Let’s face it: A global pandemic wasn’t on our list of priorities this year. But COVID-19 (coronavirus) has given us all a crash course in how to proactively prepare from a fleet policy perspective and reactively adjust to the situation as necessary.

We know another pandemic or similar threat is going to occur, it’s just a matter of when. It’s our role as fleet managers to learn from the present and prepare for what may come down the line.

Establish your proactive plans

The adage, “You’re only as strong as your weakest link,” applies to crisis preparation. The strength of your response reflects the internal team you’ve created. If you have already established a fleet council, your crisis management team is likely a subset of this group. If you don’t have a fleet council, consider including representation from all the primary departments involved in fleet, including human resources, risk, finance and sales. There may be other departments based on your organizational structure.

It’s important for your crisis response to also extend to the partnership with your fleet management provider. Having a trustworthy partner that has a tested ability to make educated decisions and provide guidance to your drivers and other stakeholders during periods of high stress is paramount.

Remember to think long term. Today’s efficiencies might become tomorrow’s saving grace. We’ve seen this in our current situation. For example, fleets are now learning the importance of a toll transponder policy—whether managed in-house or with a fleet management company. We’ve seen several toll roads go all-electronic in the current situation, with the expectation that drivers without transponders will track and pay any missed tolls. Not surprisingly, this is both impractical and expensive. Many of those vehicles are getting violations, while those on a managed-toll program don’t have those challenges.

Additionally, a well-managed replacement cycle is crucial amidst the unpredictability of a pandemic. Presently, fleets with a disciplined replacement cycle are experiencing a variety of benefits, such as increased productivity due to reduced downtime; employee retention due to the newer vehicles; and TCO optimization due to it being a natural by-product of an informed replacement cycle. Another benefit of not having aged inventory is younger vehicles don’t require maintenance as frequently, minimizing the potential opportunity for exposure. 

Some things every fleet should consider

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to be 100% prepared for the next pandemic or disaster. But the more decisions you can make before an event occurs, the more prepared you will be.

  • Fleets need to think about adjustments they’ll make to their maintenance approval parameters if they end up keeping vehicles in service longer due to OEM shutdowns. Related, fleets need to ensure they have identified back-up approvers if the primary approvers are not available. 
  • Fleets also need to think about how to respond to drivers if they feel that taking delivery of a vehicle or taking it in for maintenance will put them in harm's way.
  • Companies should consider whether it’s appropriate to make any adjustments to personal use contributions or the impact to taxable benefit calculations as stay-at-home orders eliminate business miles.

By making changes now, your fleet policy can become your strongest defense during future disruptions.