When the sharing economy first took off and then took hold, local governments initially focused on how to regulate the new, disruptive business models. Now, some are actually taking a page out of that innovation playbook to transform their own operations.
One of the most impactful new practices is mobility, a fleet-sharing strategy that can greatly improve efficiency by maximizing asset usage.


Mobility – The future of fleet

The idea behind mobility is moving assets and people to where they are needed most at any given time and in the most efficient way possible. With today’s advanced telematics, RFID and web-based management systems, fleets can operate on-demand by moving cars and trucks between departments and regions. Rather than assigning 50 cars to 50 staffers year-round and have them sit in their parking spaces, a large percentage of the time, for example, agencies can share between departments or even lease others for a month or longer if necessary for surges in activity. And, because fleet-sharing technology can be deployed on owned or leased vehicles, the inherent flexibility makes it possible to use this system for any size operation from ten vehicles to ten thousand.

There really is no limit to the scalability. The General Services Administration recently launched a short-term program to supplement federal government fleet needs, providing vehicles and even heavy-duty equipment for seasonal work, special events, capacity surges, and replacement for out-of-service vehicles. That same strategy is also being rolled out fleet-wide at the municipal and county level. California’s Nevada County, Washington State’s Yakima County, and Cook County in Illinois have all deployed county-wide, shared-fleet systems for employees on government business. 


How it works

Fleet-sharing uses a closed-circuit reservation system that manages vehicles designated for the program. A pre-approved driver logs into the system, views the schedule of available vehicles, makes a selection and blocks off the days and times needed. The parameters can be pre-set, so, for example, weekends may not be included, or only drivers with the necessary licensing can access heavy-duty equipment. Once scheduled, the driver walks up to the vehicle and unlocks it using an RFID reader that is compatible with an ID badge or access card. The keys are kept in the vehicle and may be stored in a lock box that is also opened using the RFID reader.

Vehicle usage is tracked using telematics so administrators can see where their assets are at any given time. The aggregated data from actual vehicle usage then becomes an invaluable resource that informs decisions impacting overall fleet efficiency including lifecycle management and rightsizing. When incorporated into a broader fleet management system, it can also help fleet operators stay on top of routine maintenance schedules and even gain insight into driver behaviors.


The benefits

Fleet sharing across cities and counties can reduce capital outlays and operating costs while also delivering the added benefit of decreasing carbon footprints. Instead of owning 30 cars, half of which sit unused 50 percent of the time, for example, an agency can pare down by sharing that pool and pulling in additional vehicles from other departments when needed. The overall expenses for those shared vehicles are then distributed across all the entities. In some cases, vehicles may have set rates that are captured as part of the scheduling process so departmental charges are based on specific vehicles’ exact time of use. Other organizations assign costs based on usage percentages. 

The ecological benefit of more efficient asset allocation is multifaceted. Hybrid vehicles can be budget-busters. While prices have come down, as a category, they are still more expensive than their less-green counterparts. Reducing the number of vehicles in a fleet can provide more room in the budget for hybrids and allow for populating the fleet in general with newer, more fuel-efficient models. There is also the added benefit of making the best use of less fuel-efficient and more expensive vehicles such as vans and SUVs. If, for example, a county has a seasonal fire-prone area, SUVs and trucks can be brought into the region for that time of year while sedans and compact vehicles are used for more routine government business elsewhere. 


Is fleet sharing the right fit?

One size does not fit all, and there are several key considerations when evaluating whether or not fleet sharing is the right option for your fleet. Managing one pool or even multiple pools of vehicles requires a certain level of centralization. It also requires the right fleet management partner. 

Whether implementing a shared system with owned vehicles or leased, the costs are mostly based on the number of vehicles in service, so it is important to work with a fleet management partner that understands this model, has different deployment options and is willing to work with you to find the right number and mix of vehicles. You may start with a base pool of vehicles, owned and/or leased, that can be supplemented with an on-demand system for times when usage may surge or special types of equipment are needed. 

There is a long list of questions to ask as you evaluate a potential fleet management partner, some of which are specific to supporting mobility. Is that partner set up to meet short-term needs if you need to supplement? How efficient is the vehicle delivery? It is also important to understand what the technology deployment time line looks like and is the system intuitive for both managers and drivers. Will your relationship be with a centralized organization, or handed off to regional offices? What about support services such as roadside assistance and fuel-card programs? And, what kind of customer service track record does that provider have? 

If you are looking to move to a mobility strategy, that fleet management partner should also have direct experience with government fleet sharing and be able to provide consulting expertise to help with rightsizing strategies. You don’t want to be beta testing a new offering. Ask for references so you can speak to peers that have first-hand experience with that company. 

 

Looking down the road

There is no doubt autonomous vehicles will play a role in the sharing economy and the impact on fleets could be significant. Legislation concerning self-driving cars has been moving through The U.S. Congress and even vehicle data collection is on regulators’ dockets. Everything from workspace sharing to telecommuting is changing workforce mobility, while sustainability concerns are also driving innovation at an unprecedented speed. Government entities at every level are changing with these times and, in the case of fleet sharing, even leading the way.  

 

Maria Neve is the government sales manager at Merchants Fleet Management.

 

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