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Coronavirus: How the fleet industry is working to help the crisis response

Great British Fleet Event members speak about the actions they’re taking to help with the coronavirus response and how the pandemic could change the way we operate going forwards. By Natalie Middleton.

According to Scottish author Samuel Smiles: “The very greatest things, great thoughts, discoveries, inventions have usually been nurtured in hardship.”

It’s scant relief when we’re being hit by “the most challenging crisis” since the Second World War, as the UN secretary-general has said, but if the coronavirus has shown one thing, it’s how people can pull together, overcoming political and other differences while recognising those playing an essential role in our society.

This includes concrete actions to support NHS and other key workers, which are being seen across the fleet industry amongst others. Europcar Mobility Group, for example, is providing mobility support for essential workers under its new ‘Together’ programme, enabling emergency services staff to access thousands of vehicles from £5 a day; the scheme has already seen it supply 61 rental vehicles to MOD paramedics who have been drafted in to support South Central Ambulance Service’s emergency calls.

Europcar is also working in partnership with selected retailers, to provide vans and light commercial vehicles with drivers, backed by rigorous cleaning measures, as well as a ‘zero contact’ policy with Europcar Mobility Group employees in stations, as with all rentals across the group until further notice.

It’s just one of the many examples of ways that the fleet industry is working to working to support key workers.

Selsia Vehicle Accident Repairers is keeping its network of approved repairers up and running to support fleets in keeping vehicles safely on the road, particularly for the delivery of essential food and medicines. This is backed by its cloud-based repair management platform, which means all stakeholders in the accident repair process, including Selsia, fleet managers, insurers and repairers, are fully aware of repair statuses.

It’s also offering services for fleets with laid-up vehicles to ensure they’re fully working once normal operations resume.

The AA is also backing the NHS with free breakdown cover for all key workers, while local authorities can also offer NHS workers free parking, helped by two solutions from cashless parking solutions provider RingGo.

MG Motor UK and its dealer network is also lending its support by supplying up to 100 electric MG ZS cars to NHS agencies across the UK, while Nissan has loaned two Navara pickups to disaster response charity Team Rubicon UK to help its work to provide support during the coronavirus pandemic.

Flexible insurer Zego is playing its role by working to alleviate financial strain being faced by the UK’s delivery and ride-hailing workforce; it’s offering up to 14 days’ worth of free cover to its customers who have been forced to self-isolate because of coronavirus.

And delivery fleets of all sizes can benefit from free use of the Insight Optimisation platform from telematics specialist Trakm8 during the lockdown persists.

The product is aimed at small- and medium-sized enterprises and can help with the demand spikes being seen throughout supply chains, from personal protective equipment to grocery items.

The intuitive route planning solution maximises the concept of useable data; rather than planning a simple A to B route, Insight Optimisation takes into account the size and capabilities of your fleet and applies them efficiently to the task at hand, whether that’s five or five thousand deliveries a day.

Collaboration on cutting risks

There’s also been recognition of the need for those people still driving to reduce the strain on the emergency services in the coming week and months; as set out by the Take Extra Care campaign, which is being backed by the Met Police and key road safety stakeholders, such as Brake and DriveTech. Joshua Harris, director of campaigns at Brake, says where a car trip is essential, drivers should always make sure to belt up, put their phone out of reach and drive at a safe speed.

DriveTech is also reinforcing the message of the need to cut risks for drivers who are still required on the road; it’s offering a free online course to help fleet operators manage risk, especially where ‘other than normal business drivers’ are being called into essential action.

Developed as part of the firm’s commitment to help during the Covid-19 pandemic, the new course takes around 20 minutes to complete and helps provide a backdrop to why driving for work needs serious focus and is even more important during the crisis response.

Other fleet suppliers are also turning their attention to online solutions to ensure uninterrupted service during the pandemic.

Fleet Source, for example, has deployed an interactive TV-based training solution across its Driver CPC classroom course offering to help its customers maintain training, following the DVSA’s decision to suspend classroom courses.

The training, which has been fully approved by DVSA and is ‘Livecast’ to delegates, includes dynamic, interactive content designed to work much better than that provided by traditional webinar solutions.

Telematics and fleet management solutions specialist Lytx is continuing to provide service for all of its clients, despite the majority of its workforce working from home. This includes support for remote working and coaching.

Although it says that coaching drivers face-to-face is the primary method used by many organisations, it recognises that remote coaching can be a good alternative for fleets looking to keep their employees safe and productive – particularly during this period of change.

