Big Van on Campus

With 55,000 students in just a five mile radius, University of Colorado Certified Automotive Fleet Manager (CAFM) Bryan Flansburg knows all about maintaining small spaces. "Most universities are like a city inside of a city," Flansburg says. "We have anything from golf carts, to trash trucks to buses and everything in between."


For David Carr, University of Washington's CAFM (a certification based on the National Association of Fleet Administrators education and training program), the university setting is particularly unique since it involves so many different maintenance trades, and therefore a multitude of types and applications of vehicles. "The university is really old and we have really old buildings, so we have a lot of maintenance people and trades-people—carpenters, plumbers and masons. We have a lot of vans and pickup trucks for them," he says. "Grounds are severely important on a college campus, so we have a lot of gardeners, and arborists; we have a lot of different equipment."

This is not to mention the various buses, refuse vehicles, cargo trucks, dumps and cars that the university fleet includes for its daily operations. "It's like a small city," Carr says. "We have about 700 vehicles on a 650 acre campus."


Carr's biggest concern for now is the same as everyone's: "The concern in the future will be with diesel trucks and the '07 emissions standards," Carr says. "We're concerned since the trucks never go very far or very fast to get up to temperature."

The necessary temperature for passive regeneration on the new engines—the process of soot burning that is a replacement for an exhaust system—is easily obtainable in a highway application. In these cases, the regeneration occurs while the vehicle is operating, often even unbeknownst the driver. But in low speed applications where the engine is at or around an ambient temperature, it is often necessary to initiate "active regeneration" to burn the accumulated soot in the engine. "Active regeneration" mostly demands a monitored, parked and running vehicle.

"We're going to have to idle for extensive periods of time," Carr says, skeptical of the estimates engine manufacturers have given. "They say only ten or fifteen minutes, but you do that every day or every couple of days… I take it with a grain of salt; it might take a half an hour," he says. "You're taking a driver who's got a CDL, and you're going to pay him to idle his truck. And we have extensive policies against idling, because we don't want people to idle."


Both Flansburg and Carr discuss the difficulties in maintaining a consistent turnover policy in a fleet that doesn't rack up the miles like your typical over-the-road trucks.

"In most campus environments, the utilization of a vehicle cannot be judged by mileage alone. Because of how small the campus is, you just don't get enough miles on vehicles," Flansburg says. "The vehicles get very low miles on them, but it's a very abusive mileage."

So imagine a reasonable-seeming policy where vehicles are replaced every 50,000 miles. "We got rid of an 11 year-old van with 20- to 30,000 miles on it," Carr says. "That's not a hundred and twenty thousand—that's twenty thousand. The door hinges wear out, and the door handles wear out and the seats wear out… and then the rest of the vehicle—you drive it every day, but you're driving two miles a day—one mile to the job site and one mile back."

Carr explains the transition in the policies for University of Washington's vehicle replacement program. "We had planned on replacing cars at five years and trucks at ten years, and we just now reevaluated that.

"Selling a five-year-old car with 30,000 miles on it doesn't make any sense. And selling a ten-year-old truck with 20,000 miles on it is really hard to do," he says. "Particularly, they're building the vehicles better—right now our strategy is to get rid of all pre-1996 vehicles, because that's when OBD emissions standards came into effect. So everything prior to 1996 goes away, and anything newer—light duty—we're going to keep 12 or 13 years. Then it becomes more case-by-case."


A university CAFM is often faced with the additional responsibility of maintaining the campus motor pool—a fleet of vehicles much like a rental service, although for official university business. This private rental pool is like a fleet within a fleet, and consists of vehicles that, unlike most of the university fleet, log mileage outside of the closed campus setting. Flansburg has begun utilizing a new policy on the way turnover in his motor pool is handled where he has been able to take advantage of his low mileage vehicles.

"I bought four compacts last year and I'm getting ready to sell and buy four more, and after one year's time, it's going to cost me $1,000 to have to run those vehicles, and I have absolutely zero maintenance on them. I'll have an oil change, and that's about it," he says. "Everything is under warranty and, in a year in the motor pool, we might go 10,000 miles. Because we get such a discounted rate on a vehicle—because we buy it off state contract—if we can turn a vehicle every year, it costs us almost nothing to run the vehicle."


It is clearly a big part of the job of a university fleet CAFM to dream up creative solutions to issues which are unique to a closed, off-highway environment. If cycling out a vehicle is not an option, there are ways to maximize what you have currently.

Explains Carr, "We take passenger vans and, after they've been used for four or five years, we convert them to cargo vans—take the seats out and put a partition in there—and then we can get the useful life of those extended out to ten or twelve years, or more."

With the campus rental pool vehicles, it's a matter as basic as changing the duty cycle to allow for a more expanded use of the vehicles' components. "They're a rental fleet, so they get trashed, and they get miles put on them," Carr says. "Then we take them out of the rental service and put them in a campus fleet, where they get a different kind of wear. What it does is it extends the life cycle considerably.

"Then we buy all these new vehicles and put them in the rental fleet and they only have to be there for a very short period of time. Then we rotate them out. So we always have new ones there, and extend the life cycle by putting them in a really low mileage application," he says.


Unfortunately, some creative solutions have not taken to this campus environment quite as well. Carr sees one of the biggest concerns as trying to maintain an emission-friendly, fuel-efficient fleet of vehicles, which often leads to a lot of trial and error on the way to finding the most appropriate solution.

"The biggest challenge, I think, is being greener, cleaner, reducing emissions and sustainability," Carr says. "We've all done the recycling thing; we've all done pollution prevention. Now we're looking at things like greenhouse gas reductions."

Explains Carr, "We're a state fleet, so we're an EPAct fleet—and here in the Northwest there's not much corn, so we can't get ethanol. We tried electric vehicles before, but we're on a really hilly campus, so they don't perform very well. Also when it gets cold and rains, and you've got the wipers going and the heater going, and you're driving up and down the hills, your range is minimal."

EPAct (US Department of Energy's Energy Policy Act) places mandates on government fleets to encourage alternative fuel use—such as regulating the purchase of flex-fuel vehicles, or other gasoline-saving vehicles such as electric or hybrid-electric.


It seems like a public university fleet would be in a good position to obtain certain perks such as discounted vehicle rates. Still, there is another side to being under the thumb of state or federal government:

"We're really constricted in how we can do business," University of Washington's Carr explains. "I could go on for a long time talking about E8-21, which are the accounting rules for universities, for federal dollars. It basically restricts how we can find replacement funds, so we can't do it like a regular city does. We struggle with that; that's a challenge."

Flansburg's fleet ran into a replacement cycle issue due to their state affiliations. "We used to be under the control of the state of Colorado, and it was 140,000 miles (before replacement) for them," he says. "The problem is that in a campus environment, it would take twenty years for a car to go 140,000 miles. It doesn't make sense to hold a car that long. Our campus is a five mile radius. We have some of our maintenance vehicles that only go about 1,500 miles a year."


Even though it sounds like a particularly demanding and unique fleet to manage, Flansburg's biggest gripes in terms of maintenance are probably similar to those of a lot of city and delivery fleets: front end wear and tear.

"We drive in circles all day long, and we pop up on curbs, and go up on sidewalks, and bounce off," he says. "The way our campus—and most campuses are set up—service vehicles will jump up on a curb to get up on a sidewalk to get to a building; that up and off of curbs really affects our front ends a lot."

Carr agrees that his main issues are typical ones. "For the most part, we're just like any other fleets," he says. "We've got the new technology coming and going. And trying to get mechanics— that's another challenge."