Panel of experts: public sector fleets

Feature

A significant amount of business travel in the public sector is undertaken by drivers in their own vehicles. But with ‘grey fleet’ vehicles generally being older, more polluting and potentially more dangerous than their counterparts, what can the public sector do to manage the issue? Our panelists Martin Evans, Alison Argall and Sean Maher discuss

The average grey fleet car is older, more polluting and potentially more dangerous than its counterparts, according to research by the Energy Saving Trust.
    
Grey fleet is the term for private cars being used for business purposes.
    
The Urban Mobility Partnership has recently called on public bodies in Wales to ban grey fleet usage, saying that by using lease cars and car clubs instead, Wales could reduce the amount of emissions from those journeys by 42 per cent.
    
The Urban Mobility Partnership also backs using mobility credits for use on buses, trains and daily car and bike hire, a similar proposal to the BVRLA’s Mobility Credit Scrappage Scheme.
    
Four years ago, research from Alphabet revealed that 55 per cent of business travel in the public sector is undertaken by drivers in grey fleet vehicles.
    
However, the research revealed that concerns around mileage costs (39 per cent), administration (36 per cent), environmental impact (34 per cent) and health and safety (33 per cent), are making organisations explore a range of alternative mobility solutions.
    
“Grey fleet can prove problematic for organisations when it comes to duty of care and the administration of ensuring that employee’s cars are roadworthy, have comprehensive and business use insurance and road-tax,” comments Alison Argall from Tusker. “It’s a growing problem with grey fleet on the rise as the take up of car allowances increases or access to a Company Car is reduced.
    
“Alternatives can include offering a company car, however fleet management can be problematic for organisations, as it can be a time-consuming task to manage. Another option is to offer a car benefit scheme, which provides reassurances to organisations and drivers by providing brand new cars which are guaranteed to be roadworthy, insured, taxed, maintained, with the scheme fully managed by the provider.
    
To reduce reliance on grey fleet, public sector organisations can also consider introducing pool vehicles or car sharing and cycle-to-work schemes and initiatives. Martin Evans from Jaama said: “Pool vehicles provide staff members safe and maintained vehicles to perform business journeys. Jaama’s online pool car booking module allows organisations to effectively manage pool vehicles.”
    
When companies do offer company cars, it’s important to have a solution in place to differentiate business and personal mileage, believes Sean Maher from Quartix. He explains: “Not only is it necessary to capture the benefit-in-kind mileage and separate this clearly from company mileage, the organisation also needs to understand how its vehicles are being used.
    
“This is where vehicle tracking can make the task of managing a grey fleet or company cars easier. Relying on manual records for HMRC audits can present risks and an extra administrative burden, so it’s vital that company cars are fitted with a tracking system that can categorise business vs private mileage easily.
    
“A tracking system, such as Quartix’s, records the type of trip (business or private), the mileage information and the dates and locations travelled to. The tracking system provides reliable evidence and allows organisations to quickly determine how much tax they are due to pay. By working in partnership with Fleetcheck, it also integrates fuel card data, to split fuel costs across your fleet and better establish how much tax you owe for business miles.
    
“A reliable vehicle tracking system will do the hard work for you, meaning you can submit your figures to HMRC with confidence.”
 
Technology is critical to help public sector organisations have a cohesive, auditable and systemised approach in place to manage ‘grey fleet’ drivers and their vehicles, believes Martin Evans.
    
“Employers should make the same amount of time available to manage ‘grey fleet’ as they do company-provided vehicles, but too many organisations have a varied approach to the challenge.
    
“Introducing  technology and asset management software, such as Jaama’s, can enable public sector fleets to track, measure and manage all duty of care information.
    
“Software can offer a number of modules focused on ‘grey fleet’ management including recording vehicle-related information and vehicle and driver documentation. In addition, it can validate documents and provide a robust audit trail and drivers can use apps to perform vehicle condition checks.”
    
Grey fleet policies must be communicated, understood and accepted by all - from the drivers to executives at the top of the business, believes Martin Evans. He says: “It is important that public sector organisations ensure ‘grey fleet’ drivers buy-in to management policies and that those policies are supported by executives.
    
“It is really important that driving policies and risk management tools – licence checking and driver profiling – are not just rolled out to the company car community but are promoted across an organisation’s entire employee car use base.
    
“Furthermore, there should be no business journeys unless critical policies are in place, they have been complied with and drivers have signed up to them. Communication must come from the top of a business.”

Electric vehicles

With the responsibility of improving air quality being passed down to local authorities, the pressure is on for them to encourage local residents into greener vehicles and more sustainable forms of transport. And they should lead by example, and drive cleaner vehicles themselves.
    
The Renewable Energy Association’s EV group developed a report called ‘Taking Charge: How Local Authorities can champion electric vehicles’. It was written to support council officers, councillors, developers, and individuals who seek to support this transition.
When it comes to electric vehicles, the development of the right type of infrastructure, particularly in terms of where charging bays are located, is critical. Operating electric vehicles needs to be as easy as the current system.
    
The report proposes a range of actions for local authorities, including appointing an ‘EV Car Czar’ from the council body to make it easier for charge point developers to rapidly install the equipment needed.
    
It urges local authorities to ensure that on-street charge points are made available near to those who own EVs.
    
Other recommendations include making it easier for residents to request on-street charge points, investigating how solar and energy storage technologies can power our cars, and creating an ‘EV Plan’ within the local authority, which allocates a budget and identifies clear deliverables.
       
