Privatized fleet operations save county money
When Harford County, Md., decided to hire a private contractor to run its fleet, it had one reason for doing so. “The sole reason was a dollars-to-dollars comparison,” says Warren Patrick, who now manages the fleet facility for Miami-based Ryder. “The county just wanted to lower the costs of maintaining its cars and trucks.”
Over the eight years of the contract, that has been accomplished. Since 1990, when the county privatized its fleet operations, the cost of maintenance per vehicle has dropped by nearly $400. At the same time, the number of pieces of equipment in Harford’s fleet, which includes everything from bulldozers to dump trucks to sheriff’s cars, has increased from 550 to 769.
Harford County Fleet Manager Larry Rawl attributes the cost reductions to training and preventive maintenance. “Before, our fleet maintenance was piecemeal,” he says. “We were actually just fixing things as they broke down. Our people weren’t trained in the new types of diagnostics. We were basically just lost in the woods on vehicle maintenance.”
Prior to privatization, Harford’s fleet maintenance was decentralized, with certain agencies using the central maintenance facility and others handling their own repairs. The creation of a central facility has eliminated inventory duplication and made maintenance much more time- and cost-effective.
Additionally, civil service employees, some with little training and little incentive to excel, previously performed the fleet maintenance. Now, employees are rewarded for certifications and performance, and poor employees are not kept.
Recycling programs also help the county save money. Waste oil, anti-freeze, lubricants, aluminum and office paper all are recycled, and tires are recapped or recycled. All those changes were made with an eye on the bottom line. The fact that the environmental aspects of the county’s fleet management system took a decided turn for the better was a pleasant side effect.
Harford County is unique in that it has no public water or sewer system. Its water comes from wells, and its sewers are all self-contained. That means the county must take special care to keep pollutants out of a system that has no treatment capacity. Consequently, in Harford County, the oil, detergents and lubricants that are natural by-products of car and truck maintenance must stay above ground. Any leaching into the soil or runoff as part of stormwater goes straight into the county’s supply of drinking water.
“Most mechanical garages by law have oil and water separators that discharge into the municipal treatment system,” Patrick says. “We don’t have that luxury. We either have to recycle, or we have to get the vendors to take the by-products out of here. We’ve got extra things to worry about here.”
Rawl now considers the environmental friendliness of the present fleet a source of pride, while admitting that it was not one of his initial priorities. He also calls Harford’s present fleet management program “one of the best in the state.”
“I was the fleet manager for Baltimore,” he says. “And we were constantly struggling with compliance issues and regulations. We were out there all by ourselves. We didn’t have any immense group of people on staff who were thoroughly knowledgeable about environmental issues.