UFP Magazine

Sandy Smith

Pros and Cons of Fuel Card Use

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John Adkisson, transportation manager for Pennsylvania-based PPL Electric Utilities, keeps an eye on the fuel consumption of the company’s vehicles through the use of fuel cards.

Each vehicle in the utility’s fleet is assigned one of these cards when the vehicle is put in service, and each employee is assigned a unique driver ID. Assigning fuel cards and driver IDs serves two purposes: “This allows anyone who operates a company vehicle to fuel any vehicle that he or she may be driving with the fuel card,” Adkisson said. “This also allows the fleet department to track fuel consumption down to an individual vehicle.”

Monthly exception reporting provides Adkisson insight into any unusual activity, such as an out-of-state purchase or purchase of a large quantity of fuel. If needed, he can limit driver transactions by number or amount via the fuel card’s website.

An Attractive Solution
It is this type of data, flexibility and control that make fuel cards an attractive solution for today’s utility fleets, often winning out over other options, such as on-site fuel tanks and driver reimbursement.

“Customizable controls and program parameters are among the top benefits of a fuel card, as compared to other options,” said Andy Hall, assistant manager of fuel and GMS products for fleet management company ARI (www.arifleet.com). “Reimbursement programs and general credit cards typically allow drivers to purchase virtually anything they want without restriction, resulting in misuse and abuse.”

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Fiona Soltes

Collaboration is Key When Rightsizing Your Fleet

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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 (www.arifleet.com). 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.

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Grace Suizo

Mistakes to Avoid When Outsourcing Maintenance

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Outsourcing preventive maintenance and unscheduled repairs on light-duty units can help utility fleets minimize downtime and focus on the more complex mission-critical and specialized equipment in their operations.

It’s easy to rent a car or pickup truck if a light-duty asset is in the shop or down for a long period of time, explained Paul Jefferson, fleet manager for OG&E Fleet Services in Oklahoma. “Bucket trucks, trenchers [and] line trucks are a little more difficult to rent. We have tools and materials on pieces of equipment like that, so we can do maintenance in-house and control the timeline of the work,” he said.  

Keeping services in-house rather than outsourcing them also can help to ensure that safety remains a top priority when working on these assets.

“The utility industry as a whole requires a very high level of safety training, and this education extends to the in-house technicians,” said Charlie Guthro, vice president of global strategic services for fleet management company ARI (www.arifleet.com).

But if fleets determine they need to outsource some of their work, how do they make the most of it? UFP recently spoke with several industry experts who shared their tips, including mistakes to avoid.

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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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Kate Wade

Re-Engineered Utility Pole Trailers from Felling

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No matter the industry, operator safety and ease of use and maintenance are key when a company is looking to acquire new equipment. Felling’s newly designed utility pole trailers are fully engineered and documented products that offer operators many years of trouble-free service.

The trailers are available in three lengths: 20 feet retracted to 30 feet extended; 24 feet retracted to 40 feet extended; and 29 feet retracted to 46 feet extended. Payload capacities from 7,980 pounds up to 36,600 pounds are available, and electric brakes are standard. Trailers can be equipped with air brakes if needed.

Equipped with a 2-inch cold-rolled steel, positive locking adjustment pin and designed with a notched flange welded on the pin, the flange notches must pass through two tabs welded 90 degrees from each other, assuring a positive locked position. The 2-inch positive locking adjustment pin is attached to the trailer with a chain to prevent loss. www.felling.com

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Kate Wade

HUBB Filters’ Reusable Sustainable Oil Filter

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HUBB Filters is the only reusable sustainable oil filter available in the automotive aftermarket for Class 1 to 6 fleets that want to make a positive impact on the environment and their bottom line. HUBB-equipped fleets eliminate used oil filters going into landfills, and they enjoy increased oil drain intervals and decreased labor costs. The HUBB Swap Filter Exchange Program is a new program that enables a fleet to realize all the benefits of the HUBB reusable sustainable oil filter without the upfront investment. The HUBB solution is backed by the industry’s first 100,000-mile or 5,000-hour guarantee. www.hubbfilters.com

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Kate Wade

MAHLE ShopPRO 10-Ton Wheel Lift

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MAHLE Service Solutions has introduced the ShopPRO CWL-10, an innovative, air-operated, midrise 10-ton commercial wheel lift that provides a shop with unsurpassed flexibility and quick access to major components on all types of vehicles. The wheel lift system takes all the guesswork out of safely lifting any vehicle, while the positive pinning system provides safe and clear access under one end of the vehicle.

The CWL-10 is ideally suited for shops with low ceiling heights and features a built-in vehicle support stand that allows complete open access under the vehicle. The 100 percent air-operated system provides years of maintenance- and worry-free lifting.

The portable design eliminates the need for a dedicated bay. The maximum lifting height of 24 inches is perfect for major component removal. It also increases shop productivity because there is no wasted time removing aerodynamics from vehicles.

