Across the country, education institutions are coming to the realization that it’s time to take a fresh look at how their fleet management programs function. Many institutions are being compelled to do so because of demands for reduced operational costs and fuel consumption, as well as the call for more green initiatives.

A fleet management study thoroughly evaluates all aspects of an existing fleet and then provides recommendations for immediate improvements in particular trouble areas. The study analyzes staff and organizational structures and business practices, as well as any programs pertaining to vehicle disposal and replacement, parts management and fuel management.

Comprehensive fleet management studies are proving to be very effective in helping an institution review existing maintenance.

The importance of an effective fleet management program can’t be overstated. It protects the investment an institution made in both vehicles and equipment, and ensures that vehicles are safe for the personnel operating them. A fleet management study will recommend solutions that will guarantee an institution can execute such important responsibilities.

Recommended Changes

All colleges and universities and many districts have fleets of vehicles and equipment, as well as buildings and grounds maintenance crews. In other words, they have their own “public works” departments, which usually are scattered throughout a campus. Unfortunately, design consultants that regularly provide services to institution do not have experience with public-works functions, so many schools often are poorly advised on how to manage a fleet. Unfortunately, this can result in inefficient operations.

Universities and colleges typically also provide a public transportation system, which helps minimize the need for automobiles to move around campus. This means there is an additional set of vehicle, administration and maintenance facility requirements that need support.

A typical fleet management study will take all of this into account and then recommend a number of changes. For example, an institution may be advised to implement a more efficient and organized system to handle work orders and maintenance requests. This can involve doing a better job of tracking and streamlining repair data, and granting staff better access to information like mileage data, and vehicle use and maintenance schedules. These improvements will solve a problem that afflicts vehicle-related departments at education institutions: the reluctance of personnel to report minor problems out of fear the vehicles will be taken off the road for an extended period of time in order to address a back log of other minor problems.

Another solution a fleet management study may recommend is to re-evaluate vehicle replacement policies. This can involve a better approach to accumulating and assessing internally tracked data related to repair, maintenance and operating costs.

Finally, the study may urge an institution to rethink its approach to fuel and parts management, the productivity of its mechanics, and warranty management.

Consolidating fleet management programs

Fleet management studies also may recommend that an institution take a more centralized approach when it comes to managing individual departments, particularly when it comes to maintenance. Typically, a college or university receives funding for individual departments from a variety of sources. For example, student transportation often is federally funded, while campus police services are backed by the institution itself. This can lead to situations where transportation and police departments have their own vehicles replaced, as well as pay for their own parts and service bills. This setup can lead to situations where each department is unaware of the most basic information regarding the other department’s vehicles.

A more centralized approach to managing departments does not mean either will volunteer its decisionmaking role when it comes to vehicles and equipment. The primary role of a more centralized fleet program is to provide efficient and effective services to individual departments, not to regulate their specific actions.

There are many benefits to implementing a more centralized fleet management program, including improved cost accounting, better data collection, and less duplication of maintenance and repair efforts. It also will enable each individual department to focus more on its core mission activities.

Enhancing car-sharing networks

A fleet management study also will analyze any programs not typically utilized by municipalities. For example, many institutions provide car-sharing networks as an environmentally friendly alternative to keeping an automobile on campus. These Internet-based services enable faculty, staff and students to rent a car by the hour or the day; gas, maintenance, insurance, and reserved parking fees are included in the rates.

Today, many institutions are moving services and departments further away from their campus cores. This often is the case with transportation services that include car-sharing networks. A fleet management study will ensure these vehicles are at locations that are accessible, thus making the service more attractive to potential users.

A fleet management study also will ensure that a car-sharing network is not contributing to campus’ road and parking congestion issues, as well as show users how a car-sharing service used in conjunction with an institution’s other transportation options will help make a campus more eco-friendly.

Positive Impacts

The long-term results of poor fleet management are wasted money, less efficiency, and worst of all, hazards for workers. A comprehensive fleet management study will help an education institution ensure the management of its motor vehicles and equipment has a positive impact on the ability to operate effectively, save money and provide service in a timely manner.

Thompson is with Weston & Sampson, Peabody, Mass. He has pioneered facilities programming and planning services from an operational standpoint, and assisted a range of state and local government clients in programming and planning facilities, and in evaluating and re-engineering fleet maintenance operations. He can be reached at thompsonr@wseinc.com.