Monday, October 28, 2013 by Michael Kanin

Fleet Services says it needs more staff, bays to service vehicles

The head of the city’s Fleet Services Department told members on the Council Audit and Finance Committee last week that his department has numerous unmet needs, noting that department is short 60-80 repair bays for the city’s vehicles, including nearly 2,000 public safety vehicles.


“We have about 87 bays right now,” Gerry Calk told Council members. “Based on national standards…we need about 160.”


Calk said the city needs a new consolidated fleet services center, which could cost between $35 and $40 million. He noted that the upgrades had been an unmet need for some time.


Council Member Bill Spelman noted the obvious. “I understand why that is still an unmet need,” Spelman said.


In addition to the bays, Calk cited a 10 percent vacancy rate for technicians in his department. “One of the significant factors in all of this has been staffing problems,” Calk offered. “For the last year or so, we’ve had a 10 percent (vacancy rate) in our technicians. The technician skill-set has been identified in a number of national publications and industry publications as the second or third most difficult skill set in the country to hire behind registered nurse and commissioned sales person.”


The fleet department was one of those singled out as part of a budget-time debate over potential savings missed in vacancy reductions.


That news came as City Auditor Ken Mory unveiled an audit critical of fleet’s ability to keep up with repairs to vehicles belonging to the city’s various public safety services. “It has not fully implemented key elements related to quality and timeliness of repairs” for the city’s public safety vehicles, notes the audit. That situation, according to Mory “may impact Fleet’s ability to consistently provide quality and timely repair services to the City’s public safety departments.”


The audit includes city fleet statistics as compared to best practice figures. On average, according to the audit, Austin/Travis County Emergency Medical Service, Austin Fire Department, and Austin Police Department vehicles are available 91 percent of the time and face an average of 9 percent downtime. Best practices suggest those figures should be 95 percent and 5 percent, respectively.


Public safety preventative maintenance stats are worse. On average, timeliness of preventative maintenance is at 78 percent for those vehicles. Best practices put that figure at 95 percent.


Those numbers may be an illustration of what Mory’s office suggests is a problem with breakdown frequency. “While we could not identify specific breakdown targets, we observed that frequent breakdowns appear to be a problem for EMS and AFD,” according to the audit. “We estimated that out of the 389 EMS and AFD vehicles that were taken to the Fleet service centers for repairs related issues during our scope period, approximately 25 percent (or 97 of 389) vehicles were taken at least 31 times and up to 76 times each.”


The audit also notes: “Per best practices, along with downtime, breakdown is one of the factors that reflects the overall management of the maintenance operation and the quality of repair work done. A high level of breakdowns may be a symptom of maintenance problems. Based on our review, Fleet is not consistently performing preventative maintenance on public safety vehicles in accordance with established schedules.”


The auditor’s report observes a potential connection between “pressure to minimize the time a public safety vehicle is unavailable for service” and the fact that “less importance may be given to other activities such as qualitative reviews that identify areas that need improvement.”


“The main focus of (Fleet),” continues the audit, “is on ‘getting vehicles back on the road.’” The audit cites interviews with Fleet management and staff as the source of that information.


In a written response to the audit, Calk suggests that a quality assurance program implemented in January may not have yet had enough time to take effect.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council Audit and Finance Committee: a sub-group of the Austin City Council. It's members are charged with oversight of city fiscal operations and anything that falls under the purview of the Office of the City Auditor.

Austin Fire Department: firefighters who serve residents inside Austin city limits.

Austin Police Department: the law enforcement entity for the City of Austin.

Austin/Travis County EMS: The Emergency Medical Service for Austin and Travis County. Co-managed by the City of Austin and Travis county.

Office of the City Auditor: This city department is created by the city's charter in order to establish and ensure "accountability transparency, and a culture of continuous improvement in city operations."

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