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City Smarts: Tuning up

St. John's shares some of its fleet maintenance strategies.


Maintenance on snow clearing equipment is handled in-house. (Photo: City of St. John's)

To outsource or not to outsource. That is the question for anyone responsible for equipment maintenance. The rough rule of thumb for the City of St. John’s public works department is “outsource where possible and do it in-house when necessary.”

The city has 450 pieces of rolling stock, from heavy equipment like graders, loaders, sidewalk clearers and snowplows, to lighter pieces such as vans, pick ups and gang mowers. It has 30 staff mechanics, all of which are dual-certified for heavy and automotive work. Most hang their hats in the 100-foot x 300-foot main garage on Blackler Avenue, which has 41 bays. A few more clock in at the five-bay shop at the landfill site on East White Hill Road.

As able as the city is to maintain its fleet, it still prefers to outsource, but with some caveats. “We focus on the heavy equipment. For the light equipment, like cars, vans, oil and grease work, or engine and transmission problems, we tend to contract out all the tasks,” says Paul Mackey, deputy city manager responsible for public works, City of St. John’s. “Another thing we do is take extended maintenance agreements with suppliers, and put the onus on them.”

The guiding rule is to let outside shops do what they are best at, and take care of the rest in the city’s garages. “We have a lot of local shops that can do that work. It is the easy stuff. Primarily we focus on preventative maintenance,” adds Richard Parks, fleet manager, City of St. John’s. That includes doing the brakes on the heavy trucks, since, Parks notes, “Heavy truck specialists are more limited.”

Maintenance on snow clearing equipment is handled in-house. (Photo: City of St. John's)

Maintenance on snow clearing equipment is handled in-house. (Photo: City of St. John’s)

Public works also tends to do the maintenance and repairs themselves on equipment that has specialty parts, because of parts availability issues.

Things get a bit less “us or them” when there is a heavy demand for equipment. On the one hand, Mackey explains, “We use our own forces more for the snow clearing equipment, because we need the faster turn around.” On the other hand, in order not to overwhelm the city mechanics during peak periods, public works will outsource more equipment maintenance than usual.

Outsourcing can be a good thing, but there is a small question for anyone responsible for equipment maintenance. The rough rule of thumb for the City of St. John’s public works department is “outsource where possible and do it in-house when necessary.”

The city has 450 pieces of rolling stock, from heavy equipment like graders, loaders, sidewalk clearers and snowplows, to lighter pieces such as vans, pick ups and gang mowers. It has 30 staff mechanics, all of which are dual-certified for heavy and automotive work. Most hang their hats in the 100-foot x 300-foot main garage on Blackler Avenue, which has 41 bays. A few more clock in at the five-bay shop at the landfill site on East White Hill Road.

As able as the city is to maintain its fleet, it still prefers to outsource, but with some caveats. “We focus on the heavy equipment. For the light equipment, like cars, vans, oil and grease work, or engine and transmission problems, we tend to contract out all the tasks,” says Paul Mackey, deputy city manager responsible for public works, City of St. John’s. “Another thing we do is take extended maintenance agreements with suppliers, and put the onus on them.”

The guiding rule is to let outside shops do what they are best at, and take care of the rest in the city’s garages. “We have a lot of local shops that can do that work. It is the easy stuff. Primarily we focus on preventative maintenance,” adds Richard Parks, fleet manager, City of St. John’s. That includes doing the brakes on the heavy trucks, since, Parks notes, “Heavy truck specialists are more limited.”

Public works also tends to do the maintenance and repairs themselves on equipment that has specialty parts, because of parts availability issues.

Things get a bit less “us or them” when there is a heavy demand for equipment. On the one hand, Mackey explains, “We use our own forces more for the snow clearing equipment, because we need the faster turn around.” On the other hand, in order not to overwhelm the city mechanics during peak periods, public works will outsource more equipment maintenance than usual.

Outsourcing can be a good thing, but there is a small downside, Mackey explains.

“You need someone to administer it and make sure you are getting value.” For some work, public works solicits new quotes every year. The city also does periodic audits to review the process for fair prices.

Partly because of the lopsided ratio of hours logged versus miles driven by the city’s vehicles, maintenance intervals are generally more frequent than those recommended by the equipment manufacturers.

“Most of the new pick ups and cars, [manufacturers] are telling us to run up 7,500–12,000 kilometres between oil changes. We are backing up to 5,000 to 6,000-kilometre oil change intervals. We do short trips and idling. There are engine oil sludge problems at longer intervals. It is a lot of hours of [engine running] for the kilometres driven. Ironically, we send the sanitation trucks out on the Outer Ring Road to give the exhaust gas recirculation systems a chance to warm up to operating temperatures, which is a minimum of 25-30 minutes. This allows the system to dump extra fuel into the catalytic converter to burn out the buildup of carbon,” Parks elaborates.

Public works uses a Wennsoft computerised maintenance management program, not because it is especially suited for fleet maintenance management, but because of its compatibility with other city software programs. Wennsoft issues scheduled tasks, but the public works operations supervisor makes the judgment calls on whether maintenance is actually warranted.

“We will run a printout once a week and review it. The maintenance depends on whether servicing has to be done during the seasonal [peak] or if the kilometers are lower than usual. During intense periods, the operations supervisor makes decisions on when to service equipment,” Parks says. “The operations supervisor is in tune, anticipates what is happening and makes sure that the equipment is staying within the parameters.”

Mackey adds, “Maintenance scheduling is a lot more challenging when you don’t have regular use. A sander might put in 1,000 kilometres a week for a few weeks, and then not be used for the rest of the winter. You’ve got to be flexible to accommodate all that variation.”


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1 Comment » for City Smarts: Tuning up
  1. Paul S says:

    Private fleets would go bankrupt in a hurry if they had ratios of 30 mechanics to 450 pieces of equipment. Real world would be 10 mechanics and no out-sourcing.

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