Author: Sandy Smith


The Impact of Electrification on Fleet Maintenance Operations

CPS Energy, which serves approximately 820,000 electric customers and more than 345,000 gas customers in the San Antonio area, wanted to help convince its utility customers to explore electric and hybrid vehicles. But rather than roll out a marketing campaign touting the benefits of EVs, the company opted to roll out its own trucks.

Today, CPS Energy has 44 hybrid plug-in Ford F-150s and 15 hybrid Ford F-250s among its fleet of 2,000 vehicles. It also has plans to deploy 14 fully electric sedans. While the sedans will come from the OEM, the Ford F-150s and F-250s were upfitted by XL ( XL offers two versions: a standard hybrid, which is available on several OEM platforms, including Ford, Chevrolet, GM and Isuzu; and a plug-in hybrid, currently available only for Ford F-150s and F-250s.

XL introduced the F-250 plug-in hybrid earlier this year. According to Eric Foellmer, XL’s marketing director, “That’s really generated a huge amount of interest in the utility community.” The plug-in hybrid makes sense for electric utilities in particular, Foellmer said, because “they have unlimited electricity access and a charging infrastructure.”

The standard hybrid system from XL reduces fuel use by about 25% through regenerative braking. The plug-in hybrid cuts fuel use by up to 50% and includes a 15-kWh battery pack that provides shared propulsion with the original powertrain. The plug-in option is compatible with Level 1 and Level 2 charging.

Maintenance Mechanics
Since XL’s electrification system is installed without altering the OEM’s powertrain, fuel or exhaust system, the original warranty remains intact. Maintenance specs are largely the same, too. “The only thing you’ll ever have to do is check and top off the coolant on the battery system,” Foellmer said. “That can be done on the normal cycle of maintenance.”

But the battery can create some concerns for utilities. According to Bert Hargesheimer, senior director of fleet operations and safety at CPS Energy, “There are some different safety challenges with the lithium-ion batteries. We’ve been working on getting the safety team up to speed.”

That has meant training mechanics to work with the technology “so that they’re not nervous or concerned with working on the trucks,” said Tania Hernandez, manager of the driving safe team and fleet process improvement for CPS Energy. “There are a couple that are a little hesitant, but there’s a good sense that the training will get them there. Just like anything that’s new.” 

Benefits Outweigh Challenges
To assist its customers, XL is developing an online web portal that can be accessed by customers’ mechanics. “It will have a basic overview of our system, information on high-voltage safety, and tools to diagnose and repair the system if it’s required,” Foellmer said. “An extensive training process isn’t needed, but we want to make sure that they understand and feel comfortable with what they’re receiving.”

While Foellmer said that XL doesn’t promote improved maintenance cycles, he noted that “we consistently hear from our customers that they see less wear and tear on brake pads with the regenerative braking system, which feels similar to shifting into lower gear when you’re going down a hill. And with the electrification assist during acceleration, it puts less of a demand on the engine over time.”

Because the implementation at CPS Energy is still new, the utility hasn’t yet seen the benefits of reduced preventive maintenance, but Hargesheimer anticipates they will be apparent soon enough. For now, the vehicles remain under warranty, so CPS Energy’s mechanics haven’t had to perform any repairs, he said.

There was one hurdle in the beginning, when XL recalled the batteries on its hybrids. “They worked with us well and tried to get help to us as quickly as they could,” Hargesheimer said.

That’s to be expected with new technology, according to Hernandez. “Since we’re early adopters, it’s part of the growing pains of learning,” she said. “But we feel it’s worth it to be at the beginning of the curve.” 

About the Author: Sandy Smith is a freelance writer and editor based in Nashville, Tennessee.


Driver Training Needed, Too
It’s not just maintenance technicians who must adapt to a new hybrid pickup truck. At CPS Energy, drivers also need some help “getting familiar with the technology,” said Tania Hernandez, manager of the driving safe team and fleet process improvement for the utility.

“It’s so new and a lot of drivers aren’t experienced with it,” Hernandez said. She noted that CPS Energy has a team that works with drivers “to make sure they understand the technology at a high level so that they know what’s happening while they’re driving.”

Bert Hargesheimer, senior director of fleet operations and safety at CPS Energy, said that driver training programs can ensure that fleet enjoys the benefits of a hybrid. “If you want to change behavior, the first part is familiarizing them with the new vehicles, how they work and why they work. It’s about getting them comfortable. Then it is about getting the information on user behavior and providing feedback about the opportunities to optimize the hybrid technology.”


Investing in Garage Management Software

Before the City of Springfield, Illinois, merged all of its fleet operations and implemented garage management software, the utility fleet used to log important information via a low-tech method.

“The utility garage relied on Post-it Notes,” said William McCarty, director of the Office of Budget and Management for the City of Springfield. “There were vehicles that were being missed in maintenance, including a brand-new vehicle that went 50,000 miles without ever being serviced.”

Opting to implement garage management software, then, was a relatively easy decision to make, especially as all five of the city’s fleet garages were brought into one centralized fleet operation. The fleet now has approximately 1,200 units, about one-third of which are utility assets. Utility is the largest aspect of the city’s fleet, McCarty said, and includes water, power generation and power distribution.

The garage management system that the city selected includes tablets and laptops for technicians. Dave Lawler, assistant fleet manager for the city, said that going paperless was an important consideration in choosing a system. “We wanted the technicians to be paper-free if at all possible,” he said. “We wanted to be able to track all the maintenance, but to put the reports in the technicians’ hands.” Each technician was provided a laptop or tablet so that they can see a vehicle’s history and log notes without needing to leave the asset.

That level of insight is important and far more beneficial than Post-it Notes. But keeping up with the many types of software available in today’s marketplace – and the data it generates – can be a challenge, said Ralph Filicko, manager at fleet management consulting firm Mercury Associates Inc. (

According to Filicko, some of the technologies that today’s utility fleets may be operating include fleet management information systems, corporate or organizational enterprise resource planning tools, electronic logging devices, office tools and calendaring apps.

