”

Progress Energy
Covering a territory that encompasses 34,000 square miles across North Carolina and South Carolina and 20,000 square miles in Florida, Progress Energy serves more than 3 million customers. Its fleet of nearly 3,900 vehicles and equipment is maintained in 26 regional garages by 124 employees, including 88 technicians, along with supervisors, administrators and other support personnel.

The Progress Energy fleet includes 2,500+ light-, medium- and heavy-duty vehicles from a variety of manufacturers. Also in the operation are more than 1,300 pieces of equipment including trailers and off-road excavating equipment.

“We have a $50 million annual operational and maintenance budget,” reported Gary Butler, Progress Energy Carolinas manager of fleet assets and maintenance. “About one-third of that covers vehicle ownership, one-third is for maintenance and the balance is for fuel.”

Each of those cost areas is then the focus of efforts by the fleet’s managers. Equipment utilization is reviewed periodically to ensure proper allocation of the fleet, and vehicles can be moved after a review of job duties, equipment sizing and other considerations.

Current replacement cycles for the Progress Energy fleet are five years or 125,000 miles for light-duty vehicles, seven to eight years for medium-duty models and 11 years for heavy-duty units. Service buckets are usually replaced after four to five years and trailers in the operation last 20 years.

The Progress Energy maintenance operation handles 93 to 95 percent of the fleet’s maintenance and repair needs in-house, including using 20 traveling preventive maintenance trucks. Day and night shifts also complete dielectric testing on aerial units.

Shops are manufacturer-approved warranty repair centers for GM, Ford, Dodge, Freightliner, International, Sterling, Western Star, Altec and Terex. Warranty recovery utilizing the services of a third-party warranty administrator totaled $45,000 in 2010 and was projected to rise to $75,000 to $100,000 in 2011, Butler reported.

About 5 to 7 percent of the Progress Energy fleet’s maintenance and repair work is outsourced, including tire work and alignments, windshield and body repairs, automatic transmission work and hydraulic cylinder rebuilding.

“We occasionally outsource maintenance due to workload and logistics considerations, and when we identify savings opportunities,” Butler related. “Current maintenance intervals have been set based on regulatory and manufacturer requirements. Preventive maintenance intervals can also vary depending on make, model and application while costs can be affected by hourly labor rates for technicians, which are dependent on progression in salary and other variables.

“Our preventive maintenance intervals are also based on oil sampling,” Butler added. “The data indicates we could extend the intervals, but we established a conservative approach and set mileage limits to ensure that extremely excessive mileage does not occur.”

Parts supplier agreements in place at Progress Energy are resulting in cost savings. Costs are kept in check using volume pricing and rebates, centralized billing and reporting and tracking capabilities.

Progress Energy’s fleet managers also pay close attention to fuel costs and use the information to bolster fuel consumption awareness, including idling practices, routes, weight and stop/start operations. Fuel hedging serves as insurance against steep price increases.

An all-around approach, Butler noted, is minimizing rising vehicle costs at Progress Energy. “We have vehicles and equipment, and driver teams that address issues like utilization, maintenance and fuel consumption,” he explained. “Management system and benchmarking data supports our cost reduction initiatives. In the last 10 years, we’ve held costs flat and absorbed labor increases.”

Oklahoma Gas & Electric
Serving 765,000 customers in a 30,000-square-mile service territory in central Oklahoma and western Arkansas, Oklahoma Gas & Electric (OGE) fields a fleet of more than 2,400 pieces of equipment, including 1,300 light-, medium- and heavy-duty vehicles. The fleet is maintained in 11 garages, including one central facility in each of the utility’s larger districts that supports at least one smaller district and/or power plant.

OGE employs 23 mechanics and three garage supervisors as well as eight support personnel in its maintenance operation. Senior mechanics are assigned to one-person shops, mobile service units or as lead technicians in larger facilities. The staff also includes journey and apprentice mechanics as well as interns.

“Many of our garages are one-person operations,” said Herb Kramer, fleet maintenance supervisor. “We move larger jobs to external sources or to our main shop, or we move resources to accomplish the work. We do not want the one mechanic in a facility to be overwhelmed or to create a backlog with a larger time-consuming job. All but three mechanics work from 3 to 11:30 p.m.,” he added, “which means if there is a problem during the day it is repaired that night and the unit is back in service in the morning.

“We handle 75 to 80 percent of the work our fleet requires internally,” Kramer continued, “and we outsource work that we feel we cannot handle as cost effectively as an outside supplier. That may have to do with our available resources, but in all cases we limit the number of suppliers we use.”

At OGE, Kramer reported, all bodywork, windshield repair and virtually all tire work is outsourced. In addition, the fleet outsources 80 percent of light-duty vehicle warranty work, 10 percent of preventive maintenance on those vehicles, and 70 percent of repairs and larger issues found during PMs on light-duty models. Dealers servicing the fleet are required to provide pickup and delivery services.

“We’re very focused on vehicle inspection,” Kramer stated. “Engine oil is sampled at every drain interval and hydraulic oil is tested once per year unless contamination is found. Every time a vehicle is in a shop we try to correct anything we find. We created a checklist so mechanics know what to focus on and we started requiring shop supervisors to check 10 to 20 percent of all work.”

During and between routine PMs, OGE shops are also focusing closely on vehicles and equipment with higher utilization, and those with harder duty cycles. “When we find high-mileage newer vehicles,” Kramer noted, “we move them to areas with lower utilization. That helps us stay on track for replacement cycles and reduces repair costs.”

For parts, OGE is moving from one to three suppliers. “The theory was that we could do a better job of managing costs with one supplier,” Kramer related, “but that made it hard to compare, and having one pipeline increased downtime. To reduce downtime we allowed mechanics to buy locally if it meant they could get the vehicle back in service, and that drove up costs. With our new arrangement we realized a 20 percent reduction in parts costs.”

OGE’s other practices are paying off as well. A proactive approach to maintenance and repairs has reduced downtime and breakdowns, cutting the number of service calls from more than 100 to fewer than 10 per month. Increased uptime, measured as mean time between repairs, has improved.

“That was partially from upgrading equipment and moving high-use vehicles to lower-use areas,” Kramer said. “It’s also a result of better diagnostics and parts availability, as well as keeping mechanics focused on completing a job by giving them the responsibility to manage their own schedules.

“When we started down this path our costs started to rise,” Kramer continued, “because we were fixing things that were broken but never reported. Over time we started seeing our efforts pay off. Today we’ve realized a $700,000 drop in maintenance costs, and a reduction in annual tire expenses from over $950,000 to $550,000.”

Critical to this success, according to Kramer, is meeting with major vendors three or four times per year, and having information on the fleet’s operation and analyzing that data often. OGE also uses the benchmarking services of Utilimarc.

“We measure everything possible and question it regularly,” Kramer stated, “including mean time to repair data, and repair costs for internal and outsourced work. We also evaluate warranty and utilization. Overall, we’re focusing on reducing our annual budget from a variable $11 to $15 million to a lower and steady $9.5 million per year.”

Editor’s Note: The annual Electric Utility Fleet Managers Conference will be held June 3-6, 2012, in Williamsburg, Va. For more information, visit

Ensuring Fleet Readiness

Improving communication and access to information during service events leads to less downtime.

Whether you outsource some or all of your fleet’s maintenance and repair work or handle everything in-house, an efficient and accurate exchange of pertinent information is vital to success. One solution that is steadily growing in use among fleets is the Web-based Decisiv Service Management Platform.

