Driver safety and protecting the brand are high on the list of priorities for the fleet team at construction company Princebuild, particularly as its green and yellow liveried vans stand out on the roads.
Jonathan Brown, executive manager, fleet and facilities, is responsible for 127 vans (the majority for Princebuild; seven are used by commercial and domestic cleaning division Princeclean) and 60 cars (used by project managers, supervisors, estimators and quantity surveyors).
He says: “It’s important to us, to our brand, to be seen on the road to have considerate, careful drivers and to have a low risk to other road users and vulnerable road users.”
To encourage the right behaviour and improve the safety of the fleet he utilises a combination of the following:
* Technology – speed limiters, telematics and forward-facing cameras.
* Training – he is a trained assessor and all new employees are given a two-hour introduction to the fleet, followed by an hour’s on-the-road training and risk assessment, including an eyesight check and driving licence check.
* Detailed annual vehicle inspection alongside weekly checks.
* Regular communication – including the use of social media platform Yammer.
Princebuild introduced speed limiters, set at 68mph, in 2010 for safety and fuel benefits.
It also switched from a basic tracking device to driver behaviour telematics from Masternaut about two and a half years ago.
Both moves have resulted in reductions across the board with ‘gold status’ achieved this year under the Masternaut Fleet CO2 Certification Programme, which is verified by the Energy Saving Trust. Only 2% gain the gold.
“We have seen a dramatic reduction in over-speed offences,” says Brown.
To be awarded gold best-in-class status, – operators must achieve either a 5% improvement on industry benchmarks (based on fleets of a similar makeup), or show a 5% reduction in emissions, compared with their own year-on-year figures.
Monthly speeding reports, quarterly driver league tables, driver training and communication have resulted in a 10-15% fuel saving.
The communication includes Brown going through a driver’s individual scores as part of the annual vehicle inspection, a four-hour speed awareness presentation with drivers to highlight that “speed is a killer” and formal measures.
“If we’ve got people regularly speeding we send them a letter saying they’ve had ‘x’ amount of offences this month and these are the locations,” Brown says.
“If they don’t respond to that letter and curb their speeding they get invited to meet with a director to explain why they’ve ignored the letter.
“Most people take note of the letter but you always get the odd driver who, no matter how many times you contact them, their attitude doesn’t change. It certainly does change as soon as they’ve been hauled in to have a discussion with one of the directors.”
On the whole, drivers have accepted the technology.
Maria Groves, senior office administrator, who assists Brown with the day-to-day management of the fleet and facilities (Princebuild has four industrial units and six residential properties which its rents out, along with five branches), says: “They were all a bit cautious of it before, but we explained it’s for their own benefit.
“We’re not watching every minute of every day because we’ve all got our jobs to do. When a job comes in, we can look where it is and see who is the closest person to deal with it.
“It helps drivers to not have to travel miles out of their way to do a job when there is a work colleague closer. I think they’ve realised it’s actually a benefit for them.”
There are duty of care benefits, too. The drivers are on call-out 24/7 and the system allows the fleet team to receive messages when a driver has arrived at a site and when they have arrived home.
In 2014, Princebuild began fitting Roadhawk forward-facing cameras to all vans dating from 2010. The decision was taken following an insurance claim.
Brown explains: “One of our vehicles nudged into the back of another. There was no damage to either vehicle, but the driver got out and exchanged details just in case. We reported it to our insurance company and a few weeks later there was a personal injury claim through for four passengers and a driver when there had been only one driver present at the incident but no witnesses. That increased our insurance considerably the following year so we decided the forward-facing cameras would be our protection against crash-for-cash.”
Since fitting the cameras, there have been no false insurance claims. However, Brown uses the footage if he receives any complaints about driver behaviour to determine whether it is fair or not, and whether training is needed.
“I’ve seen some footage where it’s not really our driver’s fault,” he says. “I think a lot of people who don’t drive light commercial vehicles are unaware of the number of blindspots there are.”
During the new starter on-the-road training, Brown takes in different road types and covers eco driving, defence driving and space management. This is followed by a risk assessment.
“A lot of the space management issues tend to occur in built-up areas when people close down the gaps because they feel it’s a congested area compared with driving on
A roads,” he says.
“It’s about making sure people are aware that the way they drive costs the business. Every saving the company can make goes back into the profits because fleet is just a big overhead of the business.”
All drivers have a fuel card and Princebuild uses the Allstar One Card due to its network coverage.
“If you go for a fuel card that doesn’t offer such high coverage, sometimes you can lose more in downtime with the drivers having to deviate on their journey to find a refilling station that accepts their card,” Brown says.
The fleet is all purchased outright and predominantly from Renault, although senior managers have free choice (bar a minimum combined mpg of 40mpg, CO2 is not capped as drivers naturally opt for lower CO2 to reduce benefit-in-kind).
“We’ve got family ties between Smiths Motor Group and Princebuild so we reciprocate business. We refurb its dealerships and, in return, we buy its vehicles. We’ve got terms set up with Renault UK and the dealership for our discounts,” Brown says.
