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Sean M. Lyden

Storytelling for Fleet Safety

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If you’re rolling out a new fleet safety initiative, you can expect some pushback from crews in the field or technicians in the shop. That’s a given because people tend to resist change.

But what if you could improve the odds that your message will get past that resistance and be more memorable and impactful – that it will actually change behavior?

You can … by telling stories.

Think about it. Even if your organization equips vehicles with all the latest safety systems and provides extensive driver training, you can’t be with operators every day, 24/7, to make sure that they remember to follow through on company policies. But a good story will stick with those employees, reminding them of lessons learned, long after it has been told.

So, what makes storytelling a powerful leadership tool to increase your influence? Why do stories work? Here are three reasons.

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Sean M. Lyden

Going Sideways: Technology that Protects Crews in Rollover Incidents

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It was early 2017.

A crew for Oklahoma City-based Oklahoma Gas & Electric (OG&E) was traveling on the highway in a Class 8 digger derrick when the unforeseen happened.

There was a truck pulling a trailer ahead of them when, suddenly, the axle broke off that trailer and began hurtling, with wheels still attached, toward the digger derrick.

As the OG&E driver swerved to avoid the incoming debris, his truck flipped onto its side before coming to a stop.

“The driver was okay, and the passenger broke his hand, but it could have been a lot worse,” said Paul Jefferson, fleet manager at OG&E, who oversees about 2,000 of the utility’s fleet assets.

His crew was indeed fortunate. In fact, rollover crashes account for 55 percent of all commercial truck driver fatalities, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

“The driver did a great job by setting [the truck] down on the shoulder of the road,” he said. “If they had gone any farther, they would have hit the embankment.”

This was an eye-opening experience for Jefferson and his team. After all, even when you equip your trucks with stability control and advanced collision-avoidance technologies, and your drivers consistently follow safety best practices, there still are incidents like this that your people won’t be able to avoid.

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Sean M. Lyden

Respect

In a pre-show call for a fleet industry podcast, the interviewer asked me to talk about UFP and our audience to get insight into the range of topics we might discuss during the episode.

I shared what I’ve learned from speaking with many of you over the past four years. After I finished, the interviewer responded, “That’s amazing how much [utility fleet professionals] are responsible for and how much they must know compared to other types of fleets.”

He nailed it. Exactly.

As a fleet manager in the utility industry, there’s a high level of sophistication you bring to the job that’s not required in many other sectors. That’s because you have so much more on your plate than what you would deal with, say, managing an urban delivery or pharmaceutical sales fleet, where you may have a handful of vehicle types you’re working with – box trucks, pickups, vans and sedans.

But in the utility world, it’s a whole different realm. You’re managing road vehicles, trailers, off-road equipment and all-terrain vehicles. At some utility companies, even aviation assets, like helicopters and drones, are managed by the fleet department.

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Sean M. Lyden

How Technology Can Turn Idle Equipment into Revenue Generators

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If you’re like many utility fleet professionals, you’re under increasing pressure from senior management to do more with less. So, when you’re looking for creative ways to squeeze as much productivity and value as possible from your fleet assets, what are your options?

One idea is to put your underutilized or spare vehicles to work as revenue generators by lending them to other fleets that could use them. But how?

There’s an app for that.

Truck rental and leasing giant Ryder (https://ryder.com) recently launched COOP – pronounced “koop” – a commercial vehicle-sharing platform that links fleet owners with idle vehicles to trusted businesses in need of rental vehicles. Think of it as Airbnb for fleet assets, where you're able to rent out your excess fleet capacity more efficiently and safely to companies that have been vetted by the platform.

The service came out of its pilot phase at the end of the first quarter this year and is live in Atlanta and its surrounding areas in Georgia. The company said that it’s planning to expand to other states beginning in January 2019 but has not yet announced those locations.