“These applications produce enormous amounts of data, which unfortunately is not typically available to be used through a single combined platform, view or toolkit without considerable planning and aggregation of the data from these various sources,” he said. “Warehousing this disjointed data into a single, consolidated platform allows organizations to make the required associations between the data elements, which can lead to informed work planning and scheduling, and enable key performance metrics capabilities and advanced business intelligence and analytics.”

Questions to Consider
When a fleet – like the one operated and maintained by the City of Springfield – invests in a garage management system, or any type of fleet software, that software should not be used as simply another tool that generates data. There must be deep thought put into how to use that data.

Filicko said the investment must extend beyond questions of “the functional capabilities of a fleet management system and its cost.” While focusing on features that solve long-term problems is important, fleets often pay “little or no attention” to the “underlying technology and database architecture of a solution, product roadmap, vendor track record of providing implementation services and ongoing support, and vendor solvency,” Filicko said.

Once a fleet has considered those items, any type of fleet management software can be beneficial, especially for older fleets, Filicko said. “Since older fleets generally require more time, effort and money to maintain, additional burdens are placed on the maintenance provider. Utilizing software, a fleet department can quantify the increasing costs of an aging fleet, demonstrate to decision-makers the impact of owning and operating an old fleet, and can manage and project their overall replacement plans more effectively.”

Still, Filicko sees value in implementing a variety of systems – particularly those that interact with each other – to improve the overall garage operation. “Using a combination of technologies can allow organizations to more effectively project when those units will become due for service, allowing them to employ a more efficient shop-scheduling strategy and determine when assets can be available for dispatch to jobs or available to perform their primary functions.”

Overall, implementing a garage management system has been successful at the City of Springfield, McCarty said. “We knew we had to have a system that would automatically alert us when something was due. With more than 1,000 pieces of equipment, we don’t have a large enough staff to look at that. We needed a system to do that.”

About the Author: Sandy Smith is a freelance writer and editor based in Nashville, Tennessee.


Perfecting the RFP
A variety of garage management software solutions are available, and it might be tempting to go with the one that offers the most bells and whistles. Issuing a request for proposal (RFP), however, should help narrow down the search.

Of course, basics like the organization’s fleet size and composition are critical to choosing the right solution. Ralph Filicko, manager at Mercury Associates Inc., suggested incorporating functional and technical requirements into the RFP, and including specifications for integrations as well as milestones for payment based on deliverables. In addition, he said, consider “terms to escrow the application source code in case the vendor becomes insolvent.”     

William McCarty, director of the Office of Budget and Management for the City of Springfield, Illinois; Tim Wier, the city’s fleet manager; and Dave Lawler, assistant fleet manager, also offered these tips:

  • Don’t reinvent the wheel. The team asked peer communities for RFPs they had created in the past, which they tweaked to their specific needs.
  • Ask vendors for nearby communities that use the management system. “Use your networking to evaluate these products,” Wier said. “Find out what they like or what they’d like to change.”
  • Understand that implementation is just a starting point. “The system does so much more than we utilize it for,” McCarty said. “We continue to look at more uses to improve our operations.”

Invest in the Right Training for Your Fleet Technicians

Matt Gilliland, director of operations support for Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD), understands the value of investing in training for fleet mechanics.

“There is an old cliché that says, ‘The only thing more expensive than training is not training,’” he said. “Training is one of the most important tools in the technician’s toolbox.”

And it’s even more so these days in an industry that, according to Gilliland, “changes rapidly, and the technology within the industry grows ever more complex. Training is paramount for success.”

To stay on top of changes with OEM specs, NPPD sends its fleet team to training on an ongoing basis. That, said George Survant, senior director of fleet relations for NTEA – The Association for the Work Truck Industry (, is necessary today.

“The most challenging change we see in new-model equipment is the rapid and pervasive introduction of electronic control systems and subcomponents,” Survant said. “An issue that can make these systems challenging is they may impact several different elements of the vehicle when in use.”

But it isn’t really just one issue, Survant noted – and he should know. Before joining NTEA in 2017, Survant worked in fleet at Florida Power & Light, Charter Communications and Time Warner Cable. “The volume of change can be overwhelming. The … use of electronic controls and the integration of electronically controlled subsystems replacing traditionally mechanically driven devices is increasing, and several changes often occur with a new-model release,” he said.

Charlie Guthro, vice president of global strategic services for fleet management services provider ARI (, said the challenges are greater for utilities. “Manufacturers of the upfit equipment – such as booms, cranes, material-handling devices, etc. – continue to evolve and automate, complicating the repair and service of these units for technicians. If you take into consideration the chassis as well, there’s more and more equipment each year (more cameras, sensors, technology, etc.), and they all have to be diagnosed and fixed.”

Guthro noted that utilities have the added complexities of attachments and the integration of those attachments to chassis.

Training Tips
Training and other efforts can help utility fleet technicians stay on top of changes. In particular, Survant and Guthro offered the following guidance.

Make training a priority. In his roles as a fleet professional, Survant made training part of the requirements for internal promotions. He also made sure to recognize team members who demonstrated “how they value technical skills development through participation in the training and mastery of their new skills.”

Take advantage of OEM resources. “If a fleet is (and utilities often are) an established warranty center for its selected OEMs, keeping that relationship typically requires mechanics to have a predetermined number of annual training hours,” Survant said. “This gives the fleet access to the same type of training dealers usually have, which allows them to stay current with factory training.” Fleets that aren’t warranty centers may need to look to vendors that sell diagnostic equipment, which requires annual OEM updates.

Develop internal training programs. Guthro noted a lack of third-party vendors who “offer a viable option for outsourcing repairs. Operator safety is a critical aspect of utility fleet operations, so it is vital that you have highly trained and skilled technicians working on your vehicles. This puts utilities in a unique position of having to train and develop their own in-house talent to support consistent, long-term maintenance solutions.”