Giving benefits for early EV drivers, such as free parking or allowing EVs to use bus lanes is also proposed, as is committing to purchasing EVs as part of the council’s transport fleet, and working with bus service operators and contractors to encourage their fleets to go electric.
    
Picking up the point about infrastructure, Alison Argall believes that the amount of charging bays installed to support electric vehicles has been slower in keeping pace with adoption levels. However, most local authorities are working on policy to offer increased numbers of charging points in more car parks and council-run facilities as part of their sustainability projects.
“One area of focus needs to be access to roadside charging for those without a driveway,” says Alison. “This is currently not clear for a lot of electric vehicle drivers, and acts as a deterrent for some who can’t find clear information on the options available to them.
    
“In cities where clean air zones are in place or imminent, local authorities are concentrating on ensuring there is a comprehensive charging infrastructure, together with other incentives like free parking, to increase take-up levels amongst local drivers.”

Better driving for less emissions

While electric vehicles are growing in popularity, they may not be an option for everyone due to costs and budget availability, believes Sean Maher from Quartix, who points out that there are other ways to reduce emissions. He explains: “Being conscious not to leave a stationary vehicle idling and focussing on smoother braking and acceleration are all effective ways to reduce your fuel spend and vehicle emissions.
    
“A tracking system can monitor emission levels and analyse your driving style, meaning you can easily see which driving habits need to change. The Quartix system displays this on a map view as well as in a report, so you can pinpoint where and when fuel-thirsty behaviour took place and acknowledge any patterns that emerge.
    
“Studies have shown that fuel spend can be reduced by 25 per cent just by applying the changes indicated by a vehicle tracking system, which really puts the impact of our driving styles into perspective.”
    
Examining the type of routes and whether any journeys cross over can also help reduce emissions. Sean says: “A GPS tracking device will allow you to easily see a trip log and assess this over time to modify your behaviour. Quartix shows you exactly what routes drivers are taking every day, letting you see where they overlap or involve avoidable areas of congestion. Armed with this knowledge, our customers can ensure jobs are completed efficiently, at lower costs and in less time.”

ULEZ and Clean Air Zones

London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) is now operational and means that drivers with non-compliant vehicles in terms of emissions will be charged £12.50 each day to enter the zone at any time. Anybody who does not pay the charge will face a fine of £160. Lorries meanwhile could face £1,000 fine.
    
The scheme is said to affect around 40,000 vehicles, and aims to reduce toxic emissions by around 45 per cent within two years.
    
What’s more, clean air zones are due to be introduced in many towns and cities across the country in the next couple of years.
    
For any public sector organisations that are not prepared, they could rack up costly fines, which is not an option for those spending public money. So how can organisations prepare themselves for future clean air measures?
    
While Euro 4 petrol and Euro 6 diesel vehicles are permitted in the ULEZ, the future is uncertain, and so a switch to alternatively fuelled vehicles is a good option, if viable.
    
But there are still a lot of misunderstandings surrounding electric vehicles, believes Alison. She says: “There is a common misconception that charging is difficult, takes a long time, that cars can’t go very far between charges, and that ULEVs are expensive. Some of these used to be true, but with the improvement of the charging infrastructure and the range of vehicles now available on the market, many of the concerns that drivers had about electric vehicles, are no longer the case.”
    
Alison continues: “If fleet managers continue to provide information to their drivers about the options available and compliance with ULEZ requirements, adoption levels will increase. Government incentives to support the lowest carbon emitting vehicles sees significant reductions in Benefit in Kind on company cars from April 2020 which will benefit both organisations, company car drivers and the environment. This is already starting to create greater interest and confidence when considering a car for a three or four year period.
    
“If organisations opt to offer Car Benefit Schemes, such as the one from Tusker, drivers will have access to a range of ULEVs which are compliant.”
    
For those organisations where updating the fleet is not yet feasible, then avoiding clean air zones could be done with geofencing. Sean explains: “For vehicles that aren’t compliant with the criteria for clean air zones, a useful feature that Quartix offers is Geofencing. Geographic zones can be defined in the system with alerts automatically sent when a vehicle crosses the boundary, notifying the company or the driver. Managers can define clean air zones as no-go areas for certain vehicles to ensure compliance without additional administration. You simply mark out the desired zone on our maps with an easy drawing tool, and you can set up as many zones and alerts as you need.”

Mobility solutions

The government’s recent ‘future of mobility: urban strategy’ says that new types of travel and new business models, enabled by data and connectivity, automation and electrification, are starting to transform how people and goods move. If the transition is well managed, it could help tackle urban challenges such as congestion and air pollution. It can also widen access to mobility for disabled people and older people.
    
How can local authorities use technology to change the way we think and travel, as well as improve some of the issues in city centres?
    
Sean Maher said: “The key to changing attitudes is awareness of our current behaviours and, with that, we can look at changing them for the better. Our experience is that big improvements can be made with small modifications and minimal inconvenience to users, be they members of the public or employees of an organisation.
    
“Local authorities can take the lead in the move towards greener, more efficient transport and provide an example for their residents to follow. One of the easiest ways to do this is to use a good vehicle tracking system which provides insights into how we drive, the miles we accumulate and the impact that has on both the environment and the vehicle running costs. Once you have this data you can see where improvement is needed.”