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Sean M. Lyden

Making the Switch to LED Lighting in Utility Fleets

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Lighting via the use of light-emitting diodes – more commonly known as LEDs – has been around for over five decades. But only in recent years has the technology surged in popularity, especially among utility fleets.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, LEDs use 75 percent less energy and last 25 times longer than conventional incandescent lighting. That’s a big difference in terms of energy consumption and longevity. But historically, LEDs have been too expensive for fleets to justify making the switch.

That is, until the past five years or so, as the price gap has narrowed significantly, presenting a more compelling business case for fleets to convert to LEDs.

Getting Started
Take PPL Electric Utilities based in Allentown, Pennsylvania, for example. The fleet department began to expand its use of LEDs in 2014 for safety reasons.

“Our initial push was the safety factor of the brightness of the LEDs for better visibility when working at night,” said John Adkisson, transportation manager at PPL. “And the prices were starting to come down at that time, making LEDs more prevalent. So, we decided to give it a shot and see how it goes. So far, the change to LEDs has been well-received by the operators and the crews.”

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The Rise of the 4x4 Service Truck

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When it comes to service trucks in utility fleets, which is more popular: two-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive?

According to a recent report by Utilimarc (https://utilimarc.com), a Minneapolis-based fleet management software and benchmarking company, the clear winner is the 4x4.

But this hasn't always been the case. In fact, in 2012 – just six years ago – the two-wheel-drive led the service truck market by nearly 20 percentage points.

That would appear to make sense. All things being equal, the two-wheel-drive comes with a lower price tag. And conventional wisdom is that operating costs on the 4x2 should be lower as well, because there are fewer components that need to be serviced or repaired.

Yet in a relatively short span, the 4x4 has surged to the lead. Why? What’s driving this change in utility fleets?

UFP spoke with Paul Milner, senior analyst and product developer at Utilimarc, to help us dig into the data.

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Tesla’s Turmoil and the Future of Electrified Transportation

It has been a tumultuous 2018 for electric carmaker Tesla and its embattled CEO, Elon Musk.

Earlier this year, a handful of crashes involving Tesla vehicles increased scrutiny of the safety of their semi-autonomous Autopilot systems. Then there have been the ongoing manufacturing challenges causing lengthy and expensive delays in building the Model 3 – the mass-market electric car that Musk has banked Tesla’s future on. And Musk’s high-profile Twitter feuds with journalists, analysts and short-sellers have caused many in the industry to question his fitness to effectively lead a publicly traded company.

But whatever storm clouds may be hovering over the company today, Tesla has already made its mark, pushing the automotive industry toward what will likely be an all-electric future – no matter what happens to the company itself.

Think about it: Traditional automakers have been building electric vehicles for years, but Tesla has made EVs desirable. With the introduction of the Model S sedan in 2012, Tesla showed that EVs could be sleek, spacious and fast. And with hundreds of thousands of pre-orders for the lower-priced Model 3, Tesla demonstrated that it’s possible to create mass-market demand for EVs at a time of relatively low and stable fuel prices.

The major automakers are following suit with plans to introduce several new all-electric models in the next two to three years.

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Sean M. Lyden

CPS Energy Makes a Big Push into Truck Electrification

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In recent years, the pickup truck market has been considered by many in the utility industry as the “holy grail” for fleet electrification.

That’s because pickups comprise the most significant percentage of many utility fleets. So, the more of those trucks you can switch to plug-in electric powertrains – whether all-electric or hybrid – the greater the impact you can make in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

But the challenge with electrifying pickup trucks has been cost, making it difficult for utility fleets to come up with a compelling business case to invest aggressively in the technology.

That is, until recently. As battery prices continue to plummet and the business case becomes more attractive, some utility fleets are taking a more aggressive stance with their fleet electrification efforts.

Take, for example, San Antonio-based CPS Energy, the nation’s largest municipally owned natural gas and electric company.

In April, CPS Energy announced the purchase of 34 plug-in hybrid electric Ford F-150 pickup trucks, which, according to XL (www.xlfleet.com) – a provider of connected vehicle electrification systems for commercial and municipal fleets – represents the largest purchase of plug-in hybrid F-150s by any utility or private company to date and the first in Texas to use the vehicles.

