Thames Water is the UK’s largest water and wastewater services company. For the past five years the company’s 2,000-strong fleet, headed up by Michelle Nasr, plays an important part in the smooth running and efficiency of the overall operation. Part of the transport team’s responsibility is also to raise awareness of the environmental and financial impacts of driving, and to encourage use of more sustainable transport. Here Michelle talks to Utility Fleet Magazine.
Describe your role Group Fleet & Transport Manager Services Manager at Thames Water?
My role covers all aspects of fleet management - from procurement through to disposal of vehicles; from dealing with fixed penalties to heading up the vehicle replacement programme.
There are also six other fleet team members that all play a part in the smooth running of the operation as a whole.
What type of vehicles do you run on the Thames Water fleet and why?
Cars are allocated to those people who have a job need and meet a certain criteria. In terms of the
commercial vehicle operation we have a solus arrangement with Ford to provide the vehicles, which works well for us.
Ford can meet our requirements by providing a good range of options that suit our needs. We purchase the vehicles rather than leasing them.
We also have an interesting range of HGVs including water tankers, flushers and flat beds that are all owned by the company.
Fleet maintenance is outsourced to BT Fleet who provide expert assistance when it comes to our commercial and utility vehicles ensuring down-time is kept to a minimum.
How does the fleet department go about making decisions on specialist vehicles required for the fleet?
We always take time to get our specialist vehicle spec right. We sit down with the end-user to establish the exact requirements and develop an understanding of what the vehicle needs to be able to do. Then we come together with the manufacturer and the converter to determine the best vehicle platform and how to get the best result.
What happens to vehicles when they come off fleet?
We usually keep cars for 4 years, vans for 4-7 years and HGVs for 7-10 years to get maximum value for money from a vehicle. Most vehicles are auctioned when they come off fleet although employees do have an option to buy their cars. Occasionally specialist companies purchase some vehicles.
How much does technology affect your role and what initiatives have you rolled out recently – or plan to roll out – utilising new technology?
We have telematics fitted to all our vehicles and this is something that we are looking at currently as it is out to tender. We can get so much from using telematics. A lot of work has been done on driver behavior through telematics and we operate a points system to support us in improving driver behaviour. We can monitor vehicle utilisation through telematics and if fuel is being wasted through poor route planning or idling, for example.
We have also remapped a lot of ECUs (Engine Control Units) in order to deliver more fuel efficiency. An ECU is effectively a small computer that controls how the engine works. A vehicle remap replaces default software on the ECU, overwriting it with new software which can be programmed to optimize a vehicle’s overall performance – if the driver modifies their driving style to make the most of the increased power and torque throughout the rev range then fuel economy is increased too.
We will continue to remap and use telematics and will also be ensuring that effective route planning is in place.
We are currently considering fitting all liveried vehicles with forward facing cameras to support any claims that come through – having these immediately proves certain incidents to be true or not.
Additionally, we have reversing cameras and sensors on all our vans – another way of cutting down on incident rates. Our HGVs also have side sensors too – this is in keeping with our commitment to cyclist safety. Side sensors alert drivers of nearby cyclists and alert cyclists when vehicles are turning left to avoid accidents.
What other issues and challenges are currently facing your fleet operation?
It is always a challenge to keep up with how the operation as a whole is changing and, as a department, we need to review the fleet around those operational needs to make sure everything is fully utilised and that everything is fit for purpose.
Currently the fleet is currently growing, following changes to our organization design and is essential that we work closely with the business to ensure ongoing operational efficiency.
Road risk and accident rates are an ongoing challenge to our drivers and fleet – we are constantly working to improve safety and raise awareness. For example, In recent weeks we have been providing fun training for drivers with two inflatable vehicles. This is a great way to get across the message of road safety to members of staff.
On an ongoing basis we have a points system in place that allows managers to keep open discussions with drivers about the standard of their driving. This regular contact ensures daily vehicle checks are being completed too.
Does Thames Water run any driver training initiatives?
Currently everyone is invited to do a risk assessment and, depending on how they respond, further e-learning is available for them to undertake. We are, however,
looking to improve training before they go out on the road.
Do Electric Vehicles have a presence on the fleet and are you running any other carbon-cutting initiatives to fit in with Thames Water’s environmental ethos?
We currently operate 10 electric utility vehicles on site that offer a good solution for us.
We have looked at a few options regarding the adoption of electric vehicles to use to travel between sites – and have trialled the use of two EVs in the past – but ultimately decided that this is not the right option for us at this time.
Managing vehicle emissions is very important to us however, with business mileage of over 20 million miles, we need to closely manage the use of our vehicles to reduce environmental impacts, not to mention financial costs.
Part of our role within the fleet department is to raise awareness of these issues and encourage the use of more sustainable transport. Our sustainable transport strategy includes advice and solutions for staff and we also offer staff interest-free, season ticket loans to encourage them to use more sustainable forms of transport when travelling to work.
Does Thames Water have any fleet accreditations and do you see accreditations as an important
benchmark in managing risk?
We have had the Van Excellent accreditation for the past two years now which ensures the fleet operates to a high standard. We are actually due to be reassessed any time now.
What are the most rewarding aspects of your role?
It is very rewarding to be involved in a role that offers huge variety. Every day is different because I deal with all aspects of fleet management. It is also great to receive good feedback. Last year I was involved in a working group to review the fit-out of vehicles – a contract that went to Bri-Stor Systems following a tender process – and got super feedback.
…and the most frustrating?
It can be frustrating how underestimated the role is generally. The fleet management role is constantly evolving and fleet managers need to keep right up-to-date.