Suppliers discuss the importance of driver education, communication and a lack of resourcing for fleet management, alongside duty of care, outsourcing and compliance.
Education, a skills shortage and a lack of understanding about duty of care responsibilities topped the agenda at a recent Fleets Informed roundtable hosted by Commercial Fleet.
The four suppliers in attendance – Aura Graphics, BT Fleet, Enterprise Flex-E-Rent and Fleet Check – discussed key trends and their impact on the fleet sector and on the services they are providing.
One of the challenges facing all suppliers is the growing need to provide real-time information or 24/7 support to fleets. However, they also have a need to educate large swathes of the fleet sector who do not have the expertise to manage the complexities of a van and truck operation.
What is the biggest issue facing van and truck fleets today?
Peter Golding: Our experience with fleets up to 250 vehicles is a lack of resource in the company and so the role of fleet manager goes to an individual without the necessary skills-set to do the job. They have a legal responsibility to make sure the vehicle and the driver are legal, and that’s a fundamental problem. Directors don’t understand how complex fleet management is.
Dave Edwards: Education is key, but it’s about communications as well. They might have good policies, but it’s the application of them that is important.
Duty of care is a major part of a fleet’s responsibilities. Are they taking this seriously enough?
Peter Golding: With service intervals on vans moving to 20,000-30,000 miles, responsibility is changing from the garage to the company.
Wear-and-tear items will still wear out, so they have to manage the defects that the garage is advising on between servicing. How many companies are confidently getting their staff to do regular safety checks? They aren’t doing them, because they haven’t bought into the task. It’s the company that is at fault; they need to monitor them.
Dave Edwards: They need a familiarisation programme and continuous training for drivers – there are guides from the FTA and DVSA.
Andrew Hill: There is no legislative onus on light commercial vehicle operators to do this stuff, but they have to apply HGV philosophy to LCV operations.
Gavin Pike: There are stark differences: some companies have it down to a tee with both vehicle types maintained as they should be. But there are some that don’t, and it comes down to education. Some transport managers cut corners on the heavies and they will do the same on lights.
Andy Kirby: The DVSA will be hard on the light fleet if you are also a heavy fleet. They have to apply the same principles to both.
Peter Golding: We see some clients relying on what dealers say, for example 4.5-tonne transits operating without an O-Licence because the dealer assumed the fleet had an O-Licence, but the fleet assumed the dealer would tell them. Perhaps the dealer network needs to be educated as well. My biggest criticism is rarely around fleets getting the notice of advisory work. It goes to the driver and stops there, because they don’t understand the consequences. There’s a gap that the leasing company needs to address.
Are you finding that services are increasingly being outsourced? Who are your customers?
Will Bunn: We used to deal with the end user; now, increasingly, it’s a third party or leasing company that is taking control. This is down to a lack of knowledge, for example, if a fleet manager has retired and not been replaced, so they are going to a third party to provide information.
Dave Edwards: What’s most important is to control your people – they are the ones that can really damage your brand and your business. So you have to have someone that is responsible and accountable.
Peter Golding: With outsourcing there is a misconception with almost every company on maintenance. A substantial number say they don’t have to worry about vehicles if they are leased.
But the leasing company has no idea how the vehicle is being used – its mileage etc. – so it’s your responsibility to manage maintenance. If something goes wrong, it will be you in court, not the leasing company. There is also the issue of warranty invalidation if a vehicle goes over its mileage schedules (for servicing). The company has to own the audit trail – they can’t outsource responsibility.
If the compliance argument doesn’t convince them, what about the cost?
Dave Edwards: Some companies put the financials before the compliance – but it has to be the other way round.
Allan Hamilton: But the financials don’t stand up for a poorly maintained fleet. It’s not just a safety issue.
Peter Golding: Older, poorer maintained vehicles cost more than newer, well maintained vehicles in downtime, maintenance costs, fuel consumption and duty of care exposure.
Is part of the problem the fact that some fleets do not have sight of these costs because they can’t access the right management information?
Peter Golding: Many fleets still use spreadsheets, including some with a couple of thousand vehicles, and it becomes very complex with pivot tables, etc. They have to recognise that you can’t effectively manage vehicles by spreadsheet, especially if you have more than one supplier. You can’t have a robust audit trail.
Overloading is a big issue in the van sector – what can be done about it?
Dave Edwards: It’s easy to overload a lighter van without it looking overloaded. You need competent, qualified staff in your business.
Peter Golding: The problem is often misselling by the salesman because they are focused on cars, not vans. There should be more guidance on usage, what will be carried, etc., before the sale is made. There is a lack of expertise on those who supply when it’s not a dedicated van centre.
Andrew Hill: You have to look at the pressures put on the drivers by their employers. For example, the number of deliveries in a day to get paid – that’s the wrong message.
Peter Golding: Vehicles can be inspected in an accident, even if it is not your fault. They can weigh it and impound it and then look at the rest of your fleet. They can also match vehicles with the MOT and advisory notices to see if they have been followed up.
So do you feel the van sector would benefit from the type of legislation we have for trucks?
Dave Edwards: The regulation is brilliant – there are clear rules to follow and, while it can be a pain, it keeps you compliant. It would be good for the industry to have more regulation on vans, especially as the number of vans on the road increases. I’d support this.
Allan Hamilton: There is already a big issue with understanding regulations, for example Chapter 8 . The issue is there is no hard-and-fast rule; it depends on the vehicle, its role and the area of the country.
All the suppliers are concerned about the future for transport managers. The role of transport manager is often a job title with a lack of substance, according to Golding.
“During the recession, there was a lot of downsizing and a huge exodus of skilled transport managers,” he says. “Now companies recognise the need, but there is a skills shortage. Some decisions can be easily based on cost, but fleet isn’t like that. Companies often don’t know where to look to reduce cost, and quick savings can often cost in the long-term.”
Edwards agrees. “The best solution is often not the cheapest, because you don’t have the consultancy relationship,” he says.