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Sean M. Lyden

What’s New in Digging Machines for Utility Fleets?

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Whether the job is to dig trenches to lay underground power lines, to drill holes to set poles, or to dig in tight spaces, such as next to buildings or in residential backyards, the objective remains the same: to enable crews to get the most work done in the least amount of time, with the least amount of effort, in the safest way possible.

That's the goal that has driven the design of new products and upgrades released by heavy-equipment manufacturers in recent months.

So, what’s new in digging machines for 2018? How can they help utility companies and contractors improve worker productivity and safety? Here are six new developments to consider.

CASE Construction Equipment
What’s New: TV370 compact track loader
Website: www.casece.com

CASE Construction Equipment introduced the TV370 compact track loader (CTL) that offers utility contractors a smaller 74-horsepower option in a large-frame vertical CTL with a 3,700-pound operating capacity for earthmoving, load and lift applications, and heavy attachments.

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Sean M. Lyden

The Latest Developments in Drones for the North American Utility Sector

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Although drone sales in the North American utility market will reach only about $850,000 in 2018, that number is expected to grow by more than 20 times – to $25 million – by 2026, as U.S. regulations ease and drone technology improves.

That’s the outlook from Michael Hartnack, a research analyst covering drones and robotics for transmission and distribution operations worldwide for Navigant Research. (For Navigant’s full market report, visit www.navigantresearch.com/research/drones-and-robotics-for-transmission-and-distribution-operations.)

While those numbers might appear underwhelming, they represent hardware sales only, and not revenue from ancillary drone services – such as piloting, training, software development, data management, cybersecurity and other support offerings – which will make the overall U.S. utility drone market significantly larger, Hartnack said.

So, what exactly is the state of drones in the North American utility sector today? What pieces need to fall into place to accelerate growth? And what are some of the most interesting future possibilities?

UFP recently spoke with Hartnack to get his perspective. Here is an edited version of our conversation.

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Sean M. Lyden

Tap into the Power of Stories to Expand Your Influence

For a fleet manager, stories can be more than just entertaining anecdotes – they can be a powerful tool to motivate technicians, change employee behavior and garner senior management’s support.

But what exactly is storytelling in a utility fleet environment? How do you tell a good story, especially if you’ve never thought of yourself as a great communicator?

In an interview I conducted with Paul Smith, leadership trainer and author of the best-selling book “Lead with a Story,” Smith said that storytelling is “a way of getting your message across without making your audience feel defensive, so they will be more open to what you have to say.”

How do stories make the audience more open to your message?

“A story activates a different part of the brain, where instead of being critical and analyzing, they’re just listening to the story,” Smith said. “It creates that open frame of mind in people in a way that data alone cannot do.”

The idea is that you can use stories to influence people without wagging your finger at them or telling them what to do. Stories allow the listener to arrive at conclusions themselves, making them more receptive to you and more motivated to follow through on your message.

So, what does storytelling look like when you’re managing people in a utility fleet environment?

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Sean M. Lyden

5 Smart Ways to Use Telematics to Drive Fleet Safety

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What does a litigator want to know after a commercial vehicle crash?

Here’s how Jeff Burns, an attorney with the Kansas City, Missouri-based law firm Dollar, Burns & Becker LC, put it in his presentation to fleet managers at the NTEA Work Truck Show in March: “How did the company try to prevent this crash?”

After all, the plaintiff’s attorney is looking for a defendant that offers the highest potential settlement award – and a company is a much more lucrative target than the individual driver who may be at fault in an incident.

One of the things Burns said that companies could do to demonstrate a commitment to preventing incidents is to deploy vehicle tracking technology, like telematics, and make sure it's being used in ways that support safer driving and equipment operation practices throughout the organization.

So, how can utility fleet leaders use telematics to drive greater safety – and reduce risk exposure for their employers?

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Sean M. Lyden

Pioneering a Utility Drone Program

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In 2015, Chicago-based Commonwealth Edison Co. (ComEd) became the first utility to be approved by the Federal Aviation Administration for operational use of unmanned aircraft systems – also referred to as UAS or drones – under certain conditions for line inspection and emergency response applications.

