State vehicle fleet trimmed, rental cars used - abc27 WHTM

State vehicle fleet trimmed, rental cars used

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The blue license plates were, seemingly, everywhere.

They are on the Chevys, Fords and Chryslers that make up the state's fleet of vehicles. But the state wasn't always discerning about who was assigned a state car.

"In the old days, anybody just about got a car," said Troy Thompson, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of General Services, which oversees the state fleet. "There was no rhyme or reason as to why people got cars."

As a candidate for governor in 2010, Tom Corbett promised to cut the size of the fleet by ten percent.

He has delivered.

According to Thompson, in January of 2011 there were 9,886 passenger vehicles under state control. In August 2012, there are 7,786: a 20 percent reduction.

"The days of receiving a car just because of your title are over," Thompson said. "It's now based on business usage and business usage only."

Steve Weidner is the governor's point man at DGS. He runs the vehicle fleet, and he runs the numbers.

Spreadsheets tell him who's getting cars, how much they're driving, and whether or not it's cost effective for them to have a car. It is data driven, for the first time ever. If the numbers say a specific employee or agency shouldn't get a car, they don't get a car.

There was whining and complaining when first implemented.

"We're not here necessarily to make the employees happy," Thompson said. "We're here to make sure taxpayer dollars are being used to their maximum potential."

Think "Moneyball" for the entire state vehicle fleet. The numbers and data are driving the decisions (pardon the pun), and the emotion or person's title isn't factored in. Only Cabinet secretaries automatically get cars under the current system. It used to be Deputy Secretaries and managers would get them. No more.

Many employees were driving their own cars and getting reimbursed at .55 cents a mile. Weidner said hundreds or workers billed the state more than $12,000 a year.

So a trip calculator was created and a deal with Enterprise Rental Car was cut.

Employees who don't have cars but need to drive for their job are now directed to a website with the trip calculator and asked to plug in the roundtrip miles and number of days.

We created two scenarios.

Harrisburg to Scranton is 242 roundtrip miles. The calculator said using an agency pool car is the cheapest option at .28 per mile. If the agency doesn't have a pool car available, and most of them have a set number of cars at their disposal but they could all be checked out, then the rental car is the next cheapest option at .40 a mile.

Harrisburg to Erie is 590 roundtrip miles. The rental at .25 a mile is cheapest. A pool car, at .28 a mile, is second cheapest.

The old language in the vehicle policy stated that an employee "should" use the cheapest traveling option. The policy now states that an employee "must" use the cheapest option.

So for our two scenarios, if a state worker still insisted on using their own vehicle, they would only be reimbursed .24 a mile, not the .55 a mile, because they weren't taking the cheapest option.

"Travel on the commonwealth's dime is no longer gonna be a revenue enhancement for any employee," Thompson said.

He estimates that by reducing the number of cars it buys, owns and maintains, by reducing mileage reimbursements, and by using rental cars, the state has saved $43 million the past two years.

Weidner said that he's also looking to replace older, heavier cars with economical and fuel-efficient models to squeeze even more savings in the future.

"Our philosophy is getting our employees from point A to point B with the cheapest method of transportation," Thompson said. "That's the bottom line."

Weidner walked us through his new, data-driven system for fleet oversight but didn't want to speak on camera.

It is improper for employees to drive state vehicles for personal use. If you see a worker abusing the privilege, DGS has established a hotline. Get the plate number and report it to 1-877-347-9966, that's 1-877-DGS-9966.

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