The Decisiv platform was designed to connect fleet managers with internal and external service locations. “The platform pulls together historically separate silos of information and places them within a single Web portal,” explained Dick Hyatt, president of Decisiv. “With the platform, fleet, service location, mobile service and call center personnel can all share information and effectively communicate throughout a service event. The result is the ability to save hours per service event, getting trucks back in service faster.”

The volume of service business handled on the Decisiv platform in the past two years topped 630,000 cases. Continued growth in fleet usage has brought the number of assets from more than 175 fleets loaded onto the platform to more than 150,000.

Decisiv also continues to expand the capabilities of the platform to more readily integrate telematics devices and a growing scope of applications from third-party developers. For example, the platform is enabled to provide real-time alerts and information from telematics devices. Included are location, mileage, engine hours, fault code and other relevant data, which is then used to open service events and initiate requests to service locations. In addition, telematics driven in-context information is used to trigger repair and maintenance operations, and to populate the platform’s date-/time-stamped electronic folder with fault codes and vehicle information.

“Fleet managers are inundated with information from multiple portals, websites and information sources,” said Hyatt. “By seamlessly integrating with third-party and OEM applications, including accessing real-time information from telematics devices, the Decisiv platform provides an in-context service initiation and management solution that greatly simplifies the service management process.”

The Decisiv platform is now in use at more than 500 service locations as MVASIST at Volvo Trucks North America and Mack Trucks dealers, as the WheelTime Customer Service Platform at WheelTime Network Detroit Diesel-Allison distributors, and as the Decisiv Service Management Platform at Freightliner dealers and other facilities. To learn more, visit

Facilitating Service Operations
Properly specified, installed and maintained shop lifts can enable technicians to work on vehicles more productively.

The first consideration for fleet managers when choosing vehicle lifts is the type of services a facility performs. Available from several manufacturers are different types of lifts used in truck maintenance facilities.

Another important consideration is whether the lift has received certification by the Automotive Lift Institute (ALI). The industry association founded by vehicle lift manufacturers promotes the safe design, construction, installation, operation and maintenance of lifts, including those used to service commercial vehicles.

ALI testing includes verification of the structural integrity of a lift’s systems and components, proper function of its controls and load-holding devices, proper lowering speeds and overload protection. ALI has also developed standards covering a lift owner’s responsibilities regarding operation, inspection and maintenance, as well as a standard on the installation and service of vehicle lifts. Visit the ALI website at for more information.

Lift Choices
There are several different types of vehicle lifts based on design, including:

In-ground lifts that raise the vehicle by its axles and retract when not in use occupy less floor space, ease the movement of vehicles in service areas and provide excellent access to vehicles during service.

Two-post lifts provide easy access to the vehicle’s undercarriage and drivetrain. Featuring two sets of lifting arms attached to two columns used to lift a vehicle at designated points on the frame, two-post lifts are offered in symmetrical designs that are preferred for use on large vehicles.

Four-post lifts in a range of lengths and lifting capacities, and with adjustable runway track widths to accommodate most vehicles, are often among the fastest and simplest to use because no setup is required to drive the vehicle onto the runways and raise it to a comfortable working height. These lifts can also be fitted with rolling jacks to lift the front or rear wheels off the runways.

Parallelogram lifts include surface mount, surface with recessed mount and flush mount designs. Featuring runways that are raised using a parallelogram motion, these lifts can also be fitted with rolling jacks.

Mobile column lifts link four or six portable columns that are rolled to a vehicle and connected using control cables. Highly portable, these lifts are used to turn open space into inspection or service areas.

Pit lifts expand maintenance and repair capabilities of service pits. Types of pit lifts include floor-running, with wheels so they can be rolled anywhere in the pit, rail-mounted that move along a rail system at the bottom of the pit, and suspended pit lifts that ride on rails installed at the top of the pit.

Placement, Maintenance, Training
Vehicle lift selection and placement should also be part of the shop planning process. Each type and model of lift’s footprint and the turning radius and length of vehicles being serviced in the facility should be considered.

To keep lifts functioning safely and properly, manufacturers advise that fleets follow maintenance and adjustment recommendations. Lubrication is especially important for maintaining lift performance and longevity. Annual inspections and repairs, such as seal replacement or pressure testing, should be performed by qualified lift service personnel.

It is also essential that technicians operating lifts know how to use them correctly. All lift manufacturers offer training materials for this purpose.

Lift Suppliers

Products: Heavy-duty lifting systems for 48,000- to 320,000-pound loads. Drive-on models include Surface Mounted Scissor Lifts and Flush Mounted Scissor Lifts with platforms wide enough for dual-wheel vehicles.

Products: Two-post lifts in 26,000- and 30,000-pound capacity models. Four-post lifts ranging in capacity from 19,000 to 75,000 pounds. In-ground lifts in 55,000-, 66,000-, 82,500- and 99,000-pound capacities. Mobile column-style lifts with per column capacity ratings of 12,000 to 40,000 pounds. Parallelogram lifts with capacities from 36,000 to 100,000 pounds and track lengths from 26 to 48 feet, in surface or flush mount designs.

Products: In-ground scissor lift for any medium-duty or heavy-duty vehicle weighing up to 60,000 pounds. Mobile column hydraulic lift with adjustable wheel forks for different wheel sizes. Suspended and floor-running pit lifts. Parallelogram lift systems in capacities up to 100,000 pounds and platform lengths from 26 to 48 feet. Any of these models can now be ordered with a new wash bay package featuring marine-grade paint and stainless steel feet to resist corrosion caused by constant exposure to water, grime and chemicals. Rotary Lift’s wash bay lift also includes an ALI-certified stainless steel control panel.

Jenny Electric Two-Stage, Horizontal-Tank Stationary Air Compressors
Electric two-stage, horizontal-tank stationary air compressors from Jenny Products Inc. displace between 9.1 and 107 CFM at 175 PSI. The 22 belt-driven models in the product line include:

• 2- and 3-HP; 60- and 80-gallon tanks; 9.1 and 13.4 CFM
• 5-, 7.5- and 10-HP; 60- to 120-gallon tanks; 18.3 to 43.6 CFM
• 15-HP; 120- or 240-gallon tanks; 72.4 CFM
• 20-HP; 120- or 240-gallon tanks; 92.6 CFM
• 25-HP; 120- or 240-gallon tanks; 107 CFM

The Jenny compressors feature a heavy-duty, two-stage cast-iron compressor pump; powder-coated, ASME-certified tank; manual tank drain; tank gauge; large canister intake filter with replaceable filter elements; and a pressure-relief safety valve. A large flywheel provides for extra cooling and easier startup, and a directional air shroud also helps reduce pump temperatures.

To help maintain consistent pressure levels, an automatic start/stop control with a pressure unloader is standard on the company’s two-stage series. A constant-run feature can be installed for operations requiring a continuous, heavy flow of compressed air, and a dual-control option is offered. Visit for more.

Resale Value


An important part of any fleet manager’s responsibility is the remarketing of used vehicles. For a growing number of fleets, the highest used values are being realized by turning to auction companies that specialize in the disposal of used utility vehicles and equipment.

In a recent roundtable discussion with Utility Fleet Professional Editor Seth Skydel, representatives of three leading auction companies discussed the trends that are impacting their remarketing choices and success, and the reasons that utility fleet managers should consider auctions as they manage their fleets’ remarketing efforts.

Roundtable Panel
Richard Aldersley, Divisional Manager, U.S. Southwest, Ritchie Bros. Auctioneers (
Armando L. Camarena, President/Owner, US Auctions (
Jake Josko, Vice President, PPL Group LLC (

Please detail industry trends that are impacting used vehicle values and either limiting or enhancing remarketing success.

