August 18, 2009 By Elaine Rundle
When Washington, D.C., government employees need a vehicle from the city's fleet, they can now reserve one online and use a special card that unlocks and tracks the car. Besides making life easier for city workers, the DC Fleet Share program streamlined the district's fleet management, cut costs and increased utilization of the vehicles.
Participating agencies create an account, so their employees who choose to register receive a vehicle access card, which tracks who is using a particular car and which account should be charged. City vehicles are used in the program and were outfitted with a modem and card reader that are linked to the ignition and door locks.
Agencies forgo the cost of owning cars and instead only pay for the time in hourly increments their employees use the city's vehicles. The hourly fees incorporate the vehicle's purchase or lease cost, maintenance fees and fuel.
The district piloted DC Fleet Share in October 2008 with 29 vehicles located at four sites, and has since expanded it to 58 vehicles at eight sites. The city uses software from Zipcar -- a large car-sharing company based in Cambridge, Mass. -- to run the Fleet Share program, said Ralph Burns, vehicle control officer for the district's Fleet Management Administration.
Starting with the company's basic FastFleet platform -- a car-sharing program that utilizes a Web-based reservation system -- the district and Zipcar developed government-specific improvements, like changing the reporting functions.
Before the district enlisted FastFleet, the city motor pool was managed through a call-in system. If government employees needed to use a vehicle, they called the motor pool phone line, Burns said. Callers would tell an operator what time they needed a car and where they wanted to pick it up. They were issued passcodes to access a box that released the keys for the specific car the employee reserved.
The old system wasn't foolproof. Sometimes a key would be put in the wrong slot, so it wouldn't be released, Burns said. In other instances, the employees calling to reserve cars were directed into the voicemail system if no one was manning the motor pool's desk. Some city agencies also ran their own motor pools, in which someone who kept keys in a desk drawer would track cars by having employees sign vehicles in and out.
"We had been looking at many different ways to make the motor pool more accessible and easier to use. And we arrived at partnering with a technology leader, such as Zipcar, and finding that it had developed the technology, process and system that allows you to access your vehicles and really maximize the utilization rate of those vehicles over time," said Dan Tangherlini, city administrator for Washington, D.C.
Along with improving how often city vehicles are used, the city wanted to reduce the number of vehicles it owned. Burns said reaching those goals involved a one-two punch: He ran a program to identify vehicles that were underutilized, while simultaneously launching DC Fleet Share. "As we were taking vehicles away, we wanted to make sure the users had a place to go," Burns said.
When Burns was eliminating underused fleet vehicles, he was surprised to hear that the agencies thought they needed more cars. He also discovered that departments never shared vehicles if one needed an extra car for a day. "I think one of the benefits is now it's basically nobody's car, but it's everybody's car," Burns said. "One car is being used by three different employees in three different agencies during a day, so we're sharing these assets like we should be and the utilization has increased."
The city ultimately eliminated 360 vehicles from its fleet, bringing the total to approximately 1,200 (not including law enforcement vehicles, which aren't eligible for the program).