The relationship with Renault has been strengthened by the manufacturer agreeing in 2016 to spray the vans in Princebuild’s corporate colour at the factory, saving on downtime and around £1,000 in respray costs, as well as giving a better finish.
“The livery is all vinyls now. So, when the vehicles come in, Kingston Signs applies the vinyl and at the same time the forward-facing cameras and telematics are fitted by the providers. Within two weeks of receiving the vehicle we can have it on the fleet,” Brown says.
After four years or 100,000 miles, the vans are sold to one of Princebuild’s supplying garages with strict instructions for the older yellow and green vehicles to be resprayed white to avoid them being identified as an ex-Princebuild vehicle, which can have unforeseen consequences (see panel, right).
The newer vans will only require the removal of the vinyl so Brown believes they will achieve a higher resale value.
He has considered contract hire in the past but found outright purchase to be more competitive and was deterred by potential damage recharges.
Princebuild was recently stung with damage charges of around £1,500 from its short-term hire provider and now keeps an internal hire fleet.
Its energy divison, Princeenergy, began operating a Renault Zoe as a pool car last November, a first step into electric vehicles.
“It’s proving quite popular,” Groves says. “It gets used to go to site meetings and everybody who has driven it loves it.”
There is also one plug-in hybrid (a BMW330e) on the Princebuild company car fleet which a senior manager has opted for and Brown believes hybrids and full EVs will become more popular as the electric range improves and there is a wider vehicle choice.
WLTP has not yet presented a challenge although Brown is concerned about the unknown impact from April 2020 (when the CO2 figures are used forcompany car tax and VED).
Electric vans are deemed unsuitable due to the miles the Princebuild drivers cover although Brown believes a hybrid van could prove useful as drivers could switch to electric to reduce NOx emissions when they enter a city centre.
Next on the agenda is the Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme (FORS) – a lot of clients are requesting that Princebuild is accredited.
“I believe we go beyond most other operators with the same size fleet as us,” Brown says. “We like to dot the i’s and cross the t’s on everything we do, but, at the same time, we don’t want to reinvent the wheel and make it (fleet) too complex.”
Maria Groves assists Jonathan Brown with fleet administration.
Brown on ...
…clean air zones
Princebuild is a national fleet operator, with a London office, so Brown has to keep a close eye on clean air zones (CAZs) and their potential impact.
He switched drivers working in and around London into the latest Euro 6 diesel vans ahead of the introduction of the ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ) earlier this month.
However, there will be a cost to the business if other vehicles have to be sent in to central London to respond to call-outs, so Brown is considering ‘doubling up’ the number of tradespeople per vehicle.
Drivers are also taking the initiative, where possible. Some already park their vehicles outside central London and take the Tube with a bag of tools as it easier and quicker.
Like other fleet operators, Brown is frustrated by local authorities’ inconsistent approach to CAZs.
“If they all adopted the same process as London at least we’d be fully aware how it works,” he says.
…communicating with drivers
Princebuild uses social network Yammer, which is aimed at businesses, and Brown has found it is an effective tool to communicate with drivers.
There is less face-to-face contact between office staff and drivers as they no longer have to come into offices to collect their paperwork so Yammer helps to get key messages to them.
The fleet team put toolbox talks, driving tips, and reminders about speeding and parking on there.
“It’s a good means to get information out to people,” Brown says. “It’s too easy to press delete on an email, with Yammer there is social interaction.
"We introduced Yammer in August 2018 as we recognised that with advances in IT and more and more operatives where working remotely with IPADS or Smart Phones we needed a way in which we could communicate with everyone in the company.
"The Yammer Platform allows people to socialise as well as receiving communications/reports and bulletins from the various departments within the company.
"It generates conversations between all levels of the business, questions can be asked and answers given that reaches everyone in the organisation, for fleet it allows us to give updates to drivers about up and coming topics such as the ULEZ and how it operates and how it affects them, or posting about campaigns for road safety, providing information and reports from the Fleet Department and so on."
Brown believes the fleet department is best-placed to manage the grey fleet.
“I don’t feel HR is knowledgeable enough to deal with grey fleet,” he says. “I think it’s a fleet-related matter.”
Princebuild has seven grey fleet drivers and they are managed as if they were in company cars. Restrictions include a CO2 emissions cap of 160g/km, a minimum of 40mpg (combined figure), and a maximum age of four years.
MOT, VED, business insurance and driving licences are all checked and captured on Chevin’s fleet management software.
Drivers also declare on their business mileage returns that all checks have been done, the vehicle is roadworthy and their documents are valid.
…handing telematics data to the police
Telematics data has proved its worth for the Princebuild fleet team in two incidents.
When a member of the public phoned the police to report a driver for throwing two greyhounds out of their van onto the side of the road, claiming it was a Princebuild vehicle the fleet team was able to use telematics data to prove that none of its vehicles were in that location at the time and that it was, in fact, an ex-Princebuild vehicle.
The second occasion was a road traffic accident in which a motorcyclist was killed after colliding with a lorry, three cars and a Princebuild van. The telematics data confirmed to the police that the Princebuild van was not speeding.