Know when to outsource. When Guthro was director of operations for a large utility in Canada, his fleet used a plan that balanced outsourced and in-house services – and incorporated focused training for those in-house specialties. “We committed to getting our technicians the best-in-class training, and that typically included a variety of resources, including support from the various OEMs for both the equipment and the chassis,” he said.

Connect with those who know. Survant pointed to training that NTEA offers during The Work Truck Show and Truck Product Conference, both of which include OEM chassis update sessions. Guthro noted that fleet management companies can help, too.

Make the right initial choices. “During your tender or selection process, be sure to use your leverage and buying power to mandate training for your technicians,” Guthro said. “Additionally, having consistent specifications helps to minimize potentially unnecessary complexities across your fleet.”

About the Author: Sandy Smith is a freelance writer and editor based in Nashville, Tennessee.


A Shortage of Mechanics Heightens Challenges
Changing equipment specs is just one of the challenges that utility fleet professionals face. Today, a shortage of mechanics is complicating matters. Diesel mechanics in particular are in short supply.

George Survant, senior director of fleet relations for NTEA – The Association for the Work Truck Industry, still sees bright spots, however. “It’s equally true that many of the newer entries into the workforce are bringing new skills with them,” he said. “They are often far more comfortable with emerging technology than some seasoned professionals. And as many of them are joining the workforce with recent training skills, those can be leveraged to develop them into well-rounded contributors.”

One of the challenges to overcome, Survant said, is the “all-too-common misconception that these jobs are relatively low-skilled and low-paid with minimal growth opportunities. Rather than this perception being factual, the growth of new technology is changing the landscape where fleet professionals contribute by driving up the value of high-skill team members, creating a well-rounded employee set with opportunities for future promotion.”

Charlie Guthro, vice president of global strategic services for ARI, pointed to the need to retain existing mechanics. “If you lose them, you’ve lost all the value of your initial recruitment efforts and the training you’ve invested in them,” he said. “It’s vital that you view your technicians as a critical part of your business and make retention a top priority.”


How Utility Fleets Use Telematics for Preventive and Predictive Maintenance

When utility fleets use telematics as intended, the benefits of the technology can be wide-ranging. Each asset, each mile driven and each minute spent idling generate data and insight that tell a story about the fleet.

And telematics data can be analyzed to determine not only what is currently happening with fleet assets, but also what could happen in the future. That’s why some utility fleets have begun to use the data for both preventive and predictive maintenance. However, where predictive maintenance is concerned, there are some operational hurdles to overcome.

At Baltimore Gas & Electric Co., telematics was implemented in heavy-duty vehicles in 2011 and in all light- and medium-duty vehicles in 2014 when the utility was acquired by Exelon Corp. Now, telematics is available on 1,289 vehicles and about 40 other assets, according to America Lesh, manager of fleet at BG&E.

Every three hours, Verizon provides the mileage, engine hours and GPS coordinates of all enabled BG&E vehicles and equipment. That data is uploaded to BG&E’s fleet management system.

Currently, according to Lesh, BG&E’s “maintenance cycles are relative and based on usage. This means that vehicles with higher utilization are serviced more frequently. Telematics allows us to perform maintenance on a specific asset, as needed, based on the usage [mileage and hours] instead of relying on time alone.”

Having the actual usage data has allowed BG&E to extend preventive maintenance cycles and avoid “performing unnecessary maintenance on underutilized vehicles,” Lesh said.

An added bonus is that the GPS information provided helps prevent the need to look for “trucks that are not at their expected parking location,” Lesh said.

PECO Energy Co., headquartered in Philadelphia, is relatively new to using telematics data for fleet maintenance purposes, according to D. Cooper Colbert Jr., manager of fleet operations for the utility. The fleet has 1,537 total units, ranging from light-duty service trucks to tractor-trailers. PECO installed telematics on all of its 1,247 on-road units in 2013 but has taken a slower approach to using the data generated to identify maintenance issues.

“Fleet services identified the five most troublesome fault codes and is monitoring proactively for additional diagnostic opportunities,” Colbert said. PECO collects data on engine hours, idle time, location, active fault codes and miles driven. In the future, Colbert believes that “adjusting preventive maintenance for vehicles based on engine hours/miles driven as opposed to time-based intervals will greatly enhance the PM process.”

An Imperfect System
Although telematics systems already generate the data to help a utility fleet move from preventive maintenance to predictive maintenance, it is not necessarily a smooth transition.

In general, telematics has its own challenges, according to Lesh. Units that are unresponsive, due to issues such as telematics equipment that is offline or not connecting properly, require staff time in “identifying these units and troubleshooting the issue that causes them to become nonresponsive,” she said. That may include a cellphone dead spot, which causes the lost connection.

Another challenge is the cost of telematics, which is “an investment both financially and in personnel,” Lesh said. “The program requires resources to actively manage and set goals so that we can continue to see the value and benefit of telematics.”

Add in all the data generated in trying to anticipate an issue and, “with the amount of information available, sorting through the noise gets cumbersome and labor intensive,” Colbert said. “Understanding the commitment of resources to proactively contact a user, schedule the vehicle and fit the diagnostic appointment in with existing out-of-service repairs are all challenges that need to be overcome before an effective predictive maintenance program driven by telematics can be successful.”

Still, Colbert sees the potential, especially as telematics users more fully embrace preventive and predictive maintenance applications. “In a perfect world, [the ability to] proactively contact an operator that they will be having a diesel particulate filter or exhaust gas recirculation issue if they do not bring the vehicle in for service will minimize vehicle downtime and increase productivity,” he said.

About the Author: Sandy Smith is a freelance writer and editor based in Nashville, Tennessee.


5G Networks and Telematics
Sometime in 2020, 5G mobile networks will be broadly implemented, bringing with them a potential revolution in just how much vehicles communicate with each other and with other devices.