Camarena: The biggest factor affecting the utility industry in California is the California Air Resources Board (CARB) initiative on emission control standards. This regulatory activity has forced utilities to sell off older units much sooner than anticipated. That’s having a financial impact because fleets would have normally kept these vehicles on the books for 10 years and now they have to replace them several years before they are fully amortized. At the same time, the CARB environmental protection initiatives have been met head-on by utilities, which have taken steps forward in their use of alternative fuel vehicles. In some cases utility companies in California are moving faster than the agency.

Aldersley: CARB emissions standards have dramatically devalued used equipment in the California market. Basically, they have restricted lower tiered-level vehicles from being sold. While these stringent regulations devalue equipment locally, the majority of noncompliant CARB utility fleet vehicles in the California market will leave the state and a good number will also go out of the country. Newer or late model utility fleet vehicles meeting CARB emission standards are more likely to stay in the local market.

Josko: Government regulations can play a large part in secondary remarketability. In the last four years we have seen some great auction prices on used fleet vehicles, as buyers don’t want to incur the EPA tax expense associated with new vehicles. In some instances, we’ve sold 2-year-old vehicles for more than they cost when they were new.

What other issues are impacting utility fleet remarketing efforts?

Aldersley: Smaller utility companies and government agencies are experiencing budgets cut as a result of the economic downturn and are under severe constraints about how much money they can spend on vehicles. As a result, they are looking more closely at the used equipment market as an alternative. These days, more utility companies and government agencies are coming to auctions because they see them as a legitimate place to source the equipment they need.

Josko: The vehicle’s application and configuration play a role. Things like four-wheel drive and air conditioning can have a large effect on remarketing to specific geographical regions. We are also seeing a lot more fleets going toward quad cabs these days as they want to get more employees to job sites with fewer depreciating assets on the books.

Camarena: We’ve seen a downward trend in resale prices since 2005. However, demand for late model Tier 2 trucks has increased prices since the beginning of 2011, and the resale market for utility trucks has improved along with the sale of older alternative fuel vehicles.

When selecting an auction services provider, what should fleets consider about the company’s expertise in specialized vehicles used by utilities?

Josko: I always recommend to prospective clients that they come to a sale, walk around, talk to buyers and sellers to get their opinion of the event, observe the operation for themselves and even call past clients for their experiences. Most importantly, ask the auction company to take the risk out of the market. If the auction company says the equipment has a specific range of value, it should be willing to make a reasonable cash offer or guarantee to earn the business. The auction company needs to be big enough to serve its clients’ needs, but small enough to want to still earn their business.

Camarena: The first consideration to review is how long the auction company has been in business, who is operating the company and whether they have experience with utility fleet vehicles. To effectively auction utility line equipment, you must have personnel who have the experience to sell boom trucks, backhoes, digger derricks, etc. Do your homework before you choose an auction company. Meet the owners and staff, visit the auction site and attend a live auction. We also recommend starting with no more than 10 pieces of mixed equipment to be sure you’ve made the right choice.

Aldersley: Fleets should consider what audience the auction company is targeting. They should also look at the method by which an auction company sells utility vehicles and make sure that prospective buyers are able to inspect the equipment they’re interested in buying. That includes allowing customers to come to the auction yard before and on auction day to inspect, test and compare equipment. We even encourage them to bring along a mechanic.

What benefits do auction companies bring to utility fleets compared to other used vehicle remarketing options?

Camarena: Auction companies are using a variety of remarketing strategies on behalf of utility companies. For example, we’re not just conducting traditional land-based auctions. We also have online capabilities where we can offer equipment across the U.S. This can require sellers to complete accurate condition reports and take pictures and to coordinate with the buyer to deliver the equipment. On our part we have to qualify bidders and ensure they can pay for the vehicles. Overall, buyers are now more comfortable using online sources.

Josko: A live auction, unlike online or retail sales of utility fleet vehicles, is naturally more competitive. An auction will always beat out other methods because it captures the human emotion of competition and the price always goes up, rather than a negotiated sale where the price almost always goes down.

Aldersley: Auction companies provide fleets with easy and convenient bidding options on-site or online. Auction companies can also connect utility fleets to a large and diverse number of buyers worldwide. Where else can you go where you have 2,000 units for sale and know that every item will be sold by the end of the day? For utility fleets there is not a better resource.

GM FleetTrac

GM FleetTrac offers fleet managers an opportunity to dramatically simplify the vehicle maintenance process. The new solution from General Motors offers the convenience, flexibility and reduced administrative costs of a system that consolidates vehicle maintenance invoices, documents vehicle repair history and minimizes the repair authorization process.

Available to fleets of all sizes, GM FleetTrac is designed for organizations that schedule vehicle repairs at outside repair shops without the use of a fleet management company. The program also enables fleet drivers to utilize a conveniently located network of GM dealers for vehicle maintenance and repair.

With the GM FleetTrac program, invoice details are delivered through a secure website and can be customized to fit any fleet’s business structure. Through FleetTrac’s consolidated service billing, drivers are also able to eliminate out-of-pocket expenses and account reimbursement processes.

“Our customers have consistently asked us to help simplify their fleet management processes,” said Brian Small, general manager, GM fleet and commercial operations. “GM FleetTrac has been built specifically with the needs of self-managed fleet customers in mind. It will help us offer our customers unsurpassed convenience while simultaneously helping them reduce their administrative workload and costs.”

FleetTrac is offered without enrollment or processing fees and includes flexible client-specified purchase policies and 30-day payment terms. GM FleetTrac agents, located throughout the U.S., are available to assist customers with program or invoice questions. For more information, visit

Accurate, Timely and Valuable

Meeting the Information Needs of the Utility Fleet Professional

More years ago than I care to remember, as a rookie editor at a trucking industry equipment and maintenance magazine, my role was summed up for me by a much more seasoned journalist. “Our job,” he said, “is to know the information needs of our readers intimately, and to be an accurate, timely and valuable resource for them as they work to improve the fleet operations at their companies.”

It is with that in mind that we proudly launch Utility Fleet Professional, a new magazine dedicated to meeting the unique information needs of utility fleet equipment and maintenance managers. Defined by a variety and complexity of equipment unmatched in any other type of vocational fleet, utility vehicle operations require highly dedicated professionals who can blend technical expertise with superior management skills, and in turn bring value to their companies.

Here at UFP we intend to help you achieve those goals by developing editorial content that addresses fleet, corporate and operations management, and fleet maintenance and purchasing issues. The editorial content of UFP will be focused on a number of key areas, including light- and medium-duty trucks, aerial and underground equipment, fuel management, truck bodies and chassis, vehicle accessories, work zone systems, construction equipment, and maintenance management and shop tools, to name just a few. We’ll also bring you the latest on environmental issues, industry news and regulatory developments that will impact your fleets.

In this first issue of UFP you will also find several stories about fleet managers who are describing the programs and practices that make their operations successful. These stories, we believe, are of the greatest value because they allow our readers to share problems and solutions, benefiting the entire industry.

Our team at UFP has a long track record in both the utility industry and in the realm of truck fleet management magazines. Combined we have more than 60 years of experience, and deep connections throughout the industry and with the suppliers you rely on for products and services.

We also hope to rely on you. Reach out to us with ideas, challenge us with questions, and we will do our very best to find the answers and solutions you need to effectively manage your fleets.

