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Credit: Photo: Montgomery County

Mark Ricketts with Montgomery County's Division of Fleet Management Services decreased his fleet's fuel consumption by 2 million gallons between 2002 and last year.

In these days of high fuel costs, it's important to know how well your fleet is doing with respect to fuel mileage and use. A good fuel management system can help you do that. You can identify vehicles that are not getting good fuel mileage, and you can use the mileage information to schedule preventive maintenance.

Officials in Montgomery County, Md., credit improved technology, restructured bus routes, and fewer snow events with helping to slash fuel usage in recent years. The county's fuel use dropped from 7.5 million gallons in 2002 to just 5.4 million gallons last year, counting compressed natural gas, diesel fuel, unleaded gasoline, and E-85, or ethanol. “That's a significant drop,” said Mark Ricketts, program manager II with the county's Division of Fleet Management Services (FMS).

To monitor fuel use, FMS purchased an automated system from Rapac Network International, Hackensack, N.J. By tapping into the Rapac database, Ricketts can obtain miles-per-gallon information, transactional fuel volume by site or pumping hose, and volume by fuel product pumped.

What's more, FMS, which operates 14 automated fueling sites, uses the fuel system to reconcile fuel pumped to fuel purchased. “We came up with less than 1% difference between the fuel we pump and fuel we bought,” said Ricketts. “The industry's acceptable average is 2%.”

With the Rapac system, each vehicle has a programmable Vehicle Unit Interface (VUI) that is a ring around the fuel filler neck of the vehicle. When the dispenser nozzle is inserted into the filler neck, the VUI transmits—to a corresponding ring on the nozzle—the vehicle identification number, its mileage or hours reading, and the type of fuel the vehicle requires.

In turn that information is transmitted instantly to a site controller, which merges that string of vehicle information with the site location, the hose being used, and the volume of fuel being pumped. “That information is stored at the station controller until we poll it,” said Ricketts. “When it's polled, it goes into a Rapac database. Then we can export that information to our FASTER database—our vehicular management database.”

And once the information is in FASTER, Montgomery County can use that fleet management software to generate fuel billing to various county agencies and outside agencies. That's not all. “Fuel is part of your cost per mile, and you need cost per mile to develop a replacement cost system,” said Ricketts. Plus, the county uses the fuel system's mileage information to schedule preventive maintenance on vehicles.

Automated mileage entry is more accurate than manual entry, which is used in credit card systems. “You can't guarantee that operators will put the correct mileage into the system,” said Ricketts. And automated card systems often control the amount of fuel pumped based upon mileage. So if an operator puts in the wrong mileage, he could be denied fuel with a card system.

Ricketts said the Rapac system “is working well for me.” It runs 24/7, unattended, he said. It takes only two people to manage the fuel for nearly 4000 vehicles and pieces of equipment. And in just an hour, the system runs a report verifying proper operation of each hose at the 14 sites.

In Omaha, Neb., city employees pump fuel using a two-key system from Gasboy International. One key matches the vehicle and the other matches the employee. The operator manually enters vehicle mileage. “We do a daily download of information,” said Dave North, equipment service manager for the city's Fleet Management Department.

The daily download tells what time people get fuel, what vehicle was fueled, what person pumped the fuel, the fuel product, and what site it came from. Some of the information is manually typed into the city's regular computer system for analysis.

North is hopeful that the city can soon update the system. “We're looking at a regular fleet maintenance program that is compatible with Oracle Financial Systems,” said North. “The city switched to Oracle a couple of years ago. But for tracking fuel, we've been pretty happy with our Gasboy system.”

Daniel C. Brown is a freelance writer in Des Plaines, Ill.