If you’re not sure what the effect of moving from 4G to 5G will be, you’re not alone. Consider the dramatic impact brought about by the switch from 3G to 4G networks. On 3G, phones were used primarily for calls and text messages, while 4G brought greater internet connectivity, such as the ability to stream movies.

Most experts believe 5G will provide even more connectivity. According to chipmaker Intel, 5G networks will be working with some 200 billion devices, including smart city sensors and Internet of Things (IoT) applications, as well as smartphones.

Aeris – an IoT solutions provider – predicts that telematics systems developers will take advantage of 5G to push forward more vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications, making autonomous vehicles more likely. In the meantime, fleet tracking and other telematics solutions are expected to gain speed and reliability, plus they’ll provide more opportunities for insight.


Where are EVs Headed in 2019?

Even if you closely follow the news, it’s difficult to pin down which direction electric vehicles (EVs) will be heading over the coming year. Production of certain hybrid models is ending, while other OEMs have promised to roll out more all-electric vehicles. Some car enthusiasts have proclaimed 2019 as the “year of the electric.”

Scott Shepard, senior research analyst/energy for market research and advisory company Navigant Research (, believes there’s plenty worth watching in the coming year – but not necessarily for fleets. “It looks like most of the conversation is going to be around long-range SUVs coming onto the market,” he said.

Jaguar, Audi, BMW, Hyundai and Kia are among the automakers with a U.S. presence that will be introducing new electric SUVs in 2019. A number of Chinese startup manufacturers also are expecting a big year ahead. “That’s all a big deal,” Shepard said. “These are the first vehicles that are competitive with a Tesla, with similar range characteristics as well as purchase price characteristics.”

For his part, Ted Davis, vice president, North American supply chain for fleet management company ARI (, pointed to California OEM Chanje Energy, which is “already taking orders for its Euro-style electric van.” Others, like ROUSH CleanTech, with its all-electric Ford F-650, and Mitsubishi Fuso, with its eCanter, should be taking orders later this year, pending road tests. Shepard pointed to Rivian, the talk of the Los Angeles Auto Show, for its sport pickup truck. “As the first models hit the road, we’ll begin to see how these units perform in real-world scenarios, and hopefully this insight will encourage more fleets to embrace this ever-evolving trend,” Davis said.

Questions and Concerns
Questions remain, however, particularly with regard to price and range – which can pose a challenge for utility fleets, especially fleets looking to use EVs for applications beyond those of pool vehicles. That’s something that Gary Lentsch, fleet manager for the Eugene Water and Electric Board in Eugene, Oregon, can attest to. The utility has had EVs since 1972, primarily in its light-duty fleet, so using them is not something new. But, he said, “Because of our service area, it’s really hard to come up with uses for those vehicles, mainly because of range.” 

Lentsch also noted two other concerns. First, constantly improving technology means that fleet EVs become somewhat outdated after just a few years. The other concern is that “every time we get a foot forward with EVs or any other type of alternative fuel vehicles, the price of oil drops and we lose our momentum,” Lentsch said. “On the bright side, every time EVs come back in favor, they get better and better.”

The price point on larger utility trucks, though, remains out of reach for Eugene Water. “We’re a public utility, so we watch the money,” Lentsch said. “You can’t go out and buy something that, in two years, the technology is so much better that the vehicle just sits around.”

Change on the Horizon?
Power and size also are hurdles for other utility fleets, but change may be on the horizon. “Automakers are generally thinking more about larger vehicles,” Shepard said. “It is not just a North American phenomenon at this point. The vehicles coming to market in 2019 are primarily premium segments, but there are going to be more in the future in 2020 and 2021.”

It may be even longer before that trickles down to utility fleets, he said. For that to happen, “you have to see further improvements to battery prices and the scale from OEMs to get the prices to a competitive standpoint,” according to Shepard. “We do expect it, but when?”

Shepard noted that the next EV innovations likely will be in areas such as minivans and delivery vans. “Work trucks are difficult to electrify,” he said. “Service trucks are even harder.”

Already, though, electric-powered bucket trucks are on the market, allowing for gas engines with all-electric aerial units. “New technology allows utility workers to operate aerial devices for an entire workday without ever needing to start the truck, mainly due to advancing battery technology and lower production costs,” Davis said.

While pickup trucks and extended-range SUVs may make the news in 2019, any headlines about electric utility fleets will be further down the road, Shepard said. “We expect this to be a long approach before we really start to see these things in work trucks.”

Davis is a bit more optimistic, citing improvements in battery technology and OEM commitment to electric. “I believe it will only grow stronger as the technology continues to evolve,” he said. “Light- and medium-duty electric trucks are just now hitting the roads, but the innovation associated with these models as they come to market will certainly help fuel the bright future of electric vehicles.”

About the Author: Sandy Smith is a freelance writer and editor based in Nashville, Tennessee.


Wireless Charging: A Coming Revolution?
Scott Shepard, senior research analyst/energy for Navigant Research, anticipates that the big EV news in 2019 may come from advances in wireless charging. “It’s going to come into premium vehicle segments as an option first,” he predicted. “It’s always been a retrofit option, but it’s so cheap and easy to use the cords that come with the vehicle.”

Wireless charging includes a ground pad that the driver parks over. A receiving system in the underside of the vehicle connects to the electronics and battery systems.

“The use cases now are for premium vehicles and vehicles in car-share programs,” Shepard said. “For fleets, the value diminishes. If you have dedicated parking for EVs and are on the economy side of the market, go for the cheaper charging.”


Utility Fleet Ergonomics: A Continuing Challenge

Workplace ergonomics have been on employers’ radar for 20 years, but even now, ergonomic-related injuries remain a costly expense – one that’s growing due to an aging workforce, current worker shortages and inexperienced industry newcomers.

