EM Highway Services is a leading highways asset maintenance and management provider that specialises in the delivery of road maintenance contracts for the Highways Agency and Transport for London.
The company runs a busy and diverse fleet headed up by Phil Gale, National Fleet & Transport Manager. Here, Phil speaks to Utility & Contractor Fleet Manager about his day-to-day role and the challenges he faces…
Describe your role as National Fleet & Transport Manager at
My role as National Fleet & Transport Manager at EM Highways is predominately one of governance. It is an overseeing and supporting role where I ensure consistency across the business. One of the main responsibilities is to control our operator licence compliance, making sure we always operate within legislation and law. I have the support of eight contract-based Transport Managers around the country.
Much of my day is spent working through the vast amounts of e-mail requests including reactive queries requiring quick responses from senior managers or contract staff. Supplier meetings are crucial to enable the consistent approach and with setting strict SLAs and KPIs.
Safety issues are also paramount. Our clients have high standards and we go above and beyond adhering to HSE best practice when running the fleet. On this note, I work closely with the safety manager to ensure compliance standards are met.
How do you make decisions about which vehicles and equipment you source for your fleets?
To meet the requirements of such a diverse fleet and one that is of such a specialist nature it is crucial that we engage with end users and get them fully involved at an early stage when making decisions about which vehicles and equipment are best for the job. This is crucial to getting buy-in and end-user satisfaction. You obviously can’t please all of the people all of the time however, it goes a long way to ensuring satisfaction.
We engage with end users and get them involved in the decision-making process by setting up a working task group. They never fail to come up with innovative ideas about safe working practices and new tools or equipment on the market that I perhaps haven’t seen. We do not hesitate in trialling vehicles and good ideas can then become part of the EM vehicle standard specification. We take all vehicles on their individual merits and do not operate a single-badge policy. Because I understand things from an operational point of view (having worked on that side of the business in the past) I like to work this way and get everyone involved.
How much does technology affect your role and what initiatives have you rolled out recently – or plan to roll out – utilising new technology?
Technology now plays a massive role in the way we manage our fleet operations. For example, we have recently changed and awarded a sole supply deal for telematics to Causeway that will offer up CAN bus connections so that we can monitor driver style – this data in turn will now be used by our fleet risk management company to accurately risk profile each individual driver ensuring those of a higher risk are further trained accordingly using these more accurate records.
Other technology that has been rolled out and fitted to all operational vehicles includes incident management cameras. After discussions with our insurers and having a number of non-defence incidents it was deemed money well spent and has already proved itself in a number of recent claims. We have worked with a company called Premier Hazard to install cameras on all operational vehicles including our pool cars. It is already proving to be a good investment. Many of our vehicles are hugely expensive pieces of kit and being able to view operational activity is beneficial. Some vehicles have up to five cameras installed, whereas a pool car, for example, has one camera.
Being forward-thinking with technology can be beneficial – indeed when we knew Euro 6 was on its way we started to incorporate these vehicles in our fleet. We were the first company in the country to operate Euro 6 gritters on our London Highways Alliance (LoHAC) contract.
We also have some future ideas in the pipeline for example, using PDAs for walk-around driver checks.
What other issues and challenges are currently facing your fleet operation?
One of the biggest challenges with a sole contract hire fleet is vehicle age and deciding when to run leases out or to renew them.
Another challenge is reliability due to the complexities of our specialist vehicles and the technically advanced builds we now have on our fleet. Any downtime (VOR) has a massive impact in how we respond to our workloads especially as EM run a very lean fleet where spare or replacement vehicles are not easy to obtain due to their specialist nature.
SHB Hire Ltd, who supply our vehicles, are the largest supplier of specialist highway vehicles and they also offer us support through their team of mobile technicians who can carry out on-site repairs and maintenance when required. We do not carry out our own vehicle servicing as all the vehicles are contract hire with maintenance.
We use the excellent FTA Vehicle Inspection Service (VIS) as a benchmark to ensure our fleet operation – vehicles, related equipment and maintenance arrangements are safe, efficient and legally compliant. This also targets our repair agents and keeps them on their toes. We can also check our defects reported against the national average for our sector.
The rising cost of fuel is a major concern for fleet operators, what are you doing to combat this?
Fuel expenditure is always a high agenda item and EM tries to mitigate any local pricing by staff purchasing from garage outlets with bulk buying and storing at our sites in large quantities. Fuel cards play a very small part of our fuel management and are only predominately used for obtaining petrol for small tool use. EM have moved towards a number of further measures to reduce fuel usage including; speed limiting all vehicles; tackling idling engines through telematics reports; driver training and; targeting driver style through telematics.
We were proud to be the first highways maintenance service provider to obtain the Carbon Trust Standard. This was awarded to EM to recognise best-practice and real achievements in carbon reduction. The standard has helped us to seriously measure, manage and reduce our CO2. This will be partly due to lowering, year on year, our car fleet CO2 levels as well as ensuring that our truck fleet meets the very latest Euro 6 compliances.
Do Electric Vehicles have a presence on the fleet and are you running any other carbon-cutting initiatives to fit in with EM Highways’ environmental ethos?
EM had a previous bad experience trying to operate a fleet of electric trucks and have been very cautious with entering into any electric vehicle agreements going forward. That said, and with advances in technology predominately from major manufacturers, EM are pleased to shortly be placing an order for a number of electric vans for use within our London contracts further endorsing our green credentials.
What challenges are presented by having to manage both vehicles and personnel at remote or geographically challenging sites?
A number of EM locations are very remote, however, as part of our contracts EM have access to some very up-to-date depots and facilities provided by our clients. This is further backed up by having a Service Level Agreement (SLA) with our fleet provider that has very stringent response times. Depots have undercover facilities that can be used for quite substantial repairs if required not forgetting that EM also have access to a fleet of gritters and ploughs to ensure a safe thoroughfare. Welfare of our staff is taken very seriously and to achieve this EM have a large number of welfare vans – many of which are Clarks conversions – within each contract for use at our transient sites and are fully utilised by our staff.
What fleet accreditations do EM Highways have and do you see such accreditations as an important benchmark in managing risk?
EM are proud to have achieved FORS gold and are serious in our support of TfL’s goal of safe operations and safety for cyclists. All of our vehicles from 3.5t and over are fitted with side scan cameras as well as side guards.
We are also members of the FTA and the CILT, two organisations that provide superb support in fleet best practice.
What kind of specialist vehicles do you have on the fleet?
We have a number of specialist vehicles on our fleet including:
• Traffic Management trucks
• Safety Fence repair vehicles – new development and build of non-air operated rigs to further demonstrate our safety credentials. Noise reduction with elimination of air operations also cleaner and less obtrusive.
• QCB Roadmender and gritter
• Gully Emptier
• 7.5t Tippers
What are the most rewarding aspects of your role?
Most rewarding part of my day is to see a zero accident report. I also get great pleasure in seeing a new and complicated vehicle finally delivered to the end user after many months of designing.
…and the most frustrating?
The least rewarding part of my role, ironically, is seeing accident reports coming in – especially if they are own-damage and avoidable. This just adds unnecessary costs to EM’s bottom line.
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