This year we will produce two print issues of UFP for two key industry events. The first, in June, will be issued at the Electric Utility Fleet Managers Conference (EUFMC) in Williamsburg, Va. The second, in October, will be in print at the International Construction & Utility Equipment Exposition (ICUEE) in Louisville, Ky. Additional issues will be planned for 2012 and at all times you can find us at

The utility fleet industry has highly specialized information needs. As the only publication dedicated exclusively to utility fleet professionals, UFP will bring you relevant and useful information. We hope that you will quickly learn to count on us as “an accurate, timely and valuable resource.”

Seth Skydel

A92.2: The 2009 Standard

The Accredited Standard Committee (ASC) A92.2 Subcommittee for Vehicle Mounted Rotating and Elevating Aerial Devices of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) has issued the long-awaited 2009 edition of the American National Standard for Vehicle Mounted Rotating and Elevated Aerial Devices.

Design and construction requirements of the original 1969 edition of A92.2 and its appendix were made a part of OSHA in 1970. Since then, the standard has been reissued in four editions in 1979, 1990 and 2001, and most recently in 2009. The 2009 Draft of the Standard was balloted twice by the committee and by ANSI rules was opened for public comment prior to final approval.

The newly revised A92.2 standard applies to the establishment of criteria for design, manufacture, testing, inspection, installation, maintenance, use, training and operation of vehicle-mounted aerial devices primarily used to position personnel installed on a chassis. The types of devices covered include extensible boom aerial devices, aerial ladders, articulating boom aerial devices, vertical towers or a combination of any of these.

An industry effort, the A92.2 subcommittee was a diverse group of between 30 and 36 individuals representing users and manufacturers. The subcommittee worked on the standard from 2001 until its eventual approval in July 2009.

For much of that time, the subcommittee was led by Gary McAlexander, president of Intercontinental Equipment Company. McAlexander, who joined the A92 revision effort in 1981, was chairman of the A92.2 subcommittee from 2001 until the 2009 revision was approved.

“The ongoing revision process for a standard like A92.2 is important because it ensures the safety of the utility crews that use aerial devices on a daily basis,” McAlexander said. “By reflecting the changes that have occurred in aerial design, work practices and regulations, we can help reduce incidents in real world operations.

“Communication is important in all endeavors,” McAlexander continued, “and in this case the exchange of information between manufacturers and users was especially valuable. This industry effort involving suppliers and utilities has helped ensure that a workable, effective and comprehensive standard is in effect.”

Joshua Chard, Ph.D., director – product & corporate safety at Altec Inc. now serves as chairman of the A92.2 subcommittee that completed its work on the newly revised standard. In June 2010, he covered the standard and its most recent changes at the 57th annual Electric Utility Fleet Managers Conference in Williamsburg, Virginia.

“The 2009 version of the standard contains many evolutionary changes,” Chard explained. “These changes contain the best language that could be agreed upon by the ANSI/ASC Subcommittee and Main Committee. In all cases they are meant to further the standard in its goal, “to prevent accidents associated with the use of Vehicle Mounted Elevating and Rotating Aerial Devices by establishing requirements for design manufacture, installation, maintenance, performance, use and training.”

Key Elements
The following represent some of the key elements of the newly revised ANSI A92.2 standard issued in 2009 that Chard covered in his presentation.

Although the requirements for general training carry over from the 2001 standard, a fourth bullet was added to the requirements for familiarization.

8.12.3 Familiarization – When an operator is directed to operate an aerial device they are not familiar with, the operator, prior to operating, shall be instructed regarding the following items:
1. The location of the manuals.
2. The purpose and function of all controls.
3. Safety devices and operating characteristics specific to the aerial device.
4. Under the direction of a qualified person, the trainee shall operate the aerial device for a sufficient period of time to demonstrate proficiency in the actual operation of the aerial device.

Additionally, the standard discusses the different types of qualified persons who typically operate aerial devices.

Unqualified Person: A person who does not have approval to approach energized lines and apparatus and has received no significant training regarding the electrical hazards involved in the placing of an aerial device, platform occupants and their tools closer to energized lines and facilities than the distances listed.

Qualified Person: A person who has received training, understands and is conversant in the electrical hazards involved in the placing of an aerial device, platform occupants and their tools closer to energized lines and facilities than the distances listed, and has approval to perform the work.

Training of qualified person(s) is the responsibility of the employer or his designated contractor(s) and can be classroom, hands-on or a combination, as deemed appropriate by the employer for the degree of risk involved.

An unqualified person, as an operator, shall not approach energized conductors or facilities that will place the insulating or non-insulating aerial device, the operator and other platform occupants, and their tools, closer to such facilities that the distances shown.

A qualified communications person, as an operator, shall not approach energized conductors or facilities that will place the insulating or non-insulating aerial device, the operator and other platform occupants, and their tools, closer to such facilities than the distances set forth in Part 29 CFR 1910.268 and the National Electrical Safety Code.

A qualified line clearance tree trimmer, as an operator, shall not approach energized conductors or facilities that will place the insulating or non-insulating aerial device, the operator and other occupants, and their tools, closer to such facilities than the distances set forth in Parts 29 CFR 1910.268, 1910.269 or ANSI/ISA Z133.1.

A qualified lineman, as an operator, shall not approach energized conductors or facilities that will place the insulating or non-insulating aerial device, the operator and other platform occupants, and their tools, closer to such facilities than the distances set forth in Part 29 CFR 1910.269 and the National Electrical Safety Code. Higher levels of qualifications are required for electrical linemen to physically contact energized conductors and facilities from Category A, B and C aerial devices.

The definitions section was expanded during the revision process. Of note was a clarification as to the role of the chassis insulating system:

Chassis Insulating System – An insulating system of dielectric components installed between the chassis and the upper insulating boom. 

5.2.5 The chassis insulating system may provide some protection for ground personnel should the portion of the aerial device between the upper insulating boom and the chassis insulating system inadvertently contact an energized conductor or apparatus such as a secondary circuit on a distribution system. When provided, the chassis insulating system does not have a voltage rating. Aerial devices with a chassis insulating system shall have means provided to bypass the chassis insulating system during electrical test, or bare-hand use.

Note: Insulating devices when used for bare-hand work (Category A) require shunting of an existing chassis insulating system.

Insulated Insulating Aerial Device – An aerial device with dielectric components designed and tested to meet the specific electrical insulating rating consistent with the manufacturer’s identification plate.

A significant change found in the design of insulated units is a requirement that lower controls be readily accessible in all boom positions and be installed such that an operator is not placed in the electrical path between the aerial device and the ground.

4.3.3 Lower Controls – Lower controls shall be readily accessible in all boom positions and shall provide a means to override the boom positioning upper controls provided the upper control system is intact.

The override mode shall maintain its function while unattended. The lower controls of insulating aerial devices shall be designed in such a manner that an operator is not placed in the electrical path between the aerial device and the ground

Two new requirements for operator aids are a slope indicator and an outrigger interlock device.

4.5.4 Slope Indicator – An indicator(s) shall be provided that is visible to the operator during setup to show whether the aerial device is positioned within limits permitted by the manufacturer. The allowable limits shall be shown on the unit and in the manual. For units designed for mobile operation such an indicator(s) shall be supplied in the cab.

4.5.5 Outrigger Interlock Device – When an aerial device is equipped with outriggers, and their use is required to pass the stability tests of this standard, an interlock device shall be provided that prevents the boom from being operated from the stowed position until the outriggers have been deployed.

Deployment may be sensed when the outriggers meet resistance or by receipt of an indicative response that the outrigger deployment is beyond a predetermined position. The lifting of an outrigger during operation shall not disable boom functions. An interlock override switch may be provided; however, the override mode of operation shall disable automatically.

