Municipality Sustainable Fleet Management – Strategies to Reduce Transport Demand

 In Fleet Sustainability

The road transportation sector contributes one-fifth of human activity related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the United States. It is also a major source of airborne pollutants that impact our collective health and well-being, with the two main pollutants being nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter (PM). In the U.S., the transportation sector is responsible for over 50% of total NOx emissions, and 20% of PM emissions.

As major purchasers of new vehicles, coordinators of large fleets, and providers of driver training, municipal and city fleet managers have a pivotal role to play in reducing the impact of the transportation sector on our local environments and the wider climate.

 Advances in vehicle technology, management techniques and data capturing software provide fleet managers with opportunities to manage their fleet in a sustainable manner that will cut fuel expenditure, improve municipality air quality, and help make transportation safer. This series is intended to assist in the process of implementing a sustainable fleet management plan.

For a brief overview of how to strategically plan your sustainable fleet operations, take a look back at our guide, “How sustainability managers can work with fleet managers on shared goals to ‘green’ an automotive fleet”.

Sustainable Fleet Planning

All of the strategies discussed within this series should be incorporated into a sustainable fleet plan that is focused on your municipality’s goals for reducing the impact of its operations.

The first step in creating this plan is to establish the baseline data for fuel usage, vehicle utilization, and emissions. This gives you the starting point from which any improvements can be compared with. In order to normalize seasonal variations in transport activity, it is recommended to collect the baseline data for a period of several months to a year.

Using these baseline data as your point of comparison, targets can be set for improving fuel efficiency, increasing vehicle utilization, and reducing GHG and other emissions related to the fleet.

In order to reach these targets, the sustainable fleet plan will detail the:

  • Specific strategies to help reach the targets
  • Milestones that each project will be broken down into
  • Timelines to achieve each milestone
  • People, or roles, responsible for ensuring the success of each strategy
  • Monitoring and reporting mechanisms to indicate whether the targets have been met

Increase vehicle utilization

The more vehicles that are maintained in a fleet, the higher the costs of maintenance, insurance, tax, fuel and other operational expenses. For this reason, evaluating fleet utilization is a great way for municipal fleet managers to make multiple savings while reducing the impact of their operations.

Although 100% utilization may be an unrealistic expectation, fleets can certainly do better than the roughly 50% utilization that is common in the industry. Fleet utilization reports can identify vehicles that are over, or underutilized, enabling managers to decide if there are any assets that can be eliminated.

A vehicle utilization strategy requires you to:

  1. Develop a fleet inventory and assess current vehicle utilization, ascertaining how many hours or shifts an asset is in service per week or month
  2. Identify vehicles that can be reassigned or removed from the fleet, focusing on those vehicles with the poorest fuel performance [link to guide #2]
  3. Plan how you will keep or remove vehicles that you identified previously, ensuring there is sufficient cover for routine maintenance, breakdowns and staff absence

An effective fleet utilization review can reduce your fleet size by as much as 20 per cent.

Right size or lightweight vehicles to duty cycles

Municipal fleet managers can also make efficiency savings by completing an assessment of each vehicle’s suitability to their duty cycle, and downsizing to lower tonnage and lower specialty vehicles where possible.

The U.S. Department of Energy recognizes that right sizing is a management practice that can help fleet managers build and maintain sustainable, fuel-efficient fleets.

The benefits from this practice are twofold. Firstly, by transferring jobs to lower tonnage vehicles, fleet managers can reduce their fleet-wide fuel consumption. Secondly, by putting jobs on lower specialty vehicles, it creates the possibility to take a more expensive vehicle out of service. Specialty vehicles are harder to provide cover for when they go for maintenance or when they break down, cost more to service and insure, and may require a higher grade of drivers’ license to operate. Considerable savings therefore exist by substituting out these vehicles.

Some US fire departments have found savings by downsizing a few of their heavy-duty rescue vehicles to smaller rapid response vehicles, having found the cost of ownership and maintenance of the larger vehicles to be prohibitive. In doing so, they have found other benefits in the form of greater maneuverability, faster access to hard to reach locations and increased operational safety.

Route optimization

Route optimization involves planning the shortest and most efficient routes for all vehicles within the fleet. The strategy can reduce fuel consumption, time spent on the road, vehicle miles driven and emissions. Street cleaning and refuse collection are two good examples of fleets that can benefit greatly from a route optimization program.

When route optimizing, consideration should be given to vehicle type and fuel efficiency. Outlying routes that involve more miles should be carried out by lighter, more fuel-efficient vehicles, and inner-city work should be planned where possible for the vehicles with the lowest emissions and the highest operating efficiency at lower speeds.

This exercise should be conducted regularly in addition to daily dynamic route planning, since regular amends to jobs and service requirements have the potential to make previously optimized routes inefficient.

Shift optimization

Bear in mind that larger savings might be possible by looking at jobs that are currently carried out on different days and shift times, and ascertaining whether schedules could be changed to reduce the overall route mileages, or to increase vehicle utilization.

If for example, you have two overnight shifts, one running from 10pm – 6am and then another that overlaps with it, running from 2am – 10am, then each of your vehicles is being underutilized. By shifting job schedules, it may be possible to create two shifts that run consecutively, allowing the same vehicle to be utilized for both shifts and providing the opportunity to downsize the fleet.

Use of telematics data

Many municipalities are now using vehicle telematics systems to find opportunities to reduce transport demand. Telematics systems can be used effectively to:

Minimize route idle times

The worst mileage is zero miles to the gallon, which is what a vehicle achieves when it is idling. Research has found that vehicle engines that idle for long periods of time typically need more regular servicing to replace spark plugs, fuel injectors, valve seats and piston crowns. In addition, idling can also reduce engine oil life by up to 75%.

With vehicle telematics, fleet managers can review idle reports to identify routes that are leading to excessive idle time. This may flag up issues such as congestion around schools or sports grounds, or relating to commuter traffic that could be countered by shifting job times to avoid traffic trouble spots.

Review routes

With GPS telematics systems, fleet and dispatch managers can replay routes in order to identify crossover between vehicles, or of time-scheduled jobs within the same shift. Viewing multiple vehicles concurrently enables current route planning efficiencies to be clearly seen. Eliminating overlapping routes or jobs improves fleet efficiency and reduces fuel costs, as well as resulting in fewer vehicles in congested areas.

Smart City Technology

Beyond the technologies that can be fitted to the vehicles themselves, other technologies exist to help the fleet manager in optimizing their transport operations.

For refuse collection and street cleaning fleets, ‘smart bins’ provide live status updates on fill rates, and project the time until they will reach full capacity. This allows route planners and dispatch managers to create dynamic routes, giving drivers jobs only for the bins that need servicing on that shift.

By eliminating stops to service bins that are only half full, fleet idle time can be reduced, as well as route mileage. This is particularly valuable where bins are located in more isolated areas. Smart bin manufacturers report a 20-40% reduction in collection costs for refuse fleets using these new bins.


By strategically reviewing the overall transport demand of your fleet, the municipal fleet manager has the opportunity to benefit from real savings to the bottom line and reduce the fleet’s impact on the environment.

In our next article, we focus on the strategies to improve vehicle efficiencies and explore the savings that these can bring to your municipal fleet.


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