“As the age composition of the workforce changes, that does affect industry,” said Eric Bauman, principal technical leader and program manager for the Occupational Health and Safety Program at the Electric Power Research Institute ( “Now that early Baby Boomers have retired and the middle Boomers are retiring, the industry has been hiring new workers who tend to be less experienced. We’ve seen an increase in injuries in this younger age group.”

The primary causes of employee accidents haven’t changed much in the past two decades. “It’s the slips, the falls, the trips,” said Mark Stumne, director of truck and upfit at Element Fleet Management (

Bauman agreed. “Sprains and strains showed up in the first year or two in our industry injury database as the largest single category of injuries,” he said. “It’s continued since 1999. Sprains and strains are something we can do something about, and this industry has supported ergonomic research since then.”

Despite the seeming intractability of these types of injuries, there are myriad products available in today’s marketplace designed to help alleviate them. Where is a fleet to start?

At Nebraska Public Power District, addressing ergonomics means navigating a balance between work truck needs and cabin comforts. “We let the work needs determine the lowest cost-trim level, then get all the comfort appointments available within that trim,” said Matt Gilliland, NPPD’s director of operations support.

It then comes down to options. Gilliland’s focus recently has turned to added equipment, with an eye toward how a utility worker accesses that equipment. “Often it is counter to what the industry can offer, historically has provided or can allow via regulations,” he said. “This has created an entirely new dialogue and has really changed how we spec trucks.”

NPPD has zeroed in on how workers enter and exit vehicles, as well as how equipment is placed so that the workers do not have to reach or strain. “These things have resulted in extra handholds, more steps, mobile and movable steps, the relocation of toolboxes, ladder fold-down brackets and so on,” Gilliland said.

Shaking Up Tradition
Today’s utility fleet vehicles are bigger and taller than in the past. And that, coupled with the lack of agility that comes with a worker’s age, is driving changes to traditional steps out of the vehicles, Stumne said. “A stirrup step might have been typical in the past. But that’s one area where we’ve encouraged our clients to add proper steps at the right height.”

Of course, not every potential ergonomic injury has an equipment solution – at least not a cost-effective one. But while no fleet has an unlimited budget, equipment costs should not necessarily always be an organization’s greatest concern. “There’s a reduced workforce to pull from and utility is a tough business,” Stumne said. “Employees work hard and it’s hard to pull people into the industry. You have to focus on giving those drivers the best equipment possible.”

The Electric Power Research Institute has developed a series of handbooks designed to help workers avoid injuries, including one on upfitting and purchasing vehicles. A study also is underway focusing on safety aspects of using augmented reality displays, including ergonomics and situational awareness. In addition, a forthcoming handbook focuses on work methods and tools to reduce injuries from awkward postures.

The EPRI handbooks include simple and cost-effective implementations, such as purchasing new hand tools. “In some cases, the cost to implement these is minor,” Bauman said. “When you replace a tool, you look for a more ergonomic tool, or when you order new fleet vehicles, you include ergonomic features from the beginning.”

Operator feedback may be the best and quickest way to evaluate the ergonomic solutions currently available. “Yes, it is qualitative,” Gilliland said. “But awaiting the passage of time to evaluate an ergonomic investment and quantify its impact on injuries will simply take too long. There should be specification discussions after the new truck is placed into service, just like there are conversations before it is purchased.”


The High Cost of Ergonomic Injuries
OSHA tracks ergonomic injuries under its musculoskeletal disorders category. In 2013, the most recent year for which statistics are available, OSHA found ergonomic injuries:

  • Accounted for 34 percent of all workplace injuries and illnesses requiring days away from work.
  • Had an incidence rate of 38 cases per 10,000 full-time workers.
  • Required an average of 12 days of recuperation.

The length of recuperation varied based on where on the body the injury occurred.

  • Shoulder: 24 days
  • Stomach: 21 days
  • Wrist: 18 days
  • Leg: 17 days
  • Arm: 17 days
  • Multiple body parts: 17 days
  • Back: 7 days

Following are the most injured body parts:

  • Back: 36%
  • Shoulder: 13%
  • Knee: 12%
  • Ankle: 9%
  • Multiple: 8%
  • Arm: 4%
  • Wrist: 3%
  • Neck: 2%
  • Hand(s): 2%
  • Foot: 2%

The most common causes of ergonomic injuries are:

  • Overexertion: 63%
  • Falls, slips and trips: 23%
  • Contact with object or equipment: 5%
  • Violence and other injuries: 5%
  • Transportation accidents: 4%

The Latest Developments in Idle-Reduction Technologies

Idling work trucks can be an annoyance to those who have to listen to them, damaging to the environment and, increasingly, they are unnecessary and undesirable in the field.

For one thing, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Phase 2 greenhouse gas emissions and fuel-efficiency standards for medium- and heavy-duty engines and vehicles will be in place relatively soon, impacting work trucks beginning with the 2021 model year.

But fleets don’t even need to wait that long to address the issues that idling vehicles present. Already, a number of new anti-idling technologies are ensuring that workers can do their jobs without their vehicle’s engine running.

While anti-idling technologies have been around for a while, the last year has brought several advances that are providing better results at a lower cost. Perhaps the greatest technology that could lead to successful adoption in the field is one that powers heating and cooling.

“That’s a neat next step,” said Bill Van Amburg, executive vice president of CALSTART (, the nation’s leading clean transportation technology organization. “That has been a limitation. If you’re in a hot or cold climate, shutting down the engine is good. But you’re getting into a cold or hot cab. Who wants to do that? To be able to say, ‘You’ll not lose the ability to stay comfortable while doing your job’ will help people be willing to comply.”

He also has seen worksite idle-reduction technology in which the electronic control module offers a countdown of sorts, signaling the engine to shut off so that fuel can be saved and power can be drawn from batteries for use with power tools and cabin needs.

It is something of a sweet spot with anti-idling technologies. Rising diesel prices, advances in energy storage and cheaper batteries are poised to drive these technologies forward, Van Amburg believes. “Some of these systems were expensive when diesel was cheap,” he said.

