There is a watching brief over the two main contractors operating from the depot Balfour Beatty who manage our Highways and Amey who take care of our refuse, recycling and street cleaning. While there is no direct input into the day to day operation of these fleets, they do carry the Solihull livery so occasionally there is a need to raise issues more akin to public perception of Solihull Council rather than specific vehicle issues. These amount to around an additional 40 vehicles.
Q: What are the main issues you face in your day-to-day role as Transport & Depot Manager at SMBC?
A: My role is split in two; depot manager and the SMBC transport manager, so each role brings its own challenges.
From a depot perspective we have been targeted to reduce the depot’s energy consumption by 10% this year, so a lot of work is taking place around fitting passive infra red sensors in areas that have a large concentration of artificial light and we are currently replacing old energy burning exterior lights with new lower wattage LED fittings. The issue now is ensuring that any potential savings are not swallowed up in the cost of new fittings.
Issues within the council’s transport operation are the same as with any company, making best use of resources to meet customer demands while reducing fuel expenditure.
Q: The rising cost of fuel is a major concern for fleet operators, what are you doing to combat this?
A: We looked at two approaches; firstly what can we do to reduce the amount we actually spend on fuel at the pump. We spoke to our fuel card provider and found that a local government fuel price structure was now available to us.
The savings since June have been quite substantial compared to previous discounts received.
Secondly we looked at a vehicle tracking system, we were in the process of retendering the vehicle fleet and as part of that we bolted on a vehicle tracker to each new vehicle as it arrived.
This is where our greatest fuel savings have come from; we have tackled speeding, idling time and non essential journeys, all of which have had an impact on our fuel usage.
Comparing the five weeks pre tracking to the five weeks following we have reduced our fuel usage by an average of 371lts a week.
While not earth shattering it does equate to around £500 a week and over 20k in a year.
Added to the forecasted 8k in reduced fuel price at the pump we are in a position to pay for the whole fleets tracking requirements in the first year of its 5year life (with change) and the remaining 4 years being a 100% return on investment.
Q: What other issues and challenges are currently facing your council fleet?
A: More around our drivers that the actual vehicles, we are working on our driver CPCs and I guess, as with all councils, winter is our next biggest challenge. The salt barn is fully restocked and the ploughs and gritters are being prepared for any eventuality.
Q: Is it possible to reduce costs and still run an efficient fleet?
A: Yes absolutely, the cost of purchasing fuel has no bearing on the day-to-day efficiency of the operation, although getting cheaper fuel is an easy win.
Trackers encourage drivers to stay on route, reduce speed and turn of idling engines, again all easy wins that should have no impact on the day to day efficiencies of the operation.
In addition they give departments the ability to immediately locate a vehicle and redeploy as necessary without best guessing or making numerous phone calls to establish precise locations.
Q: Do electric vehicles have a presence on the SMBC fleet?
A: Yes, we tested a few fully electric vehicles and have one fully electric vehicle based out of our property services department and this is used to deploy surveyors only around the borough.
We also have a new Toyota Prius based in one department. We opted for a hybrid as the car does quite a bit of distance out of our area. It still deploys around the borough for days at a time so the hybrid was chosen to fill the dual role.
Early feedback is very positive, if more cars are needed this may be the route we would explore further, however in saying that the fully electric market is gaining ground and with more charging posts popping up around the West Midlands and the country in general its not an area we have excluded.
Q: Are you running any carbon-cutting initiatives?
A: This is where the two heads comes in to play again.
From a depot perspective we are working on low energy LED light fittings and where these are not possible we have fitted conversion kits to standard fluorescent tubes, passive infra red detectors in large artificially lit areas and monitoring our gas usage through the Stark Automatic Metering monitoring tool.
From a transport angle tracking and the reduced fuel usage plays its part in reducing emissions and taking that a step further we have had all our new vehicles limited to 62mph. Retro fitting is now under way on council-owned vehicles.
How much does technology affect your role and what initiatives have you rolled out recently – or plan to roll out – utilising new technology?
Obviously the trackers were trialled and then fully deployed and that has made all the difference so far.
The use of a portal from our lease vehicle provider allows us to use their tool to plan around servicing and MOTs.
In conjunction with Jamma, we have introduced automated licence checking for core drivers with an aim to roll out council wide in the future. This once-a-year check removes the onus from line managers to interpret licence details at regular 1-to-1 appraisals.
From a depot perspective the use of a tool called Stark, which monitors daily gas and electric use, has highlighted some areas were a simple 30 minute tweak here and there has generated savings.
We also have a CHP unit that through its use as a central heating tool also generates electricity as a by product and this is fed straight into the site.
Technology has actually made it easier, or at least quicker, to obtain results through live monitoring.
Q: How do you make decisions about which vehicles and equipment you source for your fleet?
A: Once we establish a need for a vehicle and draw up a wish list we engage Sector Treasury Services. They take the wish list and turn it in to a tender document. Then, using already established frameworks, they recommend the best vehicle for the job, they weigh up current costs, return conditions and early termination clauses.
So far it’s been pretty seamless.
Q: What is the most rewarding element of your role?
A: Oh I hate that question… I guess that knowing that without impacting on services or current customer expectations that by quietly working behind the scenes you can make it that the departments have more money to spend without cutting any thing from their resources pool. It’s a case of them just having more to spend on the front line and less spent on getting there.
Q: …and what is the most frustrating?
A: Having come from the private sector prior to this role the frustrating part (that I am getting used to) is the additional procedures and reporting processes that you have to go through.
I’m getting round to accepting that it’s public money so we have to be super cautious where and how we spend it but it’s a culture change I’m still working on.
Q: Do you think there is a place for shared services within the public sector?
A: Yes, I think there is a place for shared services. Presently Solihull MBC has shared services within two departments, one of which is an element of the transport operation and there is a team in place to continuously look at expanding that with our immediate neighbours.
On a lighter note…
Q: If money were no object, what would be your ideal car?
A: I guess the knee jerk answer is a super car of some sort...But around Birmingham I occasionally see a fully restored Ford Capri Laser in white, that car always make me smile (but I’d still like to park it in the garage next to a Bugatti Veyron!)
If you were stuck in traffic, who would be your ideal passenger?
The Minister of Transport at the time...We’d talk caravans, tolls, continental truck drivers, accidents, speeding...did I mention caravans?
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