At most traditional colleges and universities, transportation and parking services are designed and implemented within the boundaries of a centralized location. At Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, where I earned my undergraduate degree, there were more than 30 individual parking lots, comprising about 1,500 staff spaces; 1,300 commuter spaces; and a range of disabled, sponsored guest, metered, van pool and motorcycle spaces. In addition, regional and city busses helped students and faculty get around.
In stark comparison to Cal Poly’s centralized campus, the Academy of Art University’s (AAU) transportation department manages a fleet of more than 40 vehicles that provide shuttle services to an average of 2,500 riders every day at 18 bus stops serving nearly 40 buildings around east and central San Francisco. By not providing on-campus parking and, instead, operating a robust shuttle transit system, demand is managed very effectively. The system has six regular routes operating from eight-to-17 hours per day and seven express routes functioning at a range of times. Four of the express routes run for less than one hour daily, while the three remaining express routes run from seven-to-11 hours. The four short-term express routes, which serve users for less than one hour per day, are mainly intended to speed up travel at peak times in the afternoon.
Allen James, executive director of transportation and logistics; Robert Hendricks, operations manager; and Al Salman, safety manager, have all been with the AAU for more than a decade. In that time, they have seen significant changes, learned a lot and worked diligently to fine-tune the transportation system. Following are some key takeaways they recently shared with me.
Use assets for effectiveness and efficiency. Prior to 2008, the school managed a total of 26 routes and 60 –70 drivers — twice today’s amount. James’s predecessor had insisted on all of these routes offering students direct, one-way transportation. He believed that having numerous, direct routes was the best way to get students to class on time. This decision had many costs, including concerns from city officials, who often called attention to AAU busses that were empty or with very few passengers, sitting for long periods of time, and parked all over the city.
As a result, a consultant was brought in to review and propose route planning and scheduling process changes. Now, routes operate in circular clusters, which has improved fleet utilization, reduced idling time and fuel, decreased personnel required, provided more planning and scheduling flexibility, and created a better relationship with the city.
Embrace digitalization. From 2000 until 2008, a thick booklet of bus route schedules was printed for students every semester, with a PDF version accessible only on computers with AAU intranet access. When changes to routes and schedules were required, the updates were printed on a billboard. This approach was less than ideal, and the transportation department would receive as many as 50 calls a day from students asking for information or directions.
Today, AUU has migrated all bus route schedules to an app. Students can view an interactive map, plan a trip, view various stops along their routes, see where busses are in real-time and check to see if there are any special events that may affect normal schedules. Unsurprisingly, this has been an enormous improvement, and call volume has significantly dropped.
Get more value from vendors and contracts. Prior to 2008, 25–30 percent of AAU’s fleet was consistently broken down and out of service. Repair and maintenance costs made up almost 30 percent of the department’s total budget. Lack of adequate oversight by the maintenance vendor was compounded by convoluted contract terms and invoices, all of which made it incredibly difficult to decipher what work was actually done.
After exiting that contract and moving to a new vendor, only around 10 percent of the fleet now is out of service at any given time. In addition, there are significant productivity enhancements and cost savings as a result of fewer breakdowns, fines and penalties; better tracking and cost management from increased transparency; less risk of accidents; and a significant reduction in downtime.
Prioritize employee satisfaction. Since 2008, AAU drivers have had an annual pay raise schedule that is competitive with the market. This addresses the low supply of drivers overall, as well as the significant competition for talent. In addition, an incentive program provides a cash bonus at the end of the month if a driver has no incidences or accidents. The effect of these policies has been overwhelmingly positive. The competitive pay brings more high-quality applicants, while the incentive program has increased driver performance and cut insurance costs.
To further increase driver loyalty, AAU also strives to make employees feel like they are part of the school. For example, drivers are taken on campus tours to familiarize them with the school and what the different departments do. In addition, they are staffed on the same route for an entire month or more; whereas, previously, they were assigned daily routes on different vehicles. From an operation’s perspective, this streamlines scheduling and makes it easier to keep track of who is driving which vehicle at any given time. It also has had the effect of building positive relationships between students and drivers.
From my discussions with James, Hendricks and Salman, I put together the following tips for effective fleet operations management. First, strategy must account for all stakeholder interests, which often are competing. Decision-makers can help achieve this by ensuring they possess a ground-level understanding of the realities of day-to-day operations. Feedback loops among the various groups are equally important. Next, be sure to provide a holistic, big-picture perspective to bring clarity and help determine how best to fulfill company goals. In addition, take time to design a robust interviewing, hiring and onboarding process. Ask the right questions, and look for specificity in the answers. Finally, always keep in mind that changes take time and consistent effort and vision. Stay the course.
Rex Magadia works in transportation and logistics at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. His background is in environmental engineering. Magadia has a Master of Business Administration in global supply chain management. He may be contacted at email@example.com.