The wheels on the bus...

Bob Freudenthal
APWA President

  Bob Freudenthal

If you stopped the "man on the street" and asked him who was responsible for keeping the trash trucks, fire trucks, street sweepers, police cars, ambulances, riding mowers, snowplows, and the many other utility vehicles that keep a city running, operating on all their cylinders and with the tires pumped up and wiper blades working, who would he answer?

A. The local automotive garage
B. The truck dealership in the next county
C. The heavy equipment manufacturer
D. The fleet services department of the local city or county

Only in our sweetest dreams could we imagine the general public recognizing that there is a well-trained, high-technology-equipped, and skilled group of employees within their own community whose sole concern is to keep the fleet moving and operating at peak capacity and efficiency.

Years ago, when our economy was much more agricultural or blue-collar oriented, most men considered themselves a pretty fair mechanic, able to keep their own vehicles running well and even "souping" them up to show their expertise. Government agencies didn't consider it necessary to have a special "fleet" department; just have Jim look at the vehicle, change the oil, tinker around under the hood, and keep it running. If he couldn't fix it, then send it down to the local garage and they'd take care of it. So what if it cost a few dollars? There were other things to do besides taking care of cars and trucks.

Slowly but surely, public agencies realized that there were tremendous benefits to having their own trained mechanics, parts people, and technicians onsite to keep the agency's vehicles operating at top performance levels while containing the costs and overhead. Finally we began to acknowledge that we no longer had a few cars and trucks, we actually had "rolling stock" and not just a few, but an entire "fleet." Once we got past taking jobs away from the local merchants and realized part of our responsibility as public servants is to provide the best service for the public dollars, we began to build our fleet services into the vital, necessary, and well-developed organizations they are now.

With the ever-changing complexity of vehicles, alternative fuels, federal and state regulations, and expanding variety of vehicles and rolling stock operated by public agencies, the role of public fleet managers—both men and women—continues to grow. Not only are the fleet managers responsible for seeing that the vehicles run properly, they are now responsible for running a big business. They are responsible for managing personnel, buying expensive equipment, fuel, tires, and other supplies, developing budgets, choosing vendors, negotiating prices, maintaining parts inventories and developing effective preventive maintenance programs for the vehicles they manage. They oversee other fleet management employees, from mechanics to washers to dispatchers and operations support staff. Because much of the job is administrative and managerial, fleet managers usually have strong business, marketing and logistical preparation for their work. They need knowledge of insurance, safety, finance, and accounting.

All that being said, I doubt that many elected officials or members of the general public, or even fellow city/county employees, realize the role of the fleet services department and manager. All that is about to change.

Later in this issue, you will find a detailed article about the soon-to-be-launched Certified Public Fleet Professional program APWA is introducing to offer credentialing for fleet professionals. This is APWA's first attempt at individual certification and we are eager to see it succeed. We encourage you to share this information with your own fleet department and others who operate public fleets such as school bus companies and transit authorities. We all understand the value a credential provides for our professional fleet managers who provide a needed service. This is our opportunity to provide a true benefit and service to our communities.

A special experience
Once each year, we offer the unique opportunity for public works professionals and others from the United States and Canada to join together to share experiences, information and knowledge. International visitors from a dozen or so other countries also regularly attend, so delegates have the opportunity to learn from them, and they from us.

This year, public works professionals and a variety of service providers will gather in Kansas City, Missouri, for the APWA International Public Works Congress and Exposition. From September 10 to 13, delegates can surround themselves with the best in practical thinking, experienced colleagues, and the latest, cutting-edge technology in public works.

The Best Show in Public Works is a unique collection of more than 150 educational sessions, a variety of speakers talking about "real life" public works situations, and more than 400 exhibitors displaying the latest in services and equipment. If you have never attended an APWA Congress, you are missing a special experience. Many members only know APWA through local chapter activities, but the Best Show in Public Works blends the best of both chapter and national. If you are planning to attend, and have not yet registered, do so today. Details are available at