Will sharing assets across councils be the answer as fleet managers increasingly juggle new technologies, smarter booking systems and a call for autonomous vehicles? Mary Searle Bell examines the never-ending drive for environmental sustainability, lower costs and simply getting the right vehicle for the right task at the right price.
A local authority’s fleet is a substantial asset. In addition, both the fleet and the management thereof are rapidly evolving beasts, with a future full of options. A council’s fleet may include mayoral vehicle/s, dedicated staff vehicles (those assigned to one particular person), pool cars shared by staff, and various utility vehicles and equipment. The types of vehicles will range from sedans and hatchbacks to 4WD utes and vans. On top of these there are various plant items such as mowers, boats, trailers, as well as one-off items such as mobile libraries and rural fire appliances.
The management of these assets is vital to ensure they are used and maintained appropriately and efficiently. Advances in vehicle technology and the growing awareness and desire for environmentally-responsible and sustainable behaviours from local authorities, mean local government fleet managers should be assessing the various options available to them.
According to Graeme Perry, local government specialist with Teletrac Navman, fleet costs are, in most cases, the third biggest expense behind staff and buildings.
“It’s unlikely that this cost structure will shift significantly in the next 10 years, so the onus is on local authorities to focus on efficiency of the fleet as a way of driving costs down,” he told Local Government Magazine.
He says fleet efficiency comes in two parts:
- Looking at the efficiency of the individual vehicles in the fleet, and therefore the whole. “Tools like GPS fleet management solutions already play a big part in helping fleet managers to optimise the efficiency of their fleets. Managed car bookings improve utilisation for individual vehicles, while integration with other back office systems streamlines internal processes.”
- Questioning how many vehicles councils actually need. “Local authorities will have to get smart about the amount of travelling their staff really need to do.”
Technology has a huge role to play in future fleet management. From the traditional petrol and diesel vehicles, to electric vehicles and driverless cars, to GPS fleet management solutions, there are many options in the mix.
Ambrose Plaister, CEO of Fleetwise, says local authorities will need to consider creating a fleet management structure that’s flexible enough to adapt and take advantage of rapidly evolving technology.
He says the solution is to talk to other councils that have negotiated similar issues or get independent fleet advice to ensure a good decision is reached and value for money achieved.
“Have a clear objective for introducing the technology, benchmark its performance and make sure, as much as possible, that it’s a future-proofed solution,” he says.
As far as vehicle technology goes, Graeme says the rise of autonomous vehicles is definitely going to be a big challenge for local authorities: “The private sector is already embracing the technology, but I think it’s crucial that the public sector shows leadership in this area. After all, local authorities are answerable to ratepayers and the increasing use of autonomous vehicles will potentially bring both cost and safety benefits.”
However, ensuring the type of vehicle matches the job required is also essential. Technology provides a solution here too. Tony Warwood, general manager of EROAD NZ, says “Telematics will look at the different type of work vehicles are doing – electric, petrol or diesel. If the range is too long, an electric vehicle doesn’t suit. Hybrid vehicles are considerably more expensive, and if they’re running on the petrol engine all the time because the work-type doesn’t suit them, you end up with an expensive vehicle from which you don’t get the full benefit.”
All our experts agree that the future is likely to see neighbouring local authorities sharing vehicles. By working together, councils could maximise savings and resources, and reduce their environmental footprint.
“An example of that is rural fire engines,” says Tony. “We see it around the country where there are several authorities close to each other, all with quite expensive assets. If they’re kept in a certain place and managed appropriately local authorities could perhaps get away with having fewer of those vehicles shared between them.
“You might start looking at pooling even the light vehicles and operating booking systems to book those vehicles for use between different departments so that they’re not holding huge numbers of assets. Many of the vehicles we see in those sorts of spaces don’t do a lot of mileage. They make lots of short trips but have quite a lot of free time as well.”
Graeme agrees: “Pooling or consolidation of fleets has already been tried by central government in Christchurch, and I know it has been discussed by some local authorities, regional authorities and DHBs. As a concept it makes sense that organisations that operate in the same geographical area could share a fleet. With GPS fleet management technology coupled with pool vehicle booking technology, it would be very easy to manage a fleet across different sites, and to share both rides and costs between different organisations.”
With the various challenges and opportunities ahead, councils will need to have appropriate fleet management expertise in-house.
“The bottom line is that if you outsource your fleet, that company doesn’t have the best interest of the local authority at heart,” says Graeme. “Companies that provide outsourced fleets make their money by a fee per vehicle, so they have little incentive to consider reducing the size of a fleet.
“In-house fleet managers have an intimate knowledge of the fleet and the needs of the local authority, and that knowledge will become even more important in 10 years’ time as cost, safety and environmental considerations drive local authority decision-making.”
• Mary Searle Bell is a freelance writer and editor.
This article was first published in the October 2016 issue of NZ Local Government Magazine.