Note: The operation of outrigger interlocking devices does not assure aerial device stability. It serves only to remind the operator that the outriggers have or have not been deployed. See Section 10.10 (3). Changes were also made to the fall protection anchorage section.

4.9.4 Anchorage(s) for Personal Fall Protection The manufacturer shall provide anchorage(s) on the boom, platform or platform mounting. The location of the anchorage(s) shall be identified and the number of anchorages shall equal or exceed the number of permissible occupants. More than one occupant may attach to a single anchorage if the anchorage is rated and identified as being for more than one person. Strength requirement. Anchorages shall be capable of withstanding a static force of 3,600 lbs. (16,000N) for each person allowed by the manufacturer on the attachment without reaching ultimate strength. The strength requirement shall apply only to the anchorage(s) and their attachments to the boom, platform or platform mounting.

Note: This does not imply that the aerial device is meant to meet or comply with this load requirement. Connector requirement. Anchorage shall be compatible with a lanyard connector complying with ANSI/ASSE Z359.1-2007. Surface. Anchorage(s) surfaces shall be free from sharp edges. Pinch restriction. A lanyard connector shall not pinch between components having relative movement with the anchorage(s).

Note: See Sections 8.12.1, 9.3.1, 10.12.1 and 11.4.1 for more information pertaining to proper use of personal fall protection equipment.

The revision of the standard also made changes in the electrical sections. It clarifies the categories of insulated units with special attention given to the type of protection offered to the worker by the unit versus personal protective equipment.

5.1 Electrical Specifications – An aerial device with an insulated upper boom is commonly used to provide an additional layer of secondary protection from a path to ground through the boom and vehicle. This secondary protection is valuable; however, it cannot replace the worker’s primary protective equipment.

Category A – Aerial devices which are designed and manufactured for work in which the boom is considered primary insulation (bare-hand work) shall have all conductive components at the platform end bonded together to accomplish equipotential of all such components. These aerial devices shall be equipped with a lower test electrode system. When these aerial devices are qualified for work above 138 kV, they shall be equipped with a gradient control device and conductive shield(s) over the lower test electrode system. For those aerial devices with ratings 138 kV and below, conductive shield(s) over the lower test electrode system are required. The necessity of a gradient control device is to be determined by the Qualification test.

Category B – Aerial devices which are equipped with a lower test electrode system, but are designed and manufactured for work in which the boom is not considered as primary insulation, but secondary, such as that using insulating (rubber) gloves. Category B aerial devices can be rated higher than 46 kV in order to facilitate changing them to Category A aerial devices for “bare-hand work.”

The manufacturer is reminded to consider in the design that “bare-hand work” requires the use of Category A aerial devices. Using Category B aerial devices on voltage levels above 46 kV requires the use of live line tools with appropriate dielectric ratings. These tools are to be depended upon for primary protection, just as in all cases where the boom is used as secondary protection (Categories B and C).

Category C – Aerial devices which are not equipped with a lower test electrode system and are designed and manufactured for work in which the boom is not considered as primary insulation, but secondary, such as that using insulating (rubber) gloves. These aerial devices are designed for voltages of 46 kV and below.

5.2.1 Insulating Systems – The insulating portions of the aerial device shall be identified in the manual and on the aerial device. All components crossing the insulating portions of the aerial device shall have electrical insulating values consistent with the design voltage rating of the boom, and when provided, of the chassis insulating system. The insulating system shall maintain the electrical insulating values in all working boom positions as defined by the manufacturer.

The above information is important to understand in light of the presence of metal components above the unit’s insulating sections.

Contact of any component at the boom-tip with an energized conductor can energize all components at the boom-tip, including the control handle.

This concept is important when maintaining minimum approach distances to boom tip components.

1910.269 (l)(2) Minimum Approach Distances – The employer shall ensure that no employee approaches or takes any conductive object closer to exposed energized parts than set forth in Table R-6 through Table R-10, unless:

(i) The employee is insulated from the energized part (insulating gloves or insulating gloves and sleeves worn in accordance with paragraph (l)(3) of this section are considered insulation of the employee only with regard to the energized part upon which work is being performed).

(ii) The energized part is insulated from the employee and from any other conductive object at a different potential.

(iii) The employee is insulated from any other exposed conductive object, as during live-line bare-hand work.

Note: Paragraphs (u)(5)(i) and (v)(5)(i) of this section contain requirements for the guarding and isolation of live parts. Parts of electric circuits that meet these two provisions are not considered as “exposed” unless a guard is removed or an employee enters the space intended to provide isolation from the live parts.

The revision of A92.2 for 2009 addresses this issue with allowances for control systems that incorporate High Electrical Resistance Components.

5.2.6 Upper Controls – The upper control conductive components are bonded together on Category A machines, but such bonding is optional on Category B and Category C machines. Categories B and C machines may incorporate control systems with high electrical resistance components. Machines that incorporate components for their electrical resistance shall receive an initial confirmation test and be subjected to the requirements for periodic inspections (See Sections,

Controls that employ high electrical resistance components do not have a voltage rating and are not part of the insulating system that enables an aerial device to have an insulating rating. Whatever upper control arrangement is provided shall be identified. Specific warnings and advice shall be provided to the operator(s) that the upper controls do not provide protection in the event of electrical contact and are not a substitute for Minimum Approach Distances, cover-ups, rubber gloves and other personal protective equipment. Confirmation test of upper control components with high electrical resistance. Upper controls that incorporate components for their electrical resistance shall be tested to assure resistance by testing them at 40 kV 60 Hz r.m.s. for 3 minutes with a maximum current level of 400 microamperes. (Periodic) Confirmation Test of Upper Control Components with High Electrical Resistance. Upper controls that incorporate components for their electrical resistance should be tested to assure resistance by testing them at either 40 kV AC or 56 kV DC for 3 minutes with a maximum current level of 400 microamperes for the AC test and 56 microamperes for the DC test.

Covers and High Electrical Resistance upper controls offer new layers of protection for users of insulated aerial devices. This protection is valuable; however, it cannot replace the worker’s primary protective equipment.

Also dealing with this issue were changes to the requirements for manuals:

6.4 Manuals – The manufacturer shall provide a separate operators manual and a separate parts/ maintenance manual for each aerial device. Two sets of manuals shall accompany each device. The manuals shall contain:

(8) Facsimiles of all safety and operating decals and their location.

6.5.4 Instructional Markings. Markings shall be determined by the manufacturer or the manufacturer and user jointly to indicate hazards inherent in the operation of an aerial device. Instructional markings shall be provided for:

(9) Notice that fiberglass or plastic covers are not insulating.

(10) Notice that the aerial device shall not be operated with missing covers or guards, except as required for maintenance to the aerial device.

7.8 Training: The dealer or installer shall offer training or training materials that aid owners, users, operators, lessors and lessees in the operation, inspection, testing and maintenance of the aerial device. This training shall be offered initially and subsequently on request.

7.9 Maintenance Training: Dealer maintenance personnel shall be trained in inspection, testing and maintenance of the aerial device in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations.

7.8.1 Dealer or Installer as User: Whenever a dealer or installer directs personnel to operate an aerial device (inspecting, sales demonstrations or any form of use), the dealer or installer shall assume the responsibilities of users as specified in Section 9 of this standard. All personnel authorized to operate the aerial device shall have been trained in a program that meets the requirements of this standard.