The CWL-10 has a wide, spring-loaded base to provide users with a stable platform to allow for the secure lifting of a wide array of vehicles. The unit comes with small wheel adapters. A dual trigger control valve allows for the synchronized raising and lowering of a vehicle. www.servicesolutions.mahle.com

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Kate Wade

DPL Telematics Launches AssetView Tracking System

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DPL Telematics, a leading provider of advanced asset monitoring and telemetry technologies, recently announced the release of the AssetView Tracking System. AssetView is an advanced solution for wireless monitoring and remote tracking of any powered or unpowered asset to improve logistics, manage inventory and curb theft. The small, portable GPS unit is completely self-contained and may be hidden on any asset, installing in seconds.

AssetView allows managers to remotely monitor any asset accurately from a robust, internet-based software package and mobile app. The unit is the first telematics product of its kind to feature the following: no external wiring or antenna; internal battery power; long battery life; wireless, two-way communication; little to no sky view required; IP67-rated and UV-stabilized design; compact and completely portable; dual GPS and GLONASS positioning; global cellular coverage; and month-to-month agreement.

The tracking system combines multiple technologies to maximize battery life while operating and remaining active in extremely low power modes. In addition, AssetView’s proprietary Adaptive Tracking technology increases its reporting frequency when movement is detected and automatically reduces it when stationary. This intelligence delivers long battery life while actively alerting on curfew violation, movement or geofence breach, as well as allowing the user to switch to recovery mode over the air. www.dpltelematics.com/assetview

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Jim Vaughn, CUSP

Enforcement of Vehicle Weight and Load Securement Rules

In the past few months, I have received comments and inquiries from all over the U.S. regarding what appears to be stepped-up enforcement of both load securement and vehicle weight. It’s not unusual that these topics garner attention from the U.S. Department of Transportation when it comes to carriers, but this recent uptick seems to be directed at smaller commercial vehicles as well as bucket trucks and digger derricks. There have not been any changes of note in the rules for vehicle weight and load securement; however, it appears that some latitude taken by utilities, if not given by the DOT, has caught the attention of those responsible for enforcement of the rules.

In the last couple of years, state enforcement agencies have used local media to inform local commercial businesses – that are not carriers – that they would be stopped if they did not appear to comply with loading and marking standards for their class of vehicles. In Arizona, New Mexico, Washington and Colorado, my colleagues and I began to hear of roadside stops involving lawn maintenance companies and small construction concerns that pulled trailers with loaders, backhoes and super lawn machines. That soon extended to power company trucks, especially those loaded with large wire reels. I even heard of one instance in which state enforcement set up scales in a shopping center parking lot on a well-known route out of a power company service center. Within 40 minutes they cited 22 vehicles for being overweight. You would think drivers would have warned others, but the DOT waved them into the parking area before they started weighing and inspecting the vehicles, so no one knew what to expect. It shouldn’t have been – but it was – a big surprise for that utility’s fleet management to learn what kinds of loads lineworkers were putting on those trailers.

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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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Sean M. Lyden

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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Jim Galligan

Going Where Wheeled Vehicles Can’t

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Whether they’re used in hauling materials up steep hills, when accessing remote locations to perform inspections and construction, or for ferrying emergency crews and materials through marshes and over creeks, all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) play a small yet vital role in many utility fleets.

“As [distribution systems] continue to grow, it’s more important for utilities to be able to get into areas where wheeled vehicles can no longer access,” said Scott Merrill, vice president of PowerBully (www.powerbully.com). “There is a greater need for a lot of ground pressure tracked vehicles to carry attachments into a remote place.”

In addition to PowerBully, several other ATV suppliers have recently introduced new products and product upgrades to the market. Keep reading for more details.

Hydratrek Redesigns D2488B 
Amphibious vehicles typically are used for inspections and supply service through wetlands, but they’ve also seen more recent use in flooded areas after natural disasters, according to Craig Simonton, vice president of sales and marketing with Hydratrek (https://hydratrek.com). “They’re used for moving people and material up and down right-of-ways, and utilities tell us it’s the most versatile unit they have,” he said.

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Sandy Smith

How to Avoid Big Data Overload

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Telematics data offers the modern utility fleet vast opportunities to gain insight about their operation and take action. But the sheer number of those opportunities can be overwhelming, and deciding what data to study – plus how to make it meaningful – can be a struggle, like attempting to sip water from a firehose.

Beth Daiber, CPA, fleet administration supervisor for Ameren Illinois Company, has found that for her organization, it helps to both track and share data that ties into corporate initiatives. “There are a lot of things that I could supply data on, and analysis that I do behind the scenes,” she said. “I’m trying to make sure that I’m not overwhelmed with all the information that I could collect.”

Ameren focuses its telematics data on idling and speed for its 3,500-unit fleet. The company’s plan from day one was to focus on one or two initiatives first and build from there, Daiber said. Monitoring both idling and speed tie in with corporate initiatives and support the project’s ROI.

Even with such a narrow focus, there can be too much of a good thing, especially when it comes to reporting results to leadership. So, rather than simply track vehicle idling, for instance, Daiber provides reports that show idling as a percentage of operating time. “It seems to be a better reflection of how the assets are being used compared to total hours,” she said.  

