Many colleges and universities purchase their utility vehicles (UTVs) on a piecemeal basis from a variety of vendors, rather than developing a comprehensive transportation plan. But this process can complicate fleet management in the years ahead.
On the other hand, working with a single UTV supplier—one with knowledgeable sales professionals who will help you develop an overall transportation plan—enables a stronger, more strategic operation. A partnership like this will also help you identify safety, liability, and sustainability problems up front, then build solutions to them into your fleet from day one.
So how do you go from the first scenario to the second? Here are four steps to devising a comprehensive transportation strategy for your campus.
Step 1: Understand the changing facilities maintenance environment
As a facilities maintenance professional, you face formidable challenges that make fleet purchasing and management more complex than ever. These include intricate state laws around transportation management; undefined sustainability standards; flat or shrinking budgets; confusing rules for new classes of vehicles like LSVs; increased pedestrian areas or limited parking; and the proliferation of UTVs over vans and pick-ups, which makes choosing the right vehicle even harder.
While you and your employees struggle with these issues, no real work is getting done. But with foresight, planning, and transportation expertise, you can address and overcome many of these problems during the fleet selection process.
When meeting with any sales representative, ask him or her to identify any opportunities to replace trucks or vans with less expensive utility vehicles. That simple switch alone can save you thousands of dollars.
Step 2: Find a single supplier with the infrastructure and expertise you need
To preempt problems in the future, it’s smart to buy all your vehicles from a single supplier who understands the problems you face. This decision will improve safety and compliance; reduce training time; streamline parts inventories and slash downtime; simplify warranty issues; standardize electric vehicle charging; make preventive maintenance easier; help stabilize your monthly fleet budget; and provide you a single point of contact if problems arise. Convinced yet?
If needed, you can switch to a solo provider in stages, depending on the condition of your fleet and budgetary concerns. To start, look for a knowledgeable and seasoned sales team that has worked on many campuses and found creative solutions to common and uncommon problems. (Don’t assume all sales pros have this knowledge and experience. Some manufacturers invest much more in training their sales force than others.)
- A sales team that knows the difference between various classes of vehicles and the regulations regarding their use in your area
- Existing contracts with government purchasing cooperatives to guarantee the best pricing
- Knowledge of the pros and cons for their utility electric and gasoline vehicles
- Service maintenance agreements from factory-authorized, insured outlets
- Availability of commercial accessories like tool and van boxes, ladder racks, dump kits, etc.
Once you’ve made your choice, form a team that includes your in-house fleet management personnel and mechanics with hands-on knowledge of UTVs to work with the vendor.
Step 3: Identify rugged, reliable, and long-lasting vehicles
Make sure your supplier’s vehicles are built for work, not play. Some UTVs are built for recreational use and sold as work vehicles, but their suspension systems are often insufficient for heavy work and hauling. They may also reach high speeds that can pose dangers on campuses.
Also ensure their vehicles are built on durable aluminum frames. (Most UTVs are built on steel frames that tend to rust, even when coated to prevent it.) Look for rugged, rustproof Rhino-lined beds instead of breakable plastic boxes. Seek out name-brand, automotive-style overhead cam engines with EFI on gas models. Ask about ease of access for maintenance, downhill safety measures, onboard chargers, customization, and any warranties. You can’t be too careful about safety or too detailed in your requests—overlook nothing and you’ll make the best choice for your team and campus.
Step 4: Get the most from your sales professional
Once you’ve selected a vehicle supplier and knowledgeable sales professionals, it’s time to leverage their expertise. Discuss any problems regarding safety, sustainability, training, liability, maintenance, or other issues up front. Tell your sales rep whether you’ll need on-road or off-road vehicles or both, and ask them to identify “target opportunities” to reduce fleet costs, downsize your fleet, or replace full-size vehicles with utility vehicles. Make sure they are familiar with applicable tax credits in your area. And request that they work with each department to truly understand daily operations and pain points.
Using the information gathered and working with your internal team members, your sales professional should develop a comprehensive transportation strategy for your review, including safety equipment and accessories; where and when to eliminate full-size vehicles; and the possibility of vehicle sharing among departments when feasible.
Strategic Planning Now Pays Off Later
If this all seems like a lot of work, remember that you’re setting yourself up to save time, money, and stress in the long run. A thorough, reliable supplier can and should act as your partner in maintaining better, more efficient, and more sustainable fleet operations to help your campus lead the way in safe transportation.