Ahmad Bilal is the non-revenue vehicle fleet manager for Seattle’s Sound Transit. Bilal, who joined Sound Transit in 2017, says that fleet data analysis has been key to their successful continuous improvement, a critical aspect of Sound Transit’s mission. Sound Transit builds and operates regional transit service throughout the urban areas of Washington State’s Central Puget Sound, and serves King, Pierce and Snohomish Counties. Their fleet is used by more than 1,000 users located in 6 different geographical locations.
Q: How was your fleet managed before using the automated system?
A: Before launching the system, the fleet was managed manually. Although I was not with Sound Transit at that time, staff managing the fleet tell me that manual scheduling and dispatching vehicles was a time-consuming nightmare. As for reporting, there was very little data to work with and there wasn’t much confidence in the accuracy of the data. It took weeks to generate reports and we didn’t really trust the results.
Q: You’ve been able to eliminate 115 unneeded vehicles from your fleet, resulting in millions of dollars in savings. How have you been able to accomplish that?
A: Sound Transit is committed to the most efficient delivery of services and projects as a core value. By sharing vehicles and allowing employees to schedule them via the online vehicle reservation system, we have increased the use of vehicles while reducing the overall need for vehicles dedicated to individuals or departments. Data collected by the system helps us pinpoint underutilized vehicles, which are then flagged for removal. That means we are eliminating ongoing costs such as maintenance, insurance, depreciation, parking and other expenses we would incur for those vehicles. After automating our fleet management processes, we were able to cut costly vehicles that were weighing down our budgets while improving service to our employees. That saves our taxpaying citizens a lot of money.
Q: What kind of decisions were you able to make once you began analyzing Sound Transit’s fleet data?
A: Tracking and analyzing vehicle utilization has led directly to changes in the quantity and type of vehicles needed and to vehicle reassignments to address demand. Tracking and analysis has also influenced vehicle replacement decisions. By reviewing fleet pool utilization rates, we identified patterns of under-utilization that were unique to certain types of vehicles. We discovered that this was due, in part, to drivers having difficulties with operating SUVs and minivans around downtown Seattle. Therefore, these vehicles were going unused. Because of these types of findings, we reassigned larger vehicles to shared vehicle pools at satellite offices that can accommodate the larger vehicles. This has increased fleet pool utilization downtown while saving us from purchasing new vehicles.
Q: How many reservations do you manage annually?
A: After implementing online vehicle reservations and a self-service motor pool kiosk, Sound Transit now manages almost 10,000 reservations annually, up from only about 350 in 2011. An automated self-service kiosk provides 24/7 pickup and drop-off of vehicle keys. The online vehicle reservation capability makes it easy for employees to schedule their vehicles. We have 1,015 users in the system who share 80 vehicles at 6 sites throughout the region. We have made vehicle sharing an important part of our work culture here. In fact, motor pool usage training is part of employee orientation.
Q: What are your utilization rates now?
A: We are pleased to report vehicle utilization rates for the shared fleet generally range from 77-100 percent. We estimate that a savings of more than $2 million has been realized for taxpayers since launching the initiative in 2013.