Driving Down Costs
That is not the only cost of idling, of course. Today’s engines require maintenance based on operational hours, not miles – and idling can significantly drive that up.  

“Idling is very hard on engines, on emission parts,” said Bill Needles, sales director for Stealth Power (, which offers retrofit options that power auxiliary and hydraulic electrical loads without engaging the truck’s primary engine. “It really extends the preventive maintenance cycles out.”

Stealth works with partner Microsoft to power a data dashboard for each of its customers, detailing fuel savings, engine hours saved, maintenance savings and the reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.

The company is just starting to pursue opportunities in the utility industry with several alternative energy solutions. Its technology has been proven with emergency services like ambulances – which have their own need to power equipment when not idling – as well as military and long-haul trucking.

Stealth has installed systems on bucket trucks and other utility vehicles. Recently, the system has been upgraded with lighter batteries and components, pushing the technology further ahead, Needles said.

Another Option
While Stealth may be new to the utility industry, Terex’s HyPower has been on a “long journey,” said Ted Barron, vertical market manager for Terex Utilities ( “We have learned a lot with plug-in electric hybrid vehicles.” The company’s latest offering is the HyPower IM, which is currently available on Terex aerials with a platform height of 40 to 45 feet.

HyPower IM automatically switches from engine operation to battery and back again. “The logic in the control system knows when to utilize battery power and when to go to engine power in order to balance the operator’s requirements with the economic benefits of reducing idle time,” Barron said.

As Terex personnel talk to utility fleet professionals about their needs, they tend to request cabin comfort, lightweight solutions that maintain payload and sound reduction on the job site, Barron said. But foremost is the need for reliability – and much of that comes down to the battery.

“A big challenge OEMs face is the current availability of battery technology,” Barron said. “Cost, capacity, weight, performance in extreme temperatures, heat generated by the system and packaging considerations for installation on the truck chassis are all factors we must consider when designing emissions-friendly utility trucks.”

And while the last year has brought improvements, “there is a lag between those new technologies and a manufacturing-ready package,” Barron noted.

Ultimately, many technologies already are in place. Van Amburg pointed to the fact that a California-compliant engine is preprogrammed by the OEM to shut off after five minutes of idling. “The technology is there,” he said. “What we need to see is more fleet willingness to source it. They have to be convinced that there’s a payback for them.”

About the Author: Sandy Smith is a freelance writer and editor based in Nashville, Tennessee.


Idle-Reduction Policies vs. Technology
For years, fleets have been encouraged to develop and adopt policies that require operators to shut off vehicles in certain circumstances.

But policies are only as good as their enforcement, said Bill Van Amburg, executive vice president of CALSTART. “If you have a policy to shut down the engine after 15 seconds, one minute, whatever, you have to track that and make sure it’s being followed. In the past, there wasn’t always the ability or willingness to track it.”

While telematics solves the ability issue, policies still come up short when compared to the technology. “What the technology now can do is take away choice in certain circumstances,” Van Amburg said.

At the end of the day, a technology solution “should be seamless and add value to the mission in order for it to be adopted and employed,” said Ted Barron, vertical market manager for Terex Utilities. “We believe it is better to employ technologies that allow the operator to concentrate on the job at hand, rather than on managing idling.”


Pros and Cons of Fuel Card Use

John Adkisson, transportation manager for Pennsylvania-based PPL Electric Utilities, keeps an eye on the fuel consumption of the company’s vehicles through the use of fuel cards.

Each vehicle in the utility’s fleet is assigned one of these cards when the vehicle is put in service, and each employee is assigned a unique driver ID. Assigning fuel cards and driver IDs serves two purposes: “This allows anyone who operates a company vehicle to fuel any vehicle that he or she may be driving with the fuel card,” Adkisson said. “This also allows the fleet department to track fuel consumption down to an individual vehicle.”

Monthly exception reporting provides Adkisson insight into any unusual activity, such as an out-of-state purchase or purchase of a large quantity of fuel. If needed, he can limit driver transactions by number or amount via the fuel card’s website.

An Attractive Solution
It is this type of data, flexibility and control that make fuel cards an attractive solution for today’s utility fleets, often winning out over other options, such as on-site fuel tanks and driver reimbursement.

“Customizable controls and program parameters are among the top benefits of a fuel card, as compared to other options,” said Andy Hall, assistant manager of fuel and GMS products for fleet management company ARI ( “Reimbursement programs and general credit cards typically allow drivers to purchase virtually anything they want without restriction, resulting in misuse and abuse.”

PPL has its own fuel tanks at some of its larger facilities, but those are used only “as a last resort,” Adkisson said. Use of one of those tanks may mean a fuel card has been lost or there is some sort of fueling disruption.

Last year’s significant storms drove that last point home, said Jayme Schnedeker, director of fleet products for Element Fleet Management ( “Increasingly, there is a focus on emergency fueling or coverage when retail stations are down,” he said.

But for most day-to-day operations, fuel card use allows for greater control and insight, particularly when paired with other technology, such as telematics.

“When you combine fuel card data with technology, such as our ARI insights platform, you can create custom dashboards with alerts and key performance indicators, allowing you to manage by exception and quickly identify opportunities to drive savings,” Hall said. “Also, this data warehousing gives fleet managers the ability to easily generate comprehensive reporting for budgeting and forecasting purposes.”

The ability to gather that level of detail outweighs the benefits of a corporate credit card, Schnedeker said. “Corporate cards are only purchasing mechanisms, whereas a fuel card program is set up to deliver data and reporting that fleet managers can use to actively manage their expense.”

Fraud Concerns
There is at least one potential drawback to fuel cards that fleets should be aware of: They are as vulnerable to fraud as other types of payment at the pump. The use of skimmers – devices that grab numbers from cards swiped at pumps – has increased the prevalence of fuel fraud in the last year or so, Schnedeker said. “Thieves have gotten really creative in terms of how they’re able to disguise purchases to steal fuel. It’s pushed fuel card companies to develop ways to use the transactional data to better assess the transactions and determine whether they are fraudulent or not.”

