Fleet News

PaperCo waves goodbye to its charging problems

CONGESTION charging was just one of the problems looming on the horizon when Steve Rowson took over the fleet at London-based The Paper Company in May 2002. Another was the need to register all his vehicles on the Motor Insurance Database under the EC's Fourth Directive.

But perhaps the greatest problem of all was the need to increase the efficiency and draw together the costs of a 510 trucks-to-cars fleet scattered all over the country, operated by no fewer than 11 subsidiaries, in what until last November had been Bunzl Fine Paper.

On congestion charging, Rowson recalls: 'We needed a system to track when vehicles had been into the charging zone, as I don't trust the official monitoring system for a minute.

'One of the immediate complications was having different systems for LCVs and cars. With LCVs it was comparatively simple. We pre-registered every vehicle at a cost of £10 each – you could do this if you had more than 25 which was no problem for us – and then each month we knew we'd get an invoice, which would be paid by direct debit. For the privilege of them administering this system, they said they'd charge us an extra 50p per day inside the zone, totalling £5.50.

'With our company cars it was a bit more complicated. We still had to register them all, but then we were expected to guess in advance how many days per month they'd be going in. Then at the end of the month we would pay an invoice or receive a credit.'

For three years before taking up the post of group logistics manager, Rowson had supervised the rolling-out of a new IT system for the company's warehousing and distribution operations across 28 locations, so he knew a thing or two about technology, and how to rationalise large multi-site operations.

He said: 'I could see that using the internet would enable us to draw together information from a variety of sites into a central point and because it would allow others to enter their own data, might also save me a lot of time. I was aware that in the beginning I was spending 75% of my time crunching numbers from other people's Excel spreadsheets just to get them into the system.

'We wondered about writing our own software system but it was a question of fighting for resources. We have two in-house people who possess this kind of expertise, but they're constantly dealing with the needs of perhaps 1,000 people within the company. In the end I went for an off-the-shelf package, Chevin Fleet Solutions' FleetWave, as it could be so easily tailored to our needs. Most computerised fleet management systems effectively say 'that's what you've got', which isn't what we wanted at all.

'Now with FleetWave we're evolving our perfect system for tracking congestion charging, as we can configure it and add fields as we go. For instance, we'd already put in a special field for fines. It already had a system for tracking trips and loads and now we're considering using 'charge-free' gas-powered vehicles, we'll simply add fields as we go to make sure we don't get charged or fined in error.

'We've looked at both LPG and compressed natural gas dual-fuel vans but we have decided against gas for our heavy LGVs, as they'd need servicing once a month.'

Armed with the new system, Rowson said he was not concerned at the prospect of other cities following London's example. Most commercial vehicles – including 265 vans – operated by the firm's 11 subsidiaries (companies like Donald Murray and Masons Paper) as far afield as Glasgow and Bristol tend to stick to their own patches and do not overlap with other cities, so that is one possible complication he won't have to deal with.

Another congestion-charge related problem he is using FleetWave to tackle is logging and calculating car drivers' P11D 'benefit' whenever they make private trips into the zone.

Rowson said: 'They need to prove that each trip is for business. If drivers are simply travelling to work, it's counted as a benefit. But thanks to our new software, we don't have to enter this data twice. I just got a note from our head of payroll, who was able to draw off the P11D information he wanted and thanked me for having such a brilliant system – it had just saved him a week's work.'

Derbyshire-based Chevin Fleet Solutions was established 13 years ago and in 2001 launched FleetWave, which it billed as the world's first web-based fleet management system. A 'pay-as-you-go' version was launched in July this year.

Chevin also produces desk-based fleet management packages under the RoadBASE and Easy-Fleet 250 brands.

Other recent innovations include bar-code reading systems and touch-screens, which can make busy workshops more efficient.

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