Tom Trice

Team your service

Tom Trice
APWA President

With our current issue of the APWA Reporter focusing on fleet services it gives me a rare opportunity to discuss a public works division that is almost never fully understood. How important is your fleet operations division and what value does it provide to the success of the public works department, government services and the community? And what does the concept of "team fleet" have to do with value?

When was the last time you or your police chief walked to work? It is that mobility and access to vehicles and equipment that are the primary services provided by your fleet operation. Organizational mobility is essential to providing public services by moving people, materials, tools and equipment.

For most government agencies, the fleet/equipment services division impacts the delivery and cost of nearly every service provided to the public, and to the productivity of nearly every employee. Without effective fleet management services, the work of public agencies cannot be accomplished.

Street maintenance crews may work all night responding to a storm, but it is the fleet crew that attached the snowplow blades to the trucks, and it is the technicians who stay in the shop all night ready to make any needed repairs. Today public fleet operations function as well-run "teams" that have service and fleet availability as their primary goal. The fleet management division at Montgomery County, Maryland captures this well in their slogan, "The pride don't ride if the fleet don't roll." This slogan, along with "Team Fleet," is emblazoned on T-shirts, caps and jackets, and can be found throughout the division. Everyone at Montgomery County knows "Team Fleet."

The role of the public fleet operation has changed over the years from high-quality, low-cost repair service as "job one" to asset management and related business functions. Fleet assets often represent investments totaling many millions of dollars for public agencies. Consequently, issues such as rightsizing the fleet, replacing equipment, knowing when to rent/lease/purchase and remarketing have become routine in the business of equipment management.

Fleet managers today must be well-versed in a wide range of business disciplines, including finance, insurance, vehicle technology, human resources, material management, procurement, safety, environmental regulations and more. Successful fleet programs, and other departments for that matter, must be proactive rather than reactive, must plan ahead, communicate and tell their story, focus on customer service, and have a customer relations management program. You may be surprised at the following list of routine issues for today's fleet services operations.

  • Acquisition, maintenance and disposal of vehicles and equipment
  • Customer satisfaction program
  • Preventive maintenance schedules
  • Fleet availability and downtime 
  • Technician productivity
  • Cost per mile
  • Internal performance standards
  • Human resource management
  • Financial management
  • Regulatory compliance
  • Equipment specifications
  • Asset management (replacement funds, leasing, cooperative purchasing)
  • Management information systems
  • Outsourcing/privatization
  • Alternative fuels

Practical examples of performance measures and target levels of performance are used by public works fleet management organizations across the country. It is important for public sector organizations to develop a performance measurement program. Without such a program it is impossible to demonstrate the value of the organization's services to their customers and the communities they serve. Fleet managers carefully select the key performance measures that make most sense for their organization's unique characteristics, environment, and situation.

Finally, I'd like to discuss the APWA Fleet Services Technical Committee which has been "at your service" developing tools and resources for our many public fleet managers. The most important project for the committee continues to be the development of a fleet manager certification program, the first credentialing effort for APWA. Sam Lamerato from the City of Troy, Michigan, and a member of the Fleet Services Committee, has made this a mission and thanks to him it will soon become a reality. You can read more about this program elsewhere in this issue.

I encourage you to visit the bookstore at and check out the fleet-specific publications, most of which were written by the committee and other APWA members. One of the best sellers continues to be Top Ten Performance Measures for Fleet Managers. And their newest publication, Demonstrating the Value of Your Fleet Management Program, contains a companion CD with templates of sample business plans and customer service agreements.

The next time you get into a municipal vehicle or use a piece of municipally-owned equipment I hope that you will have a better understanding of this important division of public works. We are a large family and it takes many people to produce the varied services that public works provides for our citizens, communities and coworkers.

I would like to thank Sharon Subadan, Fleet Services Committee Chair, and Karen Bloodworth, APWA staff liaison to the committee, for contributing to this article.