So, three years and 250 flights later, how has it been going? Where does ComEd’s program stand today? What types of applications are they using drones for? And what are some of the lessons the utility has learned?

UFP recently spoke with Brian Cramer, UAS program manager at ComEd, to get the behind-the-scenes story of a utility company pioneering new drone technology that could have enormous implications for worker safety and operational efficiencies throughout the industry.

UFP: How are you currently using drones?

Brian Cramer: If there's a problem that crews haven't been able to identify using normal means – whether it's ground patrols, helicopters and so forth – we'll use drones to provide imaging for inspections to find out what's happening. That’s because the drone can get closer to the problem area, and we can see it from every angle, including from above.

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What Will It Take for Autonomous Vehicles to be Ready for Prime Time?

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When it comes to fully autonomous vehicles becoming commercially available, industry consensus is that it’s not a question of if but when. And that time frame appears to be within the next two to three years.

For example, industry research firm Navigant Research (www.navigantresearch.com) expects that highly automated light-duty vehicles will begin to be introduced in 2020, with steady growth anticipated starting in 2025.

Then there’s Waymo (https://waymo.com) – formerly the Google self-driving car project – pushing the pace, saying that it will roll out fully self-driving taxi rides to the public by the end of this year, with a plan to operate 1 million self-driving miles by 2020.

And at the NTEA Work Truck Show in March, Ed Peper, vice president of fleet at GM (www.gm.com), said that the automaker expects to launch fully self-driving vehicles "safely and at scale” in ridesharing applications in 2019.

But fatal crashes in recent weeks – involving an Uber vehicle in fully autonomous mode and a Tesla Model X with Autopilot engaged – also have caused many in the industry and government to pump the brakes on vehicle testing, creating some uncertainty around when robots will actually rule the roads.

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Sean M. Lyden

The Need for Greater Collaboration Between Fleet and Safety

In April, our team at Utility Fleet Professional magazine launched the first-ever fleet track at the iP Utility Safety Conference & Expo in Loveland, Colorado. The conference is the industry’s largest safety education event, produced by our sister publication, Incident Prevention magazine.

We covered a wide range of topics, from the imminent safety challenges of automated vehicle technologies, to fleet ergonomics that can reduce worker injury risks, to spec’ing aerial platforms with maximum safety in mind.

But my biggest takeaway from the conference?

It’s that there’s a growing need for fleet and safety professionals to communicate and collaborate with each other on a deeper level – to spec the safest vehicles possible within the real-world budget constraints that fleet departments must navigate.

Think about it. We’ve seen automated driver-assist systems deployed in cars over the past few years. But now we’re starting to see them being introduced in the commercial truck market as well, which could have significant implications for both the fleet and safety departments at utility companies.

For example, the 2018 Ford F-150 features an available Pre-Collision Assist with Pedestrian Detection system and advanced adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go functionality that uses radars and cameras to maintain a set distance behind a vehicle – and even follow that vehicle down to a complete stop.

This is cool safety technology, but it also makes the truck more expensive. And when fleet managers are given a mandate from senior management to do more with less money, how do they strike that delicate balance between vehicle safety and cost?

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What’s New in Truck and Van Upfits for Utility Fleets

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As you evaluate the specs for your truck and van fleet this year, where do you see the best opportunities for improvement?

Could you take weight out of a truck to reduce fuel costs or increase legal payload?

Could you upgrade equipment so that crews could get more work done in less time with improved safety?

Or, could you electrify certain vehicles to cut both fuel consumption and your fleet’s carbon footprint?

Here are six new developments from truck and van equipment manufacturers that could help you uncover and capitalize on opportunities to improve your fleet specs and performance.

XL Hybrids
What’s New: XLP plug-in hybrid-electric upfit for F-150 SuperCrew; CARB approval
URL: www.xlhybrids.com

XL Hybrids Inc. recently announced that its XLP plug-in hybrid-electric system is now available for the Ford F-150 SuperCrew. The company also announced its newest approval from the California Air Resources Board (CARB), which gives California-based organizations assurance that XL-equipped fleets will meet the Golden State's rigorous testing and restrictions for carbon emissions.

