City public works department services hundreds of diverse vehicles
Renton, Wash.—With a fleet of 668 vehicles to service and repair, Ron Kahler said his staff are kept busy each workday at the Fleet Maintenance Services Division of the city of Renton’s Public Works Department.
In addition to Kahler, the staff includes seven technicians, two of them certified as an Emergency Vehicle Technician (EVT), plus Mark Velez, a fleet maintenance technician, who oversees the parts department, fuel procurement, vendor relations, and other duties. Velez recently joined the fleet maintenance shop after 14 years as program coordinator at Shoreline Community College’s Professional Automotive Training Center.
“It’s a new experience with plenty of reorganization projects, from reviewing the parts inventory to making sure we have back up keys for all the vehicles,” Velez said.
The extensive parts inventory includes filters, hoses, lighting, wiper blades, spark plugs, trailer accessories, calipers, fluids, fire extinguishers, and a variety of other products.
Prior to becoming fleet manager in Renton in 2014, Kahler was the fleet manager at the Seattle campus of the University of Washington, was a technician/lead/supervisor at the city of Seattle fleet services, and a technician with the Washington State Patrol. He is a graduate of the automotive technology program at the Lake Washington Vocational-Technical Institute in Kirkland, Wash., (now the Lake Washington Institute of Technology).
“While we had about the same number of vehicles in the U of W fleet, what we have in Renton is much more diverse with police and fire units, off-road equipment, mowers, loaders, gators, heavy-duty trucks, and even two large wheeled barbecue units used regularly for community events,” Kahler said, adding that he is responsible for the procurement of all fleet vehicles the city purchases.
Because the fleet maintenance shop provides service and repair on a diversity of vehicles and equipment, Kahler said that equates to a wide assortment of diagnostic tools used by techs. Brands include Snap-on, Ford IDS (Ford Powerstroke is the most common in the Renton fleet), Cummins INSITE, Navistar, Texa, and others.
“On any given workday, we always have fire rigs in the 11-bay shop for a variety of maintenance and repair,” Kahler said, noting that maintenance and service work on fire equipment is more complicated as they adhere to the codes and standards of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).
Though much of that fire fleet service will revert to a regional fire authority next year, he said the police fleet of Chevrolet Tahoes is doubling as most officers will be taking their vehicles home while off-shift.
“We are in the process of ordering lots of Tahoes, using the state bidding system,” Kahler said. “We have them go directly from GM to Kerr Industries for special police equipment outfitting so they are very close to being operational when they arrive here.”
Fuel consumption by fleet vehicles is reviewed regularly by Kahler to ensure that he stays within his proposed budget allocations.
“Fuel costs are huge, and while we’re on a two-year contract, those prices could rise substantially as they have at times in the past.”
He pulled the fuel records for one day in late June and there was 782 gallons of unleaded gas and 461 gallons of diesel used, a total for the day of $3,168.
While the city has alternate-fueled vehicles in the fleet, including hybrid cars and SUVs, over the next five years Kahler said there will be an emphasis on alternative fuels and diesel-equipped rigs. “Diesel is much cleaner and more fuel-efficient than in the past, and we will be looking at propane, CNG, and hybrids to improve our footprint in that area. CNG technology is much better than before, so it may be in the mix. We currently have a few electric vehicle charging systems in the city, but none in the fleet today. There is Tesla Model S on the state bid list, but it’s $94,000 at contract price. That could equate to maybe two or three hybrid vehicles.”
Long involved in the Western Washington chapter of the Clean Cities coalition network, Kahler said that organization has assisted cities and other government agencies in reducing 95,049 tons of CO2 emissions annually.
He has also been active in the Public Fleet Managers Association, and is a past chair of the Puget Sound chapter of the National Association of Fleet Managers. In addition, he has been a board trustee of the Vehicle Maintenance Management Conference (VMMC) that stages a three-day training event for fleet maintenance personnel each year at South Seattle College. Much of his staff have received technical training at VMMC, as well as from Cummins, ATI, and others.
As a fleet manager, Kahler said his challenges involve city budgets for maintenance and service, continuing upgrades and obtaining new shop equipment, finding qualified staff, and making sure staff receive the proper training to perform needed service and repair. q