About a year ago, after attending an industry meeting about car sharing technologies, I sat down and calculated how much it cost me to own my car. I came up with $23 per day to own and operate my car — and I own an inexpensive, fuel-efficient compact sedan. That includes monthly payments, insurance, gas, and oil changes, but excluding all other maintenance and repairs and occasional parking costs.
This makes me think: Considering the cost, why would you want to keep a car if it’s not needed? Translating this to fleet, why are user departments hesitant to give up their underutilized vehicles?
Why Not Pool Vehicles?
I often hear about studies saying there are underutilized or excess fleet vehicles that should be removed or pooled. But fleet managers say user departments want to keep those vehicles for themselves.
Jim Wright, CEO of Fleet Counselor Services and associate director of the Government Fleet Management Alliance, says this is a battle he fights constantly in his consulting work. He says the main reason user departments want to keep their vehicles is they’re afraid the motor pool vehicles won’t be available when they need it.
It’s up to the fleet manager to manage a balance between high utilization of motor pool vehicles and a good availability rate. An effective motor pool is one where vehicles are available for users, but in a bind, there are other options, such as using a personal vehicle or a car rental company.
The other issue is ownership. Depending on the public agency, the user department may own the car, or the fleet may own it. In the case of the former, the user department may say, “I own it, so I’m going to do with it what I want,” Wright says.
Another reason may be in motor pool location. If the vehicles are located three blocks away at the City Hall, it may be inconvenient to have staff walk there to pick it up. If it’s further away, they might need to drive there.
The solution to this is see how often drivers need to check out vehicles and how much staff time is devoted to picking them up, Wright said. If it’s too much time and demand is high, the fleet manager can set up a remote motor pool location closer to where employees work.
Lastly, it might even be because the department head thinks employees are using the vehicles more than they actually are. This might happen if there is a group of 15 vehicles and while the majority are used every day, a few are used infrequently.
Tracking technology can help fleet managers determine if and how often the vehicles are used.
It’s more convenient for employees to keep fleet vehicles assigned to their departments, but necessity, not convenience, should dictate whether a car is kept as an assigned vehicle. Specialty, seasonal, and emergency vehicles, as well as off-road equipment, are needed. However, you should assess passenger vehicles for need and usage.
What’s the Cost?
Utilization tracking can be done through various technologies and methods, and you can set the minimum mileage threshold as you see fit. Cost might be the best thing you can show a department head — that is, how much does that vehicle cost the department monthly or annually, and is it worth it if utilization is low? If the cost is high enough and utilization is low enough, this would be a hard argument to go against.
After I conducted my very unscientific cost-per-day vehicle analysis, I immediately started daydreaming about the vacations I’d take if I could only get rid of my car. Unfortunately, this isn’t possible since I use my car every day, but if I lived closer to work and there were a couple of Zipcars in my neighborhood, I would seriously consider reducing our family fleet down to one.
What other reasons have you heard from user departments wanting to keep their passenger vehicles? How have you convinced them they don’t need those cars?