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Utility Fleets to the Rescue in Puerto Rico

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This story hasn't been getting a lot of attention in the national press, but there has been a massive mobilization effort by utilities across the U.S. to send thousands of lineworkers, trucks and pieces of heavy equipment to help restore power to Puerto Rico, where many residents have suffered without electricity since Hurricane Maria pummeled the island last fall.

In December, several electric companies began mobilizing crews at the request of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), in a coordinated effort with the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), the American Public Power Association and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, deploying nearly 1,500 additional restoration workers and support personnel to the island as of press time.

One of those utilities is Oklahoma Gas & Electric (OG&E), based in Oklahoma City, which is assigned to the Arecibo region on the northwest side of the island, along with Dallas-based Oncor and Houston-based CenterPoint Energy.

On January 18, about 60 of OG&E’s trademark orange trucks arrived at the port in Ponce, Puerto Rico, taking about two weeks to complete the 1,900-mile trek from Lake Charles, Louisiana. The plan is for OG&E’s first wave of 50 crew members to work for 20 days and then relieve those workers by sending a second wave of 50 to continue work for at least another 20 days.

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Is Cash Still King?

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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 (www.mercury-assoc.com), 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.

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Sean M. Lyden

Fleet’s Expanding Role in Making Sure Lineworkers Get Home Safely

Lineworkers truly are heroes in our industry – and in our communities. I’ve gotten to see this firsthand as a resident of Central Florida, which was hit hard by Hurricane Irma last fall, leaving many of us without power for over a week. So, you can imagine how heartening it was to see all the convoys of bucket trucks from out of state and Canada coming down to Florida, with lineworkers who had left their families to work around the clock to restore power to our area.

Now we’re seeing a massive mobilization effort by utilities across North America to help Puerto Rico, where many residents have been without power for several months since Hurricane Maria ravaged the island.

As fleet leaders, you play a big role in making these storm-response missions successful by ensuring that crews have the equipment they need to serve our local communities, often in harsh weather conditions, and return home safely to their families.

It’s this safety component that I want to zero in on in this letter. When your crews are performing storm-response work, how can you give them complete confidence that their fleet equipment is safe and up to the task? That begins with you making sure that you’re continually covering all your bases when it comes to fleet safety. And we’re here to help you do just that.

At Utility Fleet Professional, we’re dedicated to safe fleet operations. That's why we're partnering with the iP Utility Safety Conference & Expo to offer an all-new fleet safety track in Loveland, Colorado, April 24-26, 2018.

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Sean M. Lyden

The Final 3

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Each issue, we ask a fleet professional to share three keys to fleet success.

This issue’s Final 3 participant is John Adkisson, transportation manager at PPL Electric Utilities (www.pplelectric.com), based in Allentown, Pa. The company serves 1.4 million residential, commercial and industrial customers in central and eastern Pennsylvania and has about 1,800 total assets in its fleet.

#1. Build relationships.
“One of the most important keys to success for any fleet manager is having good relationships with internal stakeholders [fleet/transportation personnel, field management, finance, executive leadership] and external stakeholders [vendors, regulatory agencies]. Your success as a fleet manager will be tied directly to your effectiveness at building these key relationships.”

#2. Don’t be afraid of change.
“Ever-changing conditions both within and outside of your control will require you to adapt the way you manage your fleet. Instead of wasting energy fighting to keep things the same – and possibly destroying the relationships you’ve built – focus that energy to manage the change and build on the new.”

#3. Communicate.
“And I don’t mean email, either. In today’s technology-driven environment, it is easy to lean heavily on email and other electronic communications to get things done. However, the effective fleet manager will take the extra effort to make the phone call or do the face-to-face visit with key stakeholders. The time you invest in this one area will pay huge dividends when you need buy-in from your stakeholders for a required spec change or when you need help answering a question on a topic outside of your comfort zone.”

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