Suffolk-based St Edmundsbury Borough Council has taken a holistic approach to reducing its impact on the environment prompted by a move to new premises in March 2009.
It led to the creation of a travel plan that took in every aspect of transportation, including the vehicle fleet.
The new building in Bury St Edmunds, which also houses Suffolk County Council, has numerous features intended to improve both councils’ environmental credentials, such as collecting rainwater for the toilets and flooring that consists of two concrete layers sandwiching a layer of plastic balls to reduce weight and improve insulation.
Travel manager Peter Smulders was appointed to create and implement the new policy three years ago.
He worked closely with fleet and technical manager Phil Clifford from the outset, considering the impact of the company fleet, grey drivers and commuters.
The building has 435 work stations with 700 people working from them, many only for a few hours. However, the building has just 350 parking spaces for staff.
St Edmundsbury took the decision to charge staff for parking – the fee is about to rise from 60p to 70p a day – to discourage them from commuting by car.
And it has introduced incentives to drive forward the green agenda, such as 24 car share spaces sited closest to the building and free parking for cars that emit less than 120g/km of CO2. “When we started last year we had 12 cars below 120g/km,” says Smulders. “Now we have more than 60.”
Subsidised public transport (free bus travel paid for by the parking charges), car share incentives via an online booking facility and cycle-to-work schemes are seen as the key components to staff buy-in to the emissions reduction strategy.
St Edmundsbury has built sheltered cycle stands right outside the building – Smulders is Dutch so is something of a cycling evangelist – and showers for people who cycle or walk to work.
Staff can purchase bikes on a salary sacrifice scheme and the council offers incentives during the year, such as free breakfast during National Cycle to Work Week. It also has pool bicycles and an electrically assisted bike that can be booked online.
“All these things depend on something else so we offer staff a guaranteed ride home if there’s a problem, such as a flat tyre or their ride home driver is ill and leaves early, and if you have to get home urgently,” says Smulders.
“This gives staff the confidence that they won’t ever be stranded.”
He estimates that the number of car commuters has already fallen by around 10%. “Historically Government has encouraged people to live out of town and commute to work so it’s hard to change. But we are chipping away all the time.”
St Edmundsbury, a member of the Energy Saving Trust’s Motorvate programme, has implemented a seven-stage practice note to tackle grey fleet mileage.
It has around 200 casual users and almost 60 staff who take a cash allowance but, before they can use their own car for business, they have to exhaust six options: video conference, public transport, car share, lease car, pool car and spot hire.
Only if none of these is a viable alternative can they use their own car (the seventh option) – and only then if they have been pre-approved for casual use by providing the relevant documentation.
The policy is working: last year, pool car mileage rose from 27,000 to 42,000 with a corresponding fall in grey fleet mileage.
Clifford created the pool fleet of four cars out of car lease early terminations when the council changed its essential user allowance five years ago.
As demand rises, more cars will be added but in the meantime spot hire is key to reducing grey fleet miles.
“The current trip break even point is around 55 miles,” he says.
“More than that and it is cheaper to hire a car than allow staff to use their own car and reclaim fuel. Our pool fleet last year cost 34p per mile compared to AMAP rates at 40ppm. We did 42,000 miles in pool/hire cars, saving 6ppm .”
St Edmundsbury is a typically varied council fleet, encompassing everything from wheelbarrows to eight-wheel trucks.
Vans, heavy commercials and plant are bought outright and replaced every eight years; cars are leased via the Buying Solutions Pan-Government framework.
“Our accountants say it is cheaper to use our money than someone else’s,” Clifford says. “It also gives us more flexibility if we want to keep them for longer, get rid earlier or modify.”
While some local authorities split responsibility for cars into HR and vans into transport, Clifford is responsible for both. “There are synergies, for example procurement,” he says
“Fleet management is a profession even though it has not always been seen as such.”
Rising fuel prices have forced the council to take action on efficiency to bring down whole life costs.
St Edmundsbury has created a joint committee with neighbouring Forest Heath District Council to work on route optimisation for its refuse and cleansing trucks.
New routes will be implemented next month; Clifford hopes that, in addition to reducing mileage and fuel usage, the new routes could release capacity and protect the two councils from the impact of future housing growth for more years than would otherwise have been the case.
He has also invested in Quartix Telematics to assist with the routeing and scheduling project, enabling both councils to remap and fine tune the new collection routes.
The potential for savings is immense. The council’s 18 refuse trucks account for just 16% of the fleet, but 80% of its fuel use.
“Any savings will be big money,” says Clifford, who has been managing St Edmundsbury’s fleet for 21 years.
“We will also apply this approach to our cleansing operations, then ground maintenance as part of a 2-3 year programme to look at our efficiencies.”
He has been trialling a Connaught Hybrid+ unit in one van for the past year, assessing its performance against another similar van without the hybrid system fitted to provide a direct comparison.
“We are also considering investing in a Bosch-Rexroth hydraulic regenerative braking system (HRB), a potential £25,000-30,000 investment, for a refuse truck,” Clifford adds.
“The potential fuel saving is up to 30% depending on duty cycles.
"At today’s prices our refuse trucks could show payback within their eight-year life, and as fuel prices rise further, those savings build up.”
The council would be the first organisation in the UK to invest in the system.
It has been launched in Germany where fleets are typically achieving 20% savings.
St Edmundsbury has also been trialling the Greenroad safety centre system for the past year across its fleet, which has been funded by its insurer. It is still analysing the results but the primary focus is to test accident statistics on harsh braking, acceleration and cornering.
Complementing St Edmundsbury’s holistic approach to the environment is its risk management and training policy. It has sent six van and six heavy commercial drivers on the SAFED training course and is about to start driver CVT training.
Risk assessments identify the drivers in most need, while posters in the mess rooms promote safety driving tips, which ultimately also result in better fuel consumption and lower CO2 emissions.
“Vehicle management is relatively simple – you can control vehicles because they are inanimate objects,” Clifford says.
“Driver management is more of an issue and moves down to line managers.
"We investigate accidents to see if action is required and we provide line managers with instruction to help them manage their drivers.
“The fleet manager’s role is to make line managers aware of any issues so they can take action.”
Organisation St Edmundsbury Borough Council
Fleet & technical manager Phil Clifford
Fleet size 30 cars, 50 vans, 35 heavy commercials, 30 specialist plant
Ownership policy Vans/commercials/plant – outright purchase; cars – leased
Replacement cycle Eight years for commercials
Fleet management system Accelerator by Technopoly
Route optimisation software Routemaster by Integrated Skills
Telematics system Quartix
Car brands on policy Open badge