Section 8 Responsibilities of Owners was reorganized and new items were added in the inspection and test requirements:

8.2.3 Frequent Inspection and Test – The following inspections and tests shall be performed by the operator immediately prior to first use at the beginning of each shift:
1. Conduct walk-around visual inspection looking for damaged components, cracks or corrosion, excessive wear and any loose, deformed or missing bolts, pins, fasteners, locking devices and covers.
2. Check all controls and associated mechanisms for proper operation to include, but not limited to, the following:
a. Proper operation of interlocks. 
b. Controls return to neutral when released and not sticking.
c. Control functions and operation clearly marked.
3. Check visual and audible safety devices for proper operation.
4. Visually inspect fiberglass and insulating components for visible damage and contamination.
5. Check for missing or illegible operational and instructional markings.
6. Check hydraulic and pneumatic systems for observable deterioration and excessive leakage.
7. Check electrical systems related to the aerial device for malfunction, signs of excessive deterioration, dirt and moisture accumulation.
8. Perform functional test to include, but not limited to, the following:
a. Set up aerial device for operation, including outriggers.
b. Cycle each aerial device boom function through its complete range of motion from the lower controls, except where operation through the complete range of motion would create a hazard.
c. Check functionality of emergency controls.

Any suspected items shall be carefully examined or tested and a determination made by a qualified person as to whether they constitute a safety hazard. All unsafe items shall be replaced or repaired before use.

8.2.4 Periodic Inspection or Test
(13) Condition and tightness of bolts and other fasteners in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendation.
(17) If the aerial device has upper controls equipped with high electrical resistance components and the manufacturer so indicates, they should be electrically tested per

Any suspected items shall be carefully examined or tested and a determination made by a qualified person as to whether they constitute a safety hazard. All unsafe items shall be replaced or repaired before use.

 8.2.5 Post Event Inspection or Test – After any reported event during which structural members of an aerial device or mobile unit are suspected of being subjected to loading or stresses in excess of design stress, such as after an accident involving overturning of the mobile unit or application of unintended external mechanical or electrical forces to the aerial device, the aerial device shall be removed from service and subjected to the applicable periodic inspection requirements in 8.2.4. In addition to the periodic inspection, supplemental non-destructive examination procedures or other tests to assist in detecting possible structural damage to the aerial device may be required. All damaged items shall be replaced or repaired before the unit is returned to service.

Also in Section 8 are some requirements for proper welding, use of aerial devices for intended applications, ownership notification and a prohibition on certain alterations.

8.4.2 Welding – Welding repairs of components or welds, designated as critical in the manufacturer’s manual shall be made in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations and shall meet the Structural Welding Code AWS D1.1-2006 and AWS D1.2-2003. Should the original manufacturer no longer exist, an equivalent entity may determine the required procedure.

8.5.1 Alterations – Altering or disabling the function of safety devices, guards or interlocks, if so equipped, shall be prohibited.

8.7 Transfer of Ownership – When a change in ownership of an aerial device occurs, it shall be the responsibility of the seller to provide the manufacturer’s manual(s) for that aerial device to the purchaser. It is the responsibility of the purchaser to notify the manufacturer of the unit model and serial number and the name and address of the new owner within 60 days. If the owner uses other entities as agents, e.g., brokers, for the sale or the arrangement of a sale of an aerial device(s) his responsibilities under this section continue.

9.4 Application – The employer and authorized operator(s) shall ensure that the aerial device is used only for intended applications as defined in the operating manual and that all recognized safety practices are observed.

Note: The user is directed to Appendix C for guidance as to appropriate applications.

9.5 Electrical Hazard – All applicable safety-related work practices intended to protect from electrical hazards shall be defined and explained to the operator by a qualified person. The operator shall maintain the appropriate Minimum Approach Distance (MAD) from energized conductors and apparatus, commensurate with the operator’s qualifications. See Appendix F for the information on the Minimum Approach Distances and other precautions.

The operators section was also reorganized to match the inspection requirements in Section 8.

10.7 Alterations – Altering or disabling the function of safety devices, guards or interlocks, if so equipped, is prohibited.

10.8 Observations – Observations during operation for any defects shall be conducted on an ongoing basis.

10.8.1 Pre-start Inspection
1. Conduct walk-around visual inspection, looking for damaged components, cracks or corrosion, excessive wear and any loose, deformed or missing bolts, pins, fasteners, locking devices or covers.
2. Check all controls and associated mechanisms for proper operation to include, but not limited to, the following:
a. Proper operation of interlocks.
b. Controls return to neutral when released and not sticking.
c. Control functions and operation clearly marked.
3. Check visual and audible safety devices for proper operation.
4. Visually inspect fiberglass and insulating components for visible damage and contamination. 
5. Check for missing or illegible operational and instructional markings.
6. Check hydraulic and pneumatic systems for observable deterioration and excessive leakage.
7. Check electrical systems related to the aerial device for malfunction, signs of excessive deterioration dirt and moisture accumulation.
8. Perform functional test to include, but not limited, to the following:
a. Set up aerial device for operation, including outriggers.
b. Cycle each aerial device boom function through its complete range of motion from the lower controls, except where operation through the complete range of motion would create a hazard.
c. Check functionality of emergency controls.

Any suspected items shall be carefully examined or tested and a determination made by a qualified person as to whether they constitute a safety hazard. All unsafe items shall be replaced or repaired before use.

10.9 Worksite – Before the aerial device is used, the worksite shall be surveyed for hazards such as:
1. Insufficient supporting surfaces such as soft ground or tamped earth fills.
2. Ditches.
3. Excessive slopes, drop-offs, curbs and floor obstructions.
4. Debris.
5. Overhead obstructions and electrical conductors.
6. Weather conditions.
7. Presence of unauthorized persons.
8. Road or worksite traffic.
9. Subsurface chambers such as underground utility components or septic systems.

The standard includes a new appendix, which discusses concepts important for work around energized conductors.

When the boom tip jib and/or winch of a category B or C aerial device is used for handling energized conductors and apparatus, the energized conductors and apparatus shall be insulated from the boom tip with electrical protection devices that are rated, tested and maintained for the appropriate rated line voltage. 

Boom tip jibs used in material handling on aerial devices shall be considered non-insulating unless the jib has been rated, tested and maintained for the appropriate line voltage.

Safety rules and work practices may vary significantly for different users, but one universal rule that applies is when jibs are used as a live-line tool with category B and C aerial devices, platform occupant(s) must use protective equipment such as gloves and cover-ups. 

If the winch line is used to lift energized apparatus, the energized apparatus shall be insulated from the jib tip with electrical protection devices that are rated, tested and maintained for the appropriate line voltage. 

The winch line shall not be considered as insulating. For multi-phase lifting with conductor holders and a cross-arm, phase to phase protection shall be accomplished with a cross-arm that is rated, tested and maintained for the appropriate line voltage.

Insulating Liners and Insulating Baskets – A dielectrically tested insulating liner or insulating basket is intended to prevent electrical current flow through the lower extremities of the basket occupant. This is one element in a system approach that includes both work practices and materials designed to avoid electrical contact. Such a liner or basket shall not be considered primary insulation.

