VDOT: A Little Healthy Competition

Erle Potter, State Equipment Manager | September 28, 2010

Don't tell Erle Potter there isn't competition within a public fleet.

And, to prove the point, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has again made Fleet Masters history. The first public-fleet winner of a Fleet Masters Award in 2004, VDOT is now the first-ever two-time winner of a Fleet Master Award, be it a public or private fleet.

Virginia Department of Transportation

Headquarters: Richmond, Va.

Specialty: Construction, maintenance and operation of a state transportation network

Equipment Value: $534 million

Fleet Makeup: 30,000 total items and 9,000 items of rolling stock representing all classes, including 3,300 light-duty trucks and 1,000 tractors/mowers

VDOT Equipment Program: 13-member equipment-management team headed by Erle W. Potter, state equipment manager, and including nine district equipment managers; the program is managed in a decentralized fashion through the district equipment managers, who report to the district administrators

Facilities: A central office in Richmond, supported by nine districts, with 72 total equipment maintenance shops

Market Range: Commonwealth of Virginia has the third largest state-maintained highway system, behind only Texas and North Carolina; VDOT owns, operates and maintains 57,867 miles of roads and supporting infrastructure

For Potter, state equipment manager, the 2008 Fleet Masters Award is recognition that the business process plan for which the 2004 award was earned has, indeed, been put into action.

"The big thing that really helped us move to the next level was performance measurement and reporting. We started identifying things that we could measure in areas that needed improvement, and then we started measuring our accomplishments and reporting out those accomplishments," says Potter, PE, CEM. "That created competition among the nine districts.

"It goes back to the old saying that what gets measured gets done. We have a great deal of improvement in those areas in which we have measured and reported our accomplishments."

Within VDOT, semi-annual reports from the equipment-management team go to the state transportation commissioner, deputy commissioner, chiefs and district administrators. It was anticipated the latter officials would naturally, in turn, go straight to their equipment managers to ask why certain numbers weren't at the levels of other districts, says Potter.

"Those questions were asked," says Potter, "and those folks immediately focused their attention in the areas that needed improvement. As a result, the whole state has come up."

The very first result the state's equipment-management team reported on was preventive maintenance — the goal being to hit 95 percent of all PM tasks on time.

"We had one district that was up around 99 percent, the others were in the 80s, and one district was much lower than that," recalls Potter. "After we started reporting and publishing that information, then the districts with the real low numbers came up into the 90s, and now to the point where they're all up in the 95-plus range."

Part of the method is a clear identification as to what Potter and his team is and does.

"I try to stay away from the term 'asset management,' because it's confusing. If you go to VDOT and you talk about asset management, they think you're talking about pavements and guardrails. I focus in on equipment management because that is what we do."

Hence, 37-year VDOT veteran Potter heads the equipment-management team — "it's exactly what it is," — comprised of two CEM-certified assistant state equipment managers, Richard Bonistalli and Larry Maready; technical consultant and CEM Commission member Blair Kinker; and the equipment managers of the nine districts. An award-winning technician training program has resulted in the largest number of certifications among public agencies in the United States, and VDOT employees have won AEMP national technician-of-the-year awards more than a dozen times since 1989.

As with any public agency, VDOT walks a tightrope of sorts when it comes to managing assets. On one hand, residents of the Commonwealth of Virginia demand their hard-earned tax money be spent in the most prudent manner possible; on the other hand, it is likewise expected that full resources be instantly available when a bridge gives way to a flood or trees are blown across a highway. "It is a balancing act," says Potter, "to be lean enough to be cost-effective, but at the same time have enough resources available to respond to emergencies."

Part of the solution for the equipment-management team has been the development of standing state-wide equipment rental agreements that naturally bring a better price via quantity, but are also based on a short-term concept, "so that if you need a piece of equipment for a day, then you don't have to rent it for the whole month," says Potter. "We've developed these contracts, put them out to bid, and have gotten some very good equipment, where the contract requires the equipment be delivered within so many hours of notice."

This has allowed for some older, idle equipment that would formerly be kept around "just in case" to be moved off the state's books.

Equipment owned by VDOT is rented to the particular district, as accounted for in the state-wide financial management system. That system in turn provides equipment-utilization data to the equipment-management system as part of an information network that allows for VDOT's financial-management, equipment- management and automated-fuel-management systems to share and leverage pertinent information.

And with the data in circulation, know that the competition is always on.