City of Greeley brings vehicle maintenance in-house

Judy Workman
Fleet Manager
City of Greeley, Colorado
Member, APWA Fleet Services Committee

The City of Greeley, Colorado, population 75,000 is an agricultural and industrial community located 50 miles north of Denver. The Equipment Maintenance Division is under the jurisdiction of the Department of Public Works and has an annual operating budget of $1,654,000. The fleet is divided into two areas: Transit fleet for bus operations and the Central fleet for the City vehicles. The Transit fleet has approximately 29 units which fall under the Federal Transportation Administration (FTA) jurisdiction and requirements. The Central fleet has approximately 485 City units in addition to handling licensing and emissions for the Fire Department.

Transit units are a challenge to keep clean and ready to go on daily routes from 6:00 a.m. to usually 9:45 p.m. In addition, the models vary and ages range from 1982 buses with over 500,000 city miles to the 2002 model bus with the latest updates. The Transit vehicles account for approximately 40 percent of the Equipment Maintenance budget. In January 1994, after being under a contractor service for four years, the Citizen Budget Advisory Committee accepted Equipment Maintenance's proposal to provide transit vehicle maintenance using in-house staff. Funding criteria requires that maintenance of Transit vehicles be billed separately from maintenance of City vehicles.

Gary Taylor, Transit Manager, strongly supported bringing maintenance of vehicles in-house. "Our maintenance and repair service has improved considerably and both the drivers and the mechanics now work together to solve problems and find ways to make the buses more reliable and comfortable for the riders," Taylor said.

The changes were immediately evident when services were brought in-house. The City maintenance staff set work hours (5:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.) for operations. Staff handle quick fixes when the buses pull out in the morning. Major repairs are accomplished during the day, but most of the maintenance is completed in the evening when the vehicles are not in service. Vehicle availability has improved and the number of open work orders has decreased substantially.

Equipment Maintenance staff are careful to avoid unnecessary costs. As vehicles were replaced, there were generally no buyers for the older buses. Staff found ways to use the parts to contain repair costs for other older units that were due for replacement. Parts costs decreased by more than $50,000 per year. The effort to contain costs continues as the mechanics track warranties carefully and stay current with recalls and a preventive maintenance program.

Brad Bauer, Route Supervisor, has the responsibility of coordinating the transit service and vehicle repair. Bauer gives the mechanics a lot of credit and states, "They know the buses and do a good job."

The task of bringing the remaining City vehicles back in-house was a monumental undertaking since the City of Greeley maintenance operation had been shut down from October 1990 to December 31, 1998. The City Council was given a presentation on what could be done by in-house services which included time adjustments to fit user needs, closer warranty tracking, changes in preventive maintenance to increase departmental productivity, cost savings, and pride in ownership of the services which was evident in the Transit history of operation.

The City Council approved the proposed in-house operation on October 9, 1998, and the real work began. A previously formulated time line was implemented to get the shops up and running by January 1, 1999. The following items were then accomplished with the help and cooperation of many City Departments:

  • Hiring of three Mechanics, two Shop Foremen, and one Computer/Parts Specialist.

  • Human Resources advertised job openings and interviews were set up with the user departments involved in the hiring process. The interview panel was made up of a cross-section of users to ensure that questions on various types of equipment repair were addressed. The Shop Foremen were chosen first to allow them the opportunity to interview the personnel they would be responsible for managing.

  • The Computer/Parts Specialist was brought on immediately to train and help with installation and loading of information into the computer system with a goal of running by January 1, 1999. An experienced person was placed in this position because it was key to the success of the information system necessary for operations. The parts room setup was overseen by this person.

  • Training and necessary testings were scheduled for new personnel, and Human Resources scheduled the physicals.

  • Training on the new fleet tracking software system was scheduled and installation was coordinated to avoid extra costs in training.

  • Finance, MIS and Purchasing were instrumental in getting the shop equipment ordered, and computer and phone installations completed prior to January. Bids for various equipment and supplies were sent out as needed.

  • Vendor contacts were made to supply parts on an as-needed basis to hold shop inventory to a minimum.

  • Portions of Street Maintenance and Traffic Divisions were relocated to open the six bays necessary for the shop operations for Equipment Maintenance. They were instrumental with cleanup, repainting of walls, and preparation of shop floors. Arrangements were made with the local school district to use space they had available for storage of equipment.

  • Building Maintenance rewired the shop for the necessary voltage to run equipment, and helped clean and ordered tile and carpet work for the administrative offices.

  • Meetings were held with staff to revamp task codes and shop time tracking to ensure everyone was handling tasks the same. The review of codes is an ongoing process to ensure costs are being reported properly for end of year and monthly billing to users. Review of maintenance intervals can reduce costs.

  • Equipment Board meetings made up of department/division representatives are held monthly during the startup process, and suggestions were solicited from them to help accommodate their time schedules and equipment needs. Surveys were conducted prior to startup to identify the critical needs of departments.

  • Policies and procedures were developed for filling out work orders and scheduling vehicles for repair work or preventive maintenance.

  • Shifts were determined and the staff reviews the time and work flow to make sure the shop is meeting the customer needs. Shop hours were designed to reduce downtime for customers and provide emergency on-call service available 24 hours. An overlap in shift change has been implemented to give time to the mechanics to share daily progress and status of work or have shop weekly update meetings, training, safety topics, etc. for all staff.

  • Warranty, vandalism, accident, and financial reports have been developed to help contain costs and give necessary information to departments to help justify replacement needs. Although we do not have a history of all the vehicles on the computer system, a paper file can be referenced.

  • The Fleet Manager and Shop Foremen meet biweekly to discuss the need for outside work and cost containment measures for fleet repairs. Cost-effective service with minimal downtime for the users is a key factor in determination of repairs. Outside local and regional vendors are considered and the shop actually bids the work against them to see which is more economical for the city.
All of the above was accomplished with little or no loss of service to the users.

The first few months of operation were used to familiarize staff with the fleet and develop the goals for the Equipment Maintenance Division. Monthly financial reports are used to compare our service and costs to the private sector. Hiring experienced A.S.E. and trained staff gave credibility to the operation.

Key to the success of an operation is the support of upper management. William Sterling, Public Works Director, understood the need for the improvements to the division and supported the division changes to the City Council and Budget Advisory Board.

It is clear to staff that meeting the needs of the customer is primary and instrumental in support of any operation. If we fail to meet the needs of our customers, and are not competitive with the private sector, we can expect to be questioned by our competitors, the customers, and our employer. Accountability, which means knowing your costs, will support a company in keeping services and operations under their management.

Judy Workman received the "Fleet Professional of the Year" award from the Rocky Mountain Fleet Management Association in Reno, Nevada in 2000 and received Certified Equipment Manager in 2003. For questions you can reach her by calling (970) 350-9375.