Forming a fleet maintenance department
Centralized fleet maintenance is fairly new here in Boston,” said David Higgins, director of fleet maintenance for the city's Central Fleet Maintenance (CFM) division of the Department of Public Works.
In the late 1990s, city administrators made the decision to consolidate the fleet maintenance function from several departments into one, and in 1997 hired Higgins away from a fleet position in Concord, N.H., to head CFM. “Yours truly was appointed chief cook and bottle washer,” said Higgins. “We are the dealer of vehicles and trucks to the city, but we don't handle fire and police equipment.
“From 1997 to today we have achieved a number of milestones,” he said. “For one, we have gone to a totally computerized system, called Fleet Focus by Maximus, that tracks everything from repair orders to parts and does labor statistics.”
One of Higgins' first major tasks was to negotiate “impact bargaining,” or changes in job descriptions, with the labor unions involved. “I tried to instill in them that it would be us working together, not them working for me,” said Higgins.
The impact bargaining phase took nine months. “I would go down and talk to the guys in the shop myself,” said Higgins. “Being an old wrench-turner myself, I found that was more productive than just sending out computer print-outs.”
A big was to get people accustomed to providing service to other departments. “Some highly capable people had only been responsible for their own departments,” said Higgins. ‘When I communicated to them that they're a service entity, they'd look at me like I'd fallen off another planet.”
Prior to the consolidation, there was no electronic tracking of equipment. “It was done on an individual basis, by each department,” said Higgins.
Higgins had met the founder of a company called Prototype, which wrote a vehicle maintenance information system called EMS. That led to the software called Fleet Focus, which Higgins uses today. “I liked it,” he said. “It was one of the few types of that software that had excellent customer support.”
Equipment replacement was another problem—and Higgins has solved it. “When I took charge in 1997, the aging fleet needed to be upgraded,” said Higgins. Prior to Higgins' appointment, the city had been seeking to upgrade trucks with a “glider kit” program. With that, all truck components are replaced except the driveline. The truck gets a new body, cab, electrical system, and frame rails.
The program had some concerns. “We gradually weaned the city off that program because we experienced some problems with trucks that had glider kits,” said Higgins. For one thing, the cost of a glider kit approached the cost of a new truck. For another, the state considered glider kit trucks as new, and would have required the older engines to meet the emission standards for the year of the glider kit. That would have driven the cost to untenable levels, according to Higgins.