Could you be leveraging digital tools to improve and optimize your fleet management? We recently sat down with Frederick Wertz, who worked from 2010–2015 as an operations manager and assistant director at Fordham University’s Department of University Transportation (DUT) in New York City.
Wertz managed a fleet of more than 50 vehicles and a staff of over 150 people, all dedicated to shuttling members of the university community around on on-demand requests. He owes the rapid growth of his department’s transportation services and ridership — which reached 250,000 passengers a year — to the adoption of several key digital tools. Read on to see how he leveraged cloud-based project management software and digital scheduling to streamline internal processes and increase worker efficiency.
Q: What were some of the problems and challenges you faced with Fordham’s transportation department?
Despite the fact that we were a department within a university, a lot of the challenges we faced were identical to what transportation businesses everywhere deal with: We had a tight budget, a staff of part-time workers and a fleet of vehicles to keep track of.
To improve my fleet management and overall transportation service operation, I needed to maximize the amount of work any given worker accomplished in each shift and I needed to organize and streamline vehicle maintenance to minimize the out-of-service time of our vehicles. To tackle these challenges, I adopted several digital tools to streamline our internal processes and increase the amount that any given staff member could accomplish in a single shift.
Q: Which tools did you use, and how did it change how you managed the fleet and drivers?
After evaluating several options, I ended up selecting Podio, a project management software for fleet management, and Google Calendar for worker scheduling. When I started working in the office in 2010, the staff was still using paper to keep track of important internal information, including incident reports, ridership data, schedules and maintenance logs. This made getting up to speed a slow process and historical analysis nearly impossible.
First, I instituted the cloud-based project management software Podio. Podio provided immediate improvement for keeping track of the vehicles in our fleet. We created one entity, or board, for each vehicle in our fleet, and kept all important information related to that vehicle attached to the corresponding board. License number and related paperwork files, VIN, mileage, maintenance history and more would all be stored in this way. Van updates, such as completion of fueling, could be made from a board or tablet, right from the gas station.
With relevant documents, maintenance history and current status easily displayed for each van, my staff could get up to speed on the state of the fleet quickly and make better decisions around van allocation. The sooner any staff member could catch up to what had been going on since they last worked, the quicker they were able to begin executing tasks that drove our organization forward.
Then, I moved our scheduling system from paper to Google Calendar. Each staffer had an account and would be able to check updates to their shifts from anywhere, including their phone. It made it easy to manage demands, increases in service and ad hoc transportation requests with available staff, all while remaining in compliance with shift limitations for student workers. We were able to optimize the staff we had without increasing headcount unnecessarily, and the staff was more satisfied with scheduling done this way.
Q: How difficult is it to get up and running with tools like these?
Podio is an easy-to-use application that can be accessed through an internet browser. It’s very easy to use and presents data in a clear digital dashboard in order to help you organize all the “stuff” your business needs to keep track of. It’s also a free tool, which made approval from management a breeze.
Google Calendar is widely used and already had a great deal of familiarity amongst the staff. Each staffer simply needed to be invited to our shift schedule Google Calendar, and then be briefed on how to request schedule changes and view their upcoming schedule.
To move the staff to these systems I held two training sessions for current staff and built onboarding sessions into our new-hire training program. After explaining how each of these digital tools would make life easier for the staff, I secured their buy-in to try the new systems. To work through the initial set-up of inputting vehicle data into Podio, I provided pizza and had workers enter the information in shifts. Overall, it only took about two weeks to fully move our operations to these two digital systems.
Q: How did your project management solution impact your transportation department’s bottom line? What were some of the specific benefits it led to?
One of the main benefits was that Podio significantly reduced our vehicle costs by optimizing maintenance. I set up alerts that would tell our staff when a van was due for preventative maintenance, which helped avoid major car breakdowns or damaging wear and tear. I could easily review the fleet’s maintenance history to spot recurring problems and flag the van for decommissioning evaluation. Whether you operate two, five or 15 cars, project management software can help you reduce vehicle maintenance costs.
Communication and coordination were greatly improved as well. Our staff used the comment feature for each vehicle board to include a summary of everything that happened throughout each workday. Our maintenance coordinators could arrive and be caught up in a matter of minutes, and proceed to move things along right away. The status entry allowed staff to immediately pick up where another staff left off. For example, vans in need of fueling would be fueled and then returned to active status, ready to be scheduled for trips immediately.
The biggest impacts were time saved and efficiency improved. With all fleet information readily available and organized, the staff spent more of their work time focusing on the tasks that drove revenue, like selling tickets, improving routes and running the shuttles on time.