Dave Seavey, fleet management director with the City of Seattle’s Department of Finance and Administrative Services, Fleet Management Division (FMD), sums up his organization this way: “The Fleet Management Division is 126 people helping 10,000 employees acquire and maintain the right vehicles and equipment to effectively do their jobs.”
“We manage the city fleet internally and lease vehicles to most departments, including police, fire and parks,” Seavey said. “We purchase equipment and custom design about 300 vehicles each year. The fleet numbers over 4,100 units, and includes everything from bicycles to cars, passenger vans, hybrid SUVs and trucks. The most expensive piece of equipment in the Seattle fleet is a fire ladder truck, which cost just over $1.2 million.”
FMD maintains and repairs Seattle’s vehicles and specialized equipment, including cars, trucks, and fire apparatus and heavy equipment. Routine maintenance and repairs are part of each lease. In addition, Seattle City Light and Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) own their vehicles, but both departments pay FMD to maintain and co-manage their fleets. Annually, Seavey related, the FMD maintenance operation performs about 10,000 preventive maintenance checks and changes almost 4,000 tires.
In 2008, FMD hired an outside consultant to assess its fleet operations. The consultant evaluated current practices, equipment and facilities, identified and proposed appropriate best practices, and developed an implementation plan. In addition, in 2005 SPU hired a consultant to review its fleet operations, and because SPU's fleet is managed partially by FMD, the study included a review of FMD’s competitiveness and internal business processes.
Implementing Best Practices
While the overall assessment of FMD’s operations in both studies was favorable, they did find room for improvement, and since then FMD has been implementing best practices recommendations. Resulting changes in how Seattle manages its vehicle fleet netted taxpayers more than $3 million in savings during one budget cycle.
Those savings, according to Seavey, include lowering fleet fund reserves by $2 million. “By developing a new forecasting model that projects out 10 years,” he explained, “FMD is able to minimize its reserves, which frees up funds for other city uses.
“Extending vehicle life cycles saves about $350,000 per year,” Seavey continued. “We have re-evaluated the useful life of every type of vehicle in the city fleet. In some cases, we found life cycles that were too short, meaning that vehicles may have been replaced before their optimal point. By selectively extending certain life cycles, we have cut replacement costs without any impact on the cost of maintaining those vehicles. The life cycle extensions initially saved the city more than $700,000 in 2009 and 2010, and the savings continue.”
Seattle’s FMD has also been working to reduce the size of its fleet. For example, in 2010 and 2011 the fleet was downsized by 200 vehicles. “This is an ongoing effort,” Seavey reported, “and we expect it to save millions over the next five years. In just the past year, we eliminated 188 vehicles, so not only will Seattle avoid the cost of replacing those vehicles, it will also avoid the cost of maintaining them in the future.
“We routinely benchmark our operations against other government agencies and fleet costs against the private sector,” Seavey added. “Government agencies that provide the same type of services that we do make good comparisons, and fleet costs, such as labor rates and markups, are compared with local private vendors who do the same work for profit.”
Green Fleet Policies
Another initiative in the City of Seattle is to cut greenhouse gas emissions by implementing green fleet policies. “One of the best things the city can do to protect and improve air quality, and encourage smart fuel and vehicle choices in the community, is to make our own vehicle fleet a model of environmental best practices,” Seavey stated.
Among the things Seattle has done to green its fleet in the past, Seavey noted, is to convert the entire diesel fleet to ultralow sulfur diesel (ULSD), and to use a B20 blend of 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent ULSD for select fleets. In addition, FMD has retrofitted all of the city’s heavy-duty trucks with emissions control devices. Combined, the two measures have cut harmful emissions by about 50 percent per vehicle.
Other green fleet initiatives in Seattle include making more than three-fourths of light-duty vehicle purchases for hybrid or biodiesel vehicles, and at least half of all compact cars purchased by the city each year use alternative fuels or get at least 45 miles per gallon.
In addition, in 2011 the city began adding all-electric vehicles to its fleet, and it has adopted Segways for jobs like water meter reading and parking enforcement. With zero emissions, a cost of just $3 per year to recharge and in some cases replacing the use of a car, the personal mobility vehicles are paying dividends in many ways.
FMD is also focused on using technology in its maintenance operation to improve efficiency and productivity. At the 2013 Electric Utility Fleet Managers Conference, Seavey presented how “Technology in Maintenance is Essential to Reaching the Green.”
“Technology and data matter,” Seavey said. “We have been upgrading the technology in our shops. We have cleaned the facilities and identified and replaced broken tools. We have replaced lifts and we’re adopting scan tools and laptops as well as using Web-based OEM repair programs.”
Examples of technology in the Seattle FMD include software from Cummins, Bendix, Meritor WABCO, International Trucks, GM, Eaton, Detroit Diesel, AutoEnginuity, TPMS and vehicle electrical system suppliers. Management tools in place include systems from MotorVac, Zonar, Mitchell and NAPA.
FMD also converted technology to better manage its fueling systems. At a cost of $250,000, Seavey pointed out, the division now has an automated solution that streamlines fueling for drivers including capturing mileage, provides transaction data for accurate billing, and has better internal controls for reconciliation and inventory control.
“We have also embarked on a complete makeover of our fleet management information systems,” Seavey related. “With our supplier, who had a project manager on site for one year for system setup, data correction and staff training, the two-year project has included establishing a wireless network and placing computers in the bays of all five FMD shops.
“We did have to overcome some obstacles,” Seavey continued, “including securing $400,000 in funding. We also had to sell the reason for change to our technicians and supervisors. These systems meant a new way of working and in some cases we had to overcome false beliefs about technology.”
The benefits, however, are obvious, Seavey noted. “We’ve improved shop operations, morale and established integrity,” he stated. “We’ve decreased downtime significantly, which has allowed us to reassign staff and increase billable hours. We’ve also produced data that helps us make better vehicle and specification decisions.
“One of the biggest challenges our industry faces is to improve our understanding of finance, including business operations, and to embrace technology, such as information management systems,” Seavey added. “Fleet managers can no longer just rely on vehicle maintenance management skills. To be competitive, we must expand in these areas.”
Seavey, who spent 21 years in the U.S. Navy as a submarine force enlisted man and officer, brings a wealth of experience to FMD. After retiring from active duty, he worked for five years as a maintenance supervisor at Intercity Transit in Olympia, Wash., then spent five more years as the City of Olympia's fleet manager. He joined Seattle’s FMD as fleet management director five years ago.
“In the past,” Seavey said, “our customer service model meant that FMD provided service to city operations. Our new model is that fleet services and operations are 50-50 partners. With that in mind, our Fleet Management Division manages the city's vehicle and equipment operations with one goal – to ensure timely, cost-effective, and high-quality vehicles and maintenance services.”
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.