Arriva Transport Solutions (ATSL) is a specialist transport business within the Arriva Group which helps public sector organisations provide excellent transport services more effectively and deliver better value for money.
With decades of unrivalled transport and logistical experience and more than 30 years’ clinical expertise through its established Ambuline operations, Arriva Transport Solutions shares the same priorities as its clients: Efficiency, reliability, value-for-money and customer service. Here, Steve Law, Head of Fleet and Estates at ATSL, talks about the fleet operation…
Describe your role and responsibilities as Head of Fleet and Estates at ATSL?
I am responsible for ensuring that the strategic side of the business, in terms of fleet and estates, matches the company’s business needs and capabilities so that contractual agreements can be met and maintained.
It is essential that the day-to-day operational use of our vehicles is maximized and that down time can be kept to a minimum. I make sure that we use the right suppliers in the right areas to meet demands at times to suite ATSL’s business needs.
It is important, with both fleet and estates management, that all areas remain compliant and fit for purpose from a Care Quality Commission (CQC) and Health & Safety perspective.
What sort of duties does the fleet have to be ready for?
Offering specialist transport solutions across the health and social care sectors means that vehicles have to be ready for anything and everything. The level of detail is very precise and all vehicles need to be equipped properly.
Vehicles also need to be maintained correctly, tyre management needs to be correct and adhered to, day-to-day running repairs and glass repairs need to be addressed quickly so there is minimum down-time.
Obviously, a high standard needs to be maintained and we adhere to all DVSA regulations along with the added CQC compliance requirements. Across all contracts no vehicles are in operation over seven years old.
We also have a clinical responsibility with the specialist equipment we carry on the ambulances and we ensure this is all maintained to the highest standards for example; wheelchairs, ramps, defibrillators etc.
Of course, all our third party suppliers also need to be ready to support these standards.
What are the main issues and challenges facing your fleet operation?
Both planned and unplanned vehicle off road (VOR) time can disrupt any operation so keeping this to a minimum is key. We don’t have our own engineering workshops and need our suppliers to be reliable and have an understanding of our needs. Approximately 60% of the fleet are Peugeots and we have a contract with them to maintain and service the vehicles too via their dealer network.
We also have good relationships with independent garages who can do everything in their power to meet our requirements.
We work closely with Hitachi Capital who are on hand if any issues arise with our leased vehicles. They keep down-time to a minimum and understand our need to keep vehicles on the road or provide replacement vehicles.
On the whole, we manage to keep any vehicles off the road at one time down to about 4% which is a good result and shows that our partners understand our needs.
We are sometimes faced with difficult geographic challenges when it comes to collecting patients. Adverse weather conditions too, such as flooding or heavy snow, can cause issues. These challenges have to be overcome in the safest way possible for both drivers and patients. We would rather call out other help, such as rescue services, than put anyone at risk.
How much does technology affect your role and what initiatives have you rolled out recently – or plan to roll out – utilising new technology?
We rely heavily on technology in order to run an efficient service. For example, we use a telematics system from Masternaut to track all our vehicles. The system helps us plan the most efficient routes, monitor driver behaviour and performance too.
Using the Masternaut Connect platform, we have recently upgraded our capabilities to monitor driver behaviour using Masternaut’s ecoDrive module. The use of an in-cab light bar has been alerting drivers to events that indicate poor driving, giving them immediate feedback to improve vehicle handling and safety. Through this we can also consider if any drivers need additional training.
Our managers have been able to educate drivers on the negative impact of idling on the fleet estate, which has since dropped by 70%. Combined with reducing harsh driving events, this has led to a reduction in fuel costs for the business of approximately 1.5%.
We are also excited to shortly be rolling out a fuel saving system from Zeta Automotive called EconoSpeed. EconoSpeed automatically adjusts acceleration for optimum engine performance. By limiting acceleration to simulate that of a fully laden or part laden vehicle, EconoSpeed removes the ability of the driver to waste fuel with excessive acceleration demand.
During our trial of this product we saw fuel reduction savings of between 6 and 10%, which is a phenomenal result. Another plus point for this technology is that it can be transferred to another vehicle when one is decommissioned. It can also be activated remotely and has anti-hijacking software built in. We intend to roll this system out on 200 vehicles this year with a further 200 next year.
What type of vehicles make up the fleet?
We run a number of difference types of vehicles on the fleet with Peugeot Boxers and Renault Masters making up the majority of conversions to ambulances. We also use Peugeot Partners as WAVs that have proved to be highly versatile. In August 2014 we also took delivery of a number of Peugeot Partner Tepees – these are a mid-range-type WAV with car-like capability but will still fit a wheelchair in the back.
When purchasing new vehicles or planning a conversion we like to include both patient and driver feedback so we can meet everyone’s needs. We can then create a model for a conversion. Working with specialist converters O&H means that we can also draw on their expertise too – their experience in this market gives them thorough understanding of the demands facing PTS vehicles.
Finally, we lease Renault Scenic ambulance cars (approx. 15% of the fleet) through Hitachi Capital. These provide a higher driving position for good visibility but have a low floor for easy patient access.
Do Electric Vehicles have a presence on the ATSL fleet and are you running any other carbon-cutting initiatives to fit in with the company’s environmental ethos?
We do have a number of hybrid vehicles on the fleet. For example, we use some Toyota Prius vehicles as ambulance cars in the West Midlands. A number of managers also run hybrid cars by choice. However, generally we run vehicles that do hundreds of miles every day and the infrastructure and range for
EVs needs to improve in many parts of the country before we could seriously commit to trialling any.
What happens to vehicles when they come off fleet?
Since taking on my role in 2013 we have only taken 20 or so off fleet. Some of those have been donated to charity and some have gone on to different uses within ATSL. We are also working on an exciting project to have old ambulances converted to ‘fit for life’ vehicles – an ATSL project that provides health checks for our staff around the country. Any other vehicles will go to auction, while all equipment is redistributed or saved as back-up.
Does ATSL have any fleet accreditations?
Currently ATSL does not have any fleet accreditations such as FORS or Van Excellence, however this is certainly something we would look at achieving in the future. It might also help with future contracts.
Does ATSL run any driver training initiatives?
Driver training is done in-house. The team travels around the country, training and assessing employees. They can also address issues flagged up by the telematics system when employees have been referred back by their managers. Finally, if any drivers are involved in an accident they are automatically assessed too.
What is the most rewarding element of your role?
It is always great to drive down the road and see one of our vehicles in operation – being well driven and looking good.
…and what is the most frustrating?
The time spent on sorting out fines from parking and bus lanes is ridiculous – the whole process is long winded and certain elements are still unregulated making it a very difficult process to manage.