Lytx’s remote coaching feature lets coaches and drivers conduct sessions anywhere that there’s a cellular network connection. Using a connected computer or mobile device, a coach and driver can each log in wherever they are and review an event together over the phone. When schedules don’t allow for convenient times to get together, coaches can also choose to let their drivers independently review event videos and leave notes for their coaches to look at later.

Road risk management expert Fleet Partnership Solutions is also working remotely to ensure its clients remain supported, including in vital areas such as licence checking and grey fleet management; a particular focus when some businesses in areas such as volunteering and deliveries are taking on new drivers.

Airmax Remote, which offers advanced telematics and mileage capture services, is also continuing to support its clients during the crisis, with its features and services bringing crucial support in several key areas.

This includes increasing awareness and visibility of remote staff, which is proving a great asset as remote working becomes more prevalent. Operating from the cloud, the Airmax Remote service enables users to continue trading by optimising field staff’s uptime and assisting with job allocation and location awareness in addition to security requirements.

And following the increase in remote working and the subsequent decline in overall vehicle usage, Airmax Remote’s services are helping fleets with vehicle under-utilisation; a key issue at present.

By enabling its clients to identify which vehicles are not being made full use of – backed by accurate mileage extrapolation and validation of pooled mileage schemes – Airmax Remote data can inform future company vehicle policy decisions, playing a crucial role in ensuring fleets are making optimum use of assets.

Changing the shape of work

While the pace of change, in the fleet sector and many others, has been unprecedented, many questions have been raised about how working practices could change going forwards and whether working from home could become the norm.

Selsia marketing director Neil Marcus says permanent change could be on the cards.

“I believe going forward, the current situation will give businesses the opportunity to re-evaluate the necessity of certain employees and functions being in an office environment. This will also help to reduce CO2 emissions from fewer car journeys,” he explains.

Airmax Remote managing director Richard Perham also believes the outbreak could transform working practices.

He explains: “The current situation is not one that any individual or organisation would have asked for. These organisations and individuals, in some cases, have been introduced to remote working technology. In the long term, these technologies will be accepted by organisations to a much greater extent, becoming commonplace with data becoming the ‘new oil’. Those that have not introduced them will be compromised. The standard bricks and mortar office conventional structure could be affected, with co-working, and enhancements in the flexible office spaces being considered for the first time.”

Perham has also pointed out that increased remote working would remove the need for higher-mileage vehicle contracts, and have benefits in other areas.

He continues: “SMR expenditure will also reduce. Lower mileages result in lower emissions, lower fuel spend, less congestion, improved air quality. A further uptake in mobility as a service (MaaS) could occur.”

He also has this advice for operators to facilitate remote working going forwards:
• Overcommunicate, create awareness and try to reduce any fear-driven behaviours. Having a strong relationship with your staff/peers is critical as they are looking for direction in these unchartered times.
• Invest in cloud-based technology which can be easily configured to provide agility and flexibility, and reduce unnecessary social contact whilst providing a continuity of service to your customers.
• Test continuity plans regularly and make business cases for the introduction of further new technology to support remote working.
• Consider switching to a full VoiP phone system ahead of the switch-off of BT’s ISDN service in 2025.

Stuart Tolley, UK sales director of smart electric vehicle charging specialist Virta, also says the pandemic shows the benefits of running battery electric vehicles, such as those on its inhouse fleet, which has helped it reinforce social distancing during the outbreak.

Tolley explains: “We are a fully electrified fleet so social interaction (such as fuel stations) is very limited. With home charging the enforced isolation is manageable with ease, in fact a majority of our BEV fleet is charged from home with only longer journeys requiring rapid charging stations to be used. In case of using the rapid charger network we are advising our staff to clean their hands before and after using the chargers and to wipe down the controls of the vehicle regularly with anti bac wipes or sprays. We are following the guidance from WHO.”

Tolley also thinks that the virus will reshape the way we work going forwards.

He continues: “There is a considerable amount of learning to be taken from these unprecedented times. The traditional meetings as we knew them are changing and the focus on removing physical contact has seen the methods of doing business change.

“As a SaaS business we are driven by software and as such fortunate to be able to conduct our business online. Operationally I can see some changes for other industries in the way they conduct their business, however for us it’s business as usual, albeit without the physical office attendance in the short term.”

But Tolley says that once this has passed, there will be some working practices that will need to be reinstated, such as meeting clients in the real world.

He continues: “After all we are all social animals and need that face-to-face contact with others to build relationships that last.”

Written by Natalie Middleton

Natalie has worked as a fleet journalist for 16 years, previously as assistant editor on the former Company Car magazine before joining Fleet World in 2006. Prior to this, she worked on a range of B2B titles, including Insurance Age and Insurance Day. As Business Editor, Natalie ensures the group websites and newsletters are updated with the latest news.

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