Additional charts compare idling hours based on class of the asset. A top 20 list of the most-idled vehicles helps the operations team know where to focus its efforts. According to Daiber, “That has made a big impact.”

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Fiona Soltes

Flat Fees for Fleet Asset Flexibility?

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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 (www.elementfleet.com), 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.”

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Grace Suizo

Best Practices for Managing Tire Costs

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Running a successful utility fleet operation requires fleet managers to, among other things, stay on top of any and every aspect of the business that will impact total operating costs.

A fleet’s tire program is one aspect that makes a significant impact. According to Gary Schroeder, director of global truck and bus tire business for Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. (http://coopertrucktires.com), tire programs are the second-highest operating cost – behind fuel – for the majority of fleets.

So, what can utility fleets do in an effort to control those expenses?

“Helping fleets understand their total tire operating costs – and the role that tires can play in reducing these costs – is important,” said Dustin Lancy, marketing manager for The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. (www.goodyear.com). “Some fleets consider tire price to be the driving factor, but we urge them to look beyond the upfront cost of a tire and instead … optimize the return on their tire investment.”

Focus on What Matters Most
Keeping tire costs in check requires a tire program that includes proper tire selection, timely maintenance and frequent inspections.

Fairfax Water, a utility headquartered in Fairfax, Virginia, maintains a selection of tires and tire/wheel assemblies at each of its maintenance facilities, replenishing as needed. Light-duty tires are mounted and balanced in-house, while the tire/wheel assemblies for the fleet’s larger heavy-duty trucks, trailers and equipment are sent out for servicing.

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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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Kate Wade

PSS Rumble Strip Handling Machine

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PSS, an industry-leading manufacturer and marketer of roadway and pedestrian safety systems, has announced the launch of its newest product, the RoadQuake RAPTOR Rumble Strip Handling Machine.

The RAPTOR transports, deploys, realigns and retrieves the RoadQuake 2F Temporary Portable Rumble Strip (TPRS) in work zones, improving operational efficiency and increasing worker safety. The machine mounts to the front of a vehicle for ease of operation and has a capacity of 12 RoadQuake TPRS. The product provides portable positive protection when deploying and retrieving RoadQuake TPRS, and it is ideal for short-duration, short-term and mobile operations.

In January 2018, PSS kicked off the RAP-Tour, a cross-country demonstration of the RAPTOR's ability to improve work zone safety. To see the RAPTOR in action or to request a list of tour dates, contact National Sales Manager Dave McKee at 216-403-0898 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. http://pss-innovations.com

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Kate Wade

Ditch Witch Partners with Vacuworx

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Vacuum lifting technology offers an effective approach to moving materials on tough concrete demolition and construction, road and landscaping projects. Ditch Witch, a Charles Machine Works Company, has partnered with Tulsa-based Vacuworx to bring the benefits of vacuum lifting technology to an expanded network of underground construction contractors, landscapers, municipalities and utilities.

Vacuum lifting systems are designed to use constant vacuum pressure to handle heavy loads, such as steel road plates and concrete slabs. The proven technology eliminates the need for conventional lifting mechanisms that may damage materials. The Vacuworx systems handle up to 10 times more material than conventional methods in half the man hours, allowing contractors and landscapers to spend less time loading materials and more time focused on the job. 

The Vacuworx PS 1 Portable and SL 2 Subcompact Vacuum Lifting Systems are compatible with the full line of Ditch Witch mini skid steers – the SK600, SK800, SK1050 and SK1550. The PS 1 can lift up to 1,700 pounds and is an ideal solution for lighter and smaller lift loads on compact job sites that require the SK600 unit. The SL 2 weighs just 98 pounds and can lift up to 2,700 pounds. It also is compatible with the full mini skid steer line, but to get the most out of its lifting capabilities, the SL 2 must be used in tandem with the SK1550 unit. www.ditchwitch.comwww.vacuworx.com

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Anne Fortin

Going Green and Lightweight: How Suez North America Saved $20,000

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Suez North America is an environmentally friendly water utilities company, providing water and wastewater services as well as recycling and waste recovery services to almost 8 million people in North America. Known for placing sustainable environmental practices at the forefront of their operations, Suez employs innovative strategies to shrink their environmental footprint. The corporate headquarters for Suez’s North American operations are found in Paramus, New Jersey. In northern New Jersey alone, Suez serves 800,000 people with clean, sustainable water, while preserving the local waterways.

Bruce Ottogalli, transportation manager, oversees Suez’s fleet in New Jersey and New York. As the company’s only transportation manager, he is responsible for maintaining, servicing and updating the fleet’s work trucks – an integral part of Suez’s operations.

“As a sustainable company, the biggest thing for us is to have a limited environmental footprint with the vehicles, curb our carbon footprint and go green,” Ottogalli said. “We’re limited in our area as we can’t use propane or natural gas, because the suburban areas we serve don’t have that kind of fuel to fill our trucks.” Because the fleet’s vehicles must be powered by diesel or gas, Ottogalli has had to find other ways to follow the company’s green mandate.

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