Minimum approach distances must be maintained by the electrical worker to assure clearances between objects at different electrical potential when performing live-line work. It applies to the worker’s reach including any non-insulating object above the insulated section of the aerial device. The Minimum Approach Distances may be obtained from sources such as, but not limited to:
ANSI C-2 National Electrical Safety Code
ANSI C-1 National Electrical Code
CFR 29 1926.950
CFR 29 1910.269
Work practices
(j) Live-line tools.
(1) Design of tools. Live-line tool rods, tubes and poles shall be designed and constructed to withstand the following minimum tests: (i) 100,000 volts per foot (3281 volts per centimeter) of length for 5 minutes if the tool is made of fiberglass-reinforced plastic (FRP).
(2) Condition of tools.
(i) Each live-line tool shall be wiped clean and visually inspected for defects before use each day.
(ii) If any defect or contamination that could adversely affect the insulating qualities or mechanical integrity of the live-line tool is present after wiping, the tool shall be removed from service and examined and tested according to paragraph (j)(2)(iii) of this section before being returned to service.
(iii) Live-line tools used for primary employee protection shall be removed from service every two years and whenever required under paragraph (j)(2)(ii) of this section for examination, cleaning, repair and testing.

Editor’s Note: The annual Electric Utility Fleet Managers Conference (EUFMC) hosts representatives of more than 50 companies in the U.S. and Canada, including investor-owned electric utilities, electric cooperatives and electrical contractors, and more than 270 representatives from more than 95 manufacturers and service providers. The conference includes an Equipment Demonstration and Display, which in 2010 was the site of more than 60 exhibits. EUFMC will be held June 19-22, 2011 at the Williamsburg Lodge and Conference Center in Williamsburg, Va. For more information, visit

Crane & Derrick Compliance

New OSHA standard becomes effective November 8, 2010

OSHA’s new Crane and Derrick standard has a little something for everyone, including some unexpected compliance issues for the electric utility industry. Known as Subpart CC, the standard was years in development, pushed heavily to completion in the last years by serious and highly publicized crane accidents.

For a standard this complicated, OSHA usually publishes compliance directives known as CPLs, for Compliance Safety and Health Officers (CHSO). CPLs are procedural and enforcement guides that the industry can use a tool toward compliance. That document is not immediately forthcoming and there are several compliance issues due shortly. If you have not already done so, download the new standard from Get the official Federal Register version dated August 9, 2010. For each issue discussed below we have referenced the Federal Register page number so you can see the citation in its whole context.

The space we have here does not allow addressing all of the particulars of subpart CC but will give the reader a glimpse of how the new standard will affect us in the coming months.

Certification of Operators 1926.1427 (P.48017)
The issue most often brought up is the requirement for certification of crane operators. The standard clearly differentiates between training and certification. All workers must be trained sufficiently to keep them safe no matter what task they perform. Training of employees has always been the employer’s responsibility. Under Subpart CC, crane operators must not only be “trained,” but a third party must certify them as operators. The only exception, where local or state government does not require licensing (p.48015), is for operators of derricks (1926.1436), sideboom cranes (1926.1440), or equipment with a maximum manufacturer-rated hoisting/lifting capacity of 2,000 pounds or less (1926.1441). By the way, when the standard says “derricks,” it is not referring to utility “digger derricks.”

This certification can take one of two forms. Either the employer can send operators to a third party trainer for certification (p.48017), or the employer can provide the training (p.48020) and a third party can certify the employer-trained operators. Third party trainers or auditors must meet certain qualifications established under Subpart CC and cannot be employees of the employer seeking certification for their operators. The standards for certification of operators are found in 1926.1427(j) (p.48157) and appendix C (p.48176).

A significant issue here is what might be considered OSHA’s incorrect assessment of the cost of training to the utility industry. The impact assessment was based on the utility industry (not including contractor personnel) and assumed that only 1 of 4 crewmembers would be operating a crane or digger derrick (preamble p.48084). In the end, OSHA determined that only 30,000 of 114,500 line workers would need to be third party certified.

Phase-in Period 1926.1427(K)
The requirement for certification of operators becomes effective in 2014. The four-year delay was allowed by OSHA for the training industry to ramp up operations sufficient to deliver training. Operators in the meantime are still required to be trained, but not necessarily certified to the requirements of the standard. What is not clear in the text of the rules is made clear in the preamble (p.48027 and 48033 bottom of column 1). OSHA’s intent is that all current operators be determined to be competent by their employers and the training criteria of Subpart CC found in 1926.1927(j) is the basis for that competency.

Exception for Digger Derricks (Preamble P.47924 and P.48136)
The most talked about part of Subpart CC is the scope of the document 1926.1400. Subpart CC covers all cranes including electric utility use of digger derricks with two exceptions. The first exception is when cranes or digger derricks are used in operations or maintenance. The second is when digger derricks are used for auguring holes, setting poles or hoisting pole-mounted equipment.

There is no exception or language related to weight or dimension of the poles or pole-mounted equipment. Under the rule a pole mounted recloser could be hung on a pole by a digger derrick and it would be covered under 1926 subpart V Power Transmission or 1910.269. If the same recloser was set in a substation, the lift and the equipment would be under the rules of Subpart CC (Preamble p.47925). The digger derrick exclusion for utility poles does not apply to digger derricks used to set poles used solely for street lighting. OSHA has specifically included poles used only for street lighting under the standard. 

Cranes with Pin-on Baskets (P.47926)
Cranes with pin-on baskets are specifically addressed in the preamble and are not considered aerial lifts that are exempt from Subpart CC.

Material Delivery Exclusion (1926.1400(C)(17), (P.47927)
This separate section on material delivery is intended to recognize the limited risks created by local deliveries to construction sites and generally refers to operations such as knuckle boom material handler trucks delivering drywall and the like.

The issue of whether dropping poles at a pole setting location falls under Subpart CC is not easy to answer based on the rules and the content of the preamble. The issue will likely need some interpretation by OSHA.

OSHA uses the language “arranging the materials in a particular sequence for hoisting” to establish the definition of construction versus material delivery. Placing poles on the ground at the pole setting location, using a knuckle boom, in preparation for setting is therefore construction activity. Placing poles in a pole pile, using a knuckle boom, at a work location or yard may be defined as material delivery. Readers should beware that the setting of poles with a knuckle boom, though similar in nature to the task examples, is not specifically mentioned in the material delivery exceptions. Knuckle boom cranes limited to 2,000 pounds are not covered under the standard. Material delivery persons using a knuckle boom rated more than 2,000 pounds to drop poles may not be part of the excluded activity of setting or removing poles.

The issue is equally unclear with padmount transformers. A padmount transformer set off (with a knuckle boom rated over 2,000 pounds) for construction may be considered exempt as material delivery unless it is set off on the pad at its final connected location. 

Maintenance Versus Construction (P.47923)
The preamble clearly establishes that Subpart CC only applies to equipment used in construction. There is additional discussion regarding a utility’s use of a digger derrick in construction (p.47925). If utilities need to differentiate between Maintenance and Construction for the purposes of applying the Subpart CC standard, they need look no further than CPL 2-1.38 Enforcement of the Electrical Power Generation, Transmission and Distribution Standard. The CPL clearly lays out examples of what OSHA considers maintenance and what is construction.
Specific to this Subpart CC, the preamble briefly refers to digger derricks used in operations and maintenance as opposed to digger derricks covered under Subpart CC.

(Preamble 47923) OSHA is promulgating paragraph (a) as proposed except for a grammatical correction to clarify that the standard applies to only equipment used for construction activities. Employers who use covered equipment for both general industry work and construction work would not be required to comply with Subpart CC when the equipment is used for general industry work and not construction work.

As such, cranes of any size, used in maintenance and operations as opposed to new construction should be exempt from coverage in Subpart CC. Crane operations in construction are covered in subpart V or 1926 and parts of 1910.269. Forthcoming publication of revisions to 1910.269 is expected in February of 2011.

