County keeping closer eye on use of vehicles

Maui County has adopted a comprehensive vehicle use policy and has taken steps to use eye-in-the-sky technology to track employees’ use of official vehicles.

Overall, the county has more than 1,100 vehicles, but not all are covered by the policy. Public safety vehicles used by the police and fire departments are not included, for example, because they have their own policies.

Implemented July 1, the policy covers 628 vehicles such as sedans, sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks. In addition to the the police and fire departments, the offices of the County Clerk and Council Services also are not covered because they are part of the legislative branch of county government.

The vehicle use policy and the decision to seek a contractor to provide satellite vehicle-tracking services with a Global Positioning System stem from an April 2010 Cost of Government Commission report.

The report cited concerns about excessive numbers of vehicles (then put at 1,268 vehicles, or about one for every two county employees), excessive delegation of vehicle usage approval, inconsistencies among departments in vehicle assignments, poor inventory record-keeping and vague or nonexistent policies.

The county could save $32.8 million over two years by improving its vehicle fleet management, the report said. It specifically recommended the county “control misuse of county vehicles through enhanced oversight.”

While former Department of Finance Director Kalbert Young “seemed to indicate that sufficient measures now exist to avoid abuses,” Cost of Government Commission members reported that “while his response is reassuring, the (commission’s) subcommittee still believes that further review is needed because of the possibility of significant loss to the county in the event present controls are inadequate.”

The commission recommended the county evaluate the need to strengthen vehicle oversight and controls by performing an audit of “take-home” vehicles assigned to employees for full- or part-time use.

Last week, county Managing Director Keith Regan said that the county put out a request for proposals for a vehicle-tracking system as a way for the county to keep track of its vehicle assets.

He said it’s not a case of the county being Big Brother, in using GPS to watch vehicles used by employees to carry out their official duties.

“It’s not a matter of trust,” he said. “The intent is not to use it as a tool to punish employees.

“The whole project was to ensure use of those assets in the best way possible, making sure we manage those assets,” Regan said.

With GPS devices gathering data, county officials can “make good judgment decisions on how to manage the fleet better,” he said.

As the county collects data on vehicle usage, it can decide which vehicles can be included or removed from the motor pool, he said.

Cost savings is one of the project’s primary goals, he said, but county officials also want to “make sure we run an efficient organization.”

“Why have a vehicle sitting around that’s not being utilized?” he asked.

Last week, the county opened bids from 13 vendors seeking to provide a vehicle-tracking system for 200 vehicles. Mentor Engineering was the tentative low bidder, with a bid of $85,200. Three bids were higher than $200,000, including the highest bid of $281,146 from Webtech Wireless.

Leading the review of the contractors’ proposals is Don Medeiros, the former county Transportation Department director and now an executive assistant in the county Department of Management. Last week, he said that he needs to go through each bid submittal to see if the proposals meet the county’s project specifications.

Regan said that he wanted Medeiros to have ample time to thoroughly review the proposals because he wants to make sure “we get the right piece of equipment.”

“It’s a big investment,” he said.

Medeiros said that the GPS devices are capable of tracking the daily operations of a county vehicle, including its location, speed and how efficiently it’s operated. It would eliminate management’s guesswork of where vehicles are and at what time, he said.

“It will tell you where the vehicle is at any given time,” Medeiros said.

Regan said that another potential capability would be to receive engine codes via the Internet from vehicles to alert county managers of the need to schedule maintenance for a vehicle before a more serious mechanical problem develops.

The county’s physical count of vehicles, completed in March 2011, found 628 small vehicles, excluding fire, police, heavy equipment and public buses, Regan said.

The five departments with the most such vehicles are the Department of Water Supply, 152; the Department of Parks and Recreation, 138; the Department of Public Works, 112; the Department of Environmental Management, 97; and the Department of Housing and Human Concerns, 59, according to Regan.

While the county administration has enough funding for the placement of 200 GPS devices on vehicles, Regan said that the intent is to eventually have monitoring devices on all on-road county vehicles.

The GPS vehicle monitoring has been used successfully by other jurisdictions and is a “proven technology,” he said. “We’re going to go forward with it.”

Once a vendor is selected, it should be possible to have the first GPS devices installed in a month or two after the contract is finalized, Medeiros said.

* Brian Perry can be reached at