Chip card use continues to grow, but not all fueling stations currently accept the cards. Hall expects that most fuel card providers will be ready for a 2020 mandate that requires fuel stations to install chip-card readers.

In addition, he sees leading fuel card providers working on a one-card solution that “can accommodate pricing models for both truck stops (cost-plus) and retail locations (rebate). This will allow mixed fleets to use one card platform across all their vehicles. In addition, providers are also exploring mobile payment solutions, with a few scenarios currently in the pilot phase, but adoption will likely be slow due to the necessary equipment investment.”

As instances of fuel fraud grow in number, it is increasingly important for fleets that use fuel cards to develop data and security policies, Schnedeker said. “It’s simple, but it’s often overlooked: provide information in writing about where the cards are stored and how drivers should keep their driver IDs private.”

About the Author: Sandy Smith is a freelance writer and editor based in Nashville, Tennessee.


Select the Right Fuel Card for Your Fleet
Is your company considering investing in a fuel card program? Here are some criteria for evaluating providers from Andy Hall, assistant manager of fuel and GMS products for ARI, and Jayme Schnedeker, director of fleet products for Element Fleet Management.

  • Consider the financial aspects, including rebates.
  • Explore the levels of controls and customization that are available. Hall said to look for “extensive flexible controls that can be tailored to the specific needs of the fleet.”
  • Ensure that the fuel card is widely accepted, which both Schnedeker and Hall said is a top priority. “Unless a fleet operates on a very specific, well-defined route that a particular supplier can accommodate, most fleets should select a universal card with broad acceptance,” Hall said.
  • Make sure adequate account support is available. “This is important particularly during implementation,” Schnedeker said. “It’s a great opportunity to hear about best practices and validate how the provider will work to make things simple. That functional support makes or breaks the program.”

How to Avoid Big Data Overload

Telematics data offers the modern utility fleet vast opportunities to gain insight about their operation and take action. But the sheer number of those opportunities can be overwhelming, and deciding what data to study – plus how to make it meaningful – can be a struggle, like attempting to sip water from a firehose.

Beth Daiber, CPA, fleet administration supervisor for Ameren Illinois Company, has found that for her organization, it helps to both track and share data that ties into corporate initiatives. “There are a lot of things that I could supply data on, and analysis that I do behind the scenes,” she said. “I’m trying to make sure that I’m not overwhelmed with all the information that I could collect.”

Ameren focuses its telematics data on idling and speed for its 3,500-unit fleet. The company’s plan from day one was to focus on one or two initiatives first and build from there, Daiber said. Monitoring both idling and speed tie in with corporate initiatives and support the project’s ROI.

Even with such a narrow focus, there can be too much of a good thing, especially when it comes to reporting results to leadership. So, rather than simply track vehicle idling, for instance, Daiber provides reports that show idling as a percentage of operating time. “It seems to be a better reflection of how the assets are being used compared to total hours,” she said.  

Additional charts compare idling hours based on class of the asset. A top 20 list of the most-idled vehicles helps the operations team know where to focus its efforts. According to Daiber, “That has made a big impact.”

Starting Points
While Ameren has been able to focus its efforts on two data points that align with its goals, clearly there is a wealth of telematics data available today for those utility fleets that use the technology. So, how does a fleet know how to choose the data that will most benefit their operation?

Chris Ransom, solutions engineer for fleet management tracking provider Verizon Connect (, suggested a few starting points. “Almost all mobile businesses can benefit from tracking core metrics around safety (speed and harsh maneuvering), productivity (utilization, time spent on-site) and vehicle health (trouble codes and preventive maintenance intervals),” he said.

Ryan Driscoll, marketing director for telematics provider GPS Insight (, recommended looking for data related to a “high-impact issue or challenge. The fleet manager or operations manager for the utility has a lot more to do than just manage the data from telematics. The information needs to be easy to understand and in a format that allows them to take action quickly.”

Action Steps
Data has perhaps become overwhelming, at least in part, due to the addition of new features from telematics providers. But rather than simply activate a new feature when it becomes available, both Ransom and Driscoll advised performing regular evaluations.

Ransom encouraged a semiannual look at the data that’s been provided and what is needed. “Businesses should evaluate whether their solution is helping them obtain their projected ROIs and if their provider is continuously driving value to their operation,” he said.

Driscoll suggested going “back to the drawing board with all the key stakeholders in the businesses to determine what their current challenges are.” Once that list of challenges has been compiled, “they should determine the impact of those challenges and then focus in on how vehicle and location intelligence can solve those challenges for the business,” he said.

It is possible that a utility fleet’s telematics provider has already made that data available, and a quick conversation with the account manager may help to “keep pulling ROI from the existing telematics solution you have,” Driscoll said.

That conversation also may uncover needs that the utility wasn’t aware it had, Ransom said. “Generally speaking, most businesses understand the importance and potential ROI of tracking vehicles, but there are lots of less obvious needs, such as asset tracking and visibility into their workforces, that they may need help uncovering.”

About the Author: Sandy Smith is a freelance writer and editor based in Nashville, Tennessee.


Emerging Data Points
As telematics providers continue to improve their data collection capabilities, a greater abundance of potential information is uncovered. So, what new data points are utilities likely to begin tracking in the future? Ryan Driscoll, marketing director for GPS Insight, and Chris Ransom, solutions engineer for Verizon Connect, offered their predictions. 

Driver safety data. Driscoll anticipates driver scorecards that “rank drivers based on driving habits to highlight your best drivers and flag your most at-risk drivers.” This will allow for more targeted driver coaching.