Ground Conditions 1926.1402 (P.48140)
The intent of this rule is to establish criteria for assuring that the earth will sufficiently support a loaded crane. Since no language excepting digger derricks or utilities is found, there are certain obligations that must be met. The rule was meant to apply to construction sites and largely centers on who is most likely to know if there are underground conditions that might destabilize a crane. The rule establishes the responsibilities of “controlling entities” in providing ground condition information to a crane operator.

Where no controlling entity is available, such as where a line crew is lifting in a right of way, the employer must ensure the ability of the ground to support the crane load. The ground considerations include slope, compaction and firmness.

The preamble discussion (p.47932) regarding Ground Conditions specifically includes digger derrick operations within the Ground Conditions standard even though digger derricks are considered exempt from the Final Rule. The inclusion of digger derricks may be assumed to apply to digger derricks operating under the Final Rule, such as when setting equipment in a substation, but the discussion does not address the exemption.

Preamble p. 47932 paragraph A definitions discusses the conclusions regarding establishing good ground conditions and specifically rejects the need for any specifications including compaction tests as a means to establish good ground conditions. 

Operating Near Power Lines 1926.1407-1408 (P.48142)
The standard for utility workers working near power lines is still regulated under 1910.269 or 1926 subpart V when performing work necessarily within the minimum approach distance. That exclusion does not apply when utility crews are doing new construction in an existing substation. When work is not being performed on the poles, structures or power lines the work safety procedures are regulated under Subpart CC. The Final Rule establishes a trigger distance of 20 feet at 350 kv and a trigger distance of 50 feet above 350 kv. The trigger distance requires new rules for safety of workers including a mandate for an electronic approach warning, encroachment alarms, visible barricades or a dedicated spotter (rule 1926.1407(b)(3)) whose sole responsibility is to observe for clearances.

Dedicated Spotters (P.48144)
The power line safety rules in 1926.1410 include the use of a dedicated spotter under some conditions. Other requirements in 1410 have specific exclusions for work under subpart V of 1926 but no such language is present in the requirements for spotters. Where a spotter is used, they must have certain qualifications (preamble p.47948). A dedicated spotter must be a qualified signal person under 1926.1428.

Assembly/Disassembly Director (p.47938)
The final rule in 1926.1414 establishes a new classification of AD or Assembly Director. It’s obvious by a reading of the section that the target of the rule is the assembly of lattice cranes, tower cranes and the like. Rule 1404 applies to all assembly/disassembly of cranes, referring to any assembly that extends the reach of a boom. Any assembly/disassembly of a boom requires an A/D Director. The intent is to ensure a competent/qualified person is on the site that can direct the assembly of crane components properly and safely. OSHA classifies the person installing the jib as a “rigger,” but that person can also be the AD Director.

Training for Persons Exposed to Electrical Contact Through a Crane 1926.1408(G), (P.47958)
This training would be required for any new employee who is not aware of the hazards presented by a crane near power lines. There is no exception provided for utilities. Substantial language for training of crane workers who may be exposed to electrocution hazards around energized lines are specified in rule 1926.1408. Included in the training criteria are hazards of step and touch potentials, insulating procedures, prevention procedures and the limitations of insulating procedures and grounding procedures as well as avoiding contact with equipment that may become energized in a contact.

Power Line Safety (All Voltages)
Equipment Operations Closer Than the Table A Zone 1926.1410 (P.48144)
When work must take place within the minimum approach distances, 1410 establishes mandatory requirements for the safety of the crew. For utilities the rule allows exceptions if the operation falls under 1910.269 or subpart V of part 1926.

Insulating Links (P.48144)
An insulating link/device installed at a point between the end of the load line (or below) and the load. For utility work falling under Subpart V (p.48145) an insulating link is only required if the clearance will be less than the clearances in Table V-1. Similar exceptions are allowed under 1910.269.

1926.1412 Inspections (P.48146)
The standard contains criteria for daily, monthly and annual inspections. Documentation must be maintained for three months for monthly inspections and for 12 months for annual inspections. Since digger derricks used by a utility for other than setting or working poles brings the digger derrick under the crane standard, the inspection frequency and documentation requirements will apply.

Signal Person 1926.1414-1422 (P.48030)
Signal persons must be trained to a criteria established in the Final Rule. The training can be either third party or employer. Employer provided training is not portable. Documentation of signal person training must be available at the work site. In the case of line crews, the signal persons should have the employer’s certification with them.

Uniform standards for signals are established. The appendix includes a table of hand signals. In the past these were recommended. The Final Rule makes these signals mandatory as an industry-wide uniform system of signals. There are provisions for alternate signals that include criteria for using alternate signals and a pre-plan protocol before alternate signals are used.

Training Riggers 1926.1403 (P.47942)
A worker who swings out a jib is recognized by OSHA as a “rigger.” There is no requirement for certification of riggers beyond the requirement that they be competent and qualified to perform the task. The duty of a rigger is assembly and disassembly of cranes and assembly of parts that extend a crane’s reach, such as swing out or pin-on jibs and the associated work. Under the standard this includes reeving of wire rope in multi-sheave blocks, installing pins, headache balls, connectors and the like. The mention of “slings” used by riggers refers to the slings used to move boom sections and appurtenances into place for installation. There is no mention of riggers doing connections below the hook. References to slings, rigging and connecting loads below the hook are reserved for the discussions of operator qualification.

The preamble discusses training and qualification of riggers, but OSHA declined to establish any standard other than “qualified” as the criteria for riggers. The employer is responsible for assuring a rigger is qualified.

Hoisting Personnel (P.48035)
Under 1926.1431 crane-suspended or crane-mounted platforms are intentionally limited in their use. There are also expanded inspection, trial lift and proof test requirements prior to each lift of personnel. OSHA has determined that crane-suspended platforms and crane-mounted platforms are equally hazardous and has not allowed any exceptions to the Trial Lift or Proof Test (p.48039) requirements of the standard. With the exception of working near energized lines, the section allows no exceptions for power line work.

Fall Protection 1926.1423 (P.48154)
1926.1423(c) regarding steps, handholds, ladders, grabrails, guardrails and railings (preamble p.48002) requires that manufacturers’ installed components be maintained in good condition. Walking surfaces must be slip resistant. Units manufactured after November 8, 2011 must have safe access from ground to operator station. Expanded fall arrest requirements are in the Final Rule for lattice boom assembly/disassembly and tower cranes. Currently a worker traversing a crane to get to the operator’s seat is not required to use fall protection. There are no expanded fall arrest requirements in the standard that would affect utility operations.

Mechanics Operating Booms 1926.1429 (P.48031)
Maintenance personnel who are mechanics qualified to work on cranes may operate the equipment for the purposes of maintenance, repair and inspection. If mechanics use a crane in the performance of mechanical work, such as using a crane to lift a boom off of a crane, they would be required, as a minimum, to be qualified as a crane operator to the 1926.1427(j) criteria. 

In Conclusion
The standard becomes effective November 8, 2010. Prior to that time utilities and utility contractors must be sure their employees know the new requirements and language of Subpart CC so they can answer the pertinent questions they will be asked by CHSOs who show up on their work sites. Employers must bring their operators up to the operator “competency” requirements of 1926.1427(j) and must certify anyone who signals a crane or digger derrick operator to the signal person standards.  Employers must also ensure safety training for all persons who may come into contact with a crane or digger derrick working near power lines and must bring their pin-on crane basket operations into the pre-lift testing requirements of Subpart CC.  By 2014 employers must have their third party training or third party auditing of their employer training for operators in place.

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