Visibility into vehicle health. “Diagnostics and usage information alone may provide increased ROI for fleet managers,” Ransom said. “For instance, tire pressure status gives drivers and fleet managers the ability to address issues sooner, helping save fuel and extending the life of the tires. The value of this expands exponentially when we add vehicles over an extended period of time.” Despite the value in tying telematics to maintenance, “it has surprisingly little adoption,” Driscoll said.

Safety metrics in real time. Many fleets already collect driver data related to actions such as speeding and hard braking. Getting the data in near real time provides additional benefits, Ransom said. A dashboard or scorecard lets a driver know where they rank, and lets managers know who might need additional training.

Employee performance. “Using telematics data to verify payroll is a critical data set to look at to significantly reduce labor costs,” Driscoll said. And according to Ransom, using location and job information can help “assign jobs to the correct workers and vehicles, furthering the benefit of gathering, analyzing and acting on these job insights.”


Should Your Utility Fleet Consider Using Biodiesel?

Sustainability is a goal for many utility fleets, but there may not be enough money in the budget – or full stakeholder support – to do all it takes to meet that goal, including overhauling infrastructure, adding new vehicles to the fleet and training staff.

That’s where biodiesel can come into play.

“Biodiesel can be burned in any vehicle, and you don’t have to make infrastructure changes,” said Patti Earley, fleet fueling operations specialist for Florida Power & Light Co. “The fuel tanks don’t need modifications. The fuel equipment isn’t different. It’s very easy. And with biodiesel, you can burn B20 one day and use ultralow sulfur diesel the next without any problems.”

Biodiesel – a fuel made from feedstocks including recycled cooking oil, soybean oil and animal fats – typically is named based on the percentage of biodiesel found in a particular blend. B20, for instance, is 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent petroleum diesel; it also is the most common blend. Florida Power & Light has used biodiesel since 1999, up to B35. The utility runs all of its diesel equipment on biodiesel and has logged more than 150 million miles.

Proving just how seamless the conversion is, Earley noted that crews from other utilities who have helped out in storm recovery efforts have used biodiesel from Florida Power & Light and “weren’t aware” they were doing so.

Standards, Specifications, Support
Biodiesel production continues to increase year over year, from approximately 25 million gallons in the early part of the century to nearly 3 billion gallons in 2016, according to the National Biodiesel Board (, which – among other things – has worked on developing standards to help ensure biodiesel users reap measurable benefits. “It doesn’t do any good to put a new fuel out in the marketplace that there will be issues with,” said Scott Fenwick, the board’s technical director.

That has meant working closely with vehicle and engine manufacturers on specifications. Today, most diesel vehicles and engines are approved for biodiesel use up to B20, with the exception of some European OEMs that only approve B5. “That’s not to say that you can’t use biodiesel or that it voids the warranty,” Fenwick said. “It does not. Engine warranties cover parts and workmanship, not issues related to fuel.”

The National Biodiesel Board continues to work to gain greater OEM support, Fenwick said. PACCAR (, a manufacturer of light-, medium- and heavy-duty trucks under the Kenworth, Peterbilt and DAF nameplates, recently approved the use of B20 in its new vehicles.

Benefits of Use
So, what are some other benefits of using this fuel? According to Fenwick, biodiesel is nonflammable, nonhazardous and biodegradable. “If there happens to be a spill, you don’t have to call in the hazmat trucks,” he said. “The reduced particulate matter makes for cleaner air to breathe.”

The environmental benefits hold sway with some. Energy security – creating American jobs while reducing dependence on foreign oil – resonates with others.

For utility fleets, Fenwick pointed to improved combustion and less smoke – a benefit that is particularly useful when it comes to vehicle idling. “[W]ith today’s engines, there is improved lubricity. When diesel reduced its sulfur content 10 years ago, it put more and more stress on the engine. Biodiesel improves all of that, leading to less wear and tear on the engine, less maintenance and a longer life.”

With its many benefits, why isn’t biodiesel the standard? Earley noted that before ASTM specifications were adopted, some users had issues with biodiesel. “That gave biodiesel a black eye,” she said. “But we’ve never had a problem because we pay close attention to make sure the biodiesel meets the standards, and we pay attention to how we handle and store it.”

With the improvements that have been made over the years, biodiesel might be worth another look.

About the Author: Sandy Smith is a freelance writer and editor based in Nashville, Tenn.


Getting Started
Without the need to alter equipment, getting started with biodiesel is relatively simple. However, there are several steps to consider before putting the nozzle in the fuel tank. Here are four tips from Scott Fenwick, technical director for the National Biodiesel Board, and Patti Earley, Florida Power & Light Co.’s fleet fueling operations specialist.

  • Know your vendor. Some early problems with biodiesel were related to poor-quality fuel. While much of that has changed with the adoption of ASTM specifications, it still is important to verify quality. Fenwick suggested suppliers meet both Top Tier standards as well as BQ-9000 quality management standards. “Top Tier is a product quality guarantee similar to the Top Tier gasoline program in place for a number of years,” he said.
  • Prepare storage tanks. “If you have storage tanks that you’ve been using for a long time, you may want to clean them out,” Earley said. “The biodiesel will clean the tank. If there’s gunk in your tanks, it will get caught in the filters.”
  • Anticipate vehicle maintenance early on. Earley noted that older equipment may need fuel filter changes often in the early stages as the biodiesel cleans the engine.
  • Make sure you’re getting financial incentives. Fenwick noted that many states offer incentives for fleets to use biodiesel. Illinois, for instance, exempts the motor fuels tax for blends higher than 10 percent. Fenwick also said that B20 blends can be as economical as straight petroleum fuel.
Utility Fleet Professional

360 Memorial Drive, Suite 10, Crystal Lake, IL 60014 | 815.459.1796


Utility Fleet Professional is produced by Utility Business Media, Inc.   View Capabilities Statement

Get the Utility Fleet Professional Digital Edition App
Get the Utility Fleet Professional Digital Edition App

Get the iP Digital Edition App

© All rights reserved.
Back to Top