Controlling fleet expenses by buying fuel?

     An economic downturn and unstable fuel costs are just two of the reasons people are tightening their wallets. Law enforcement administrators are experiencing much the same thing as the agencies they serve struggle to meet increasing demands with...


     An economic downturn and unstable fuel costs are just two of the reasons people are tightening their wallets. Law enforcement administrators are experiencing much the same thing as the agencies they serve struggle to meet increasing demands with decreasing resources. Knowing when and where every dollar is spent is vital to strategic operational planning, yet controlling variable costs can be tricky, even in the best of times.

     The largest variable cost for law enforcement is typically the fuel that powers their vehicles. Unpredictable fuel prices have further compounded already stretched budgets. But one sheriff's office has found a better way to manage its fuel expenses simply by changing the way fuel is purchased.

Fleet cards gain popularity

     Quickly becoming a thing of the past is a law enforcement official purchasing fuel with cash, corporate credit cards or a consumer fuel card. The demise of these rudimentary payment methods is the time-consuming and painstaking administration of manually tracking fuel transactions, reconciling items purchased, managing multiple payments, and then hoping that gas expenses come in under budget.

     Today, many agencies are switching to a fleet purchasing card program for fleet-related fuel and vehicle maintenance purchases. Generally these purchasing cards have multi-brand acceptance, and can restrict purchasing to fuel only or fuel and fleet maintenance only. Leveraging some of the industry's leading technology, these card systems have been shown to increase driver efficiency, tighten expense accountability and improve cost savings. In addition, the programs generally come with reporting and exception alerts that significantly reduce unauthorized purchases and cut administrative workload.

A success story in Louisiana

     The Caddo Parish Sheriff's Office, located in the northwest corner of Louisiana, protects one of the largest communities in the state, including the city of Shreveport. The agency's 600 deputies and 320 fleet vehicles provide both rural and urban residents with patrol and investigative services, as well as operate a correctional center.

     For years, the sheriff's office owned and operated four fueling locations throughout Caddo Parish. Yet driving to one of these sites frequently took officers out of their patrol routes. And, fueling vehicles outside parish boundaries still required credit cards, which made reconciliation of paper receipts, tracking gas consumption and reviewing driver purchases an operational inevitability.

     In 2000, department administrators learned of Fuelman, a fleet fuel management solution, when the Caddo Parish School Board started using the solution for its vehicles. Upon discovering how these "fleet gas cards" did much more for the school board than a mainstream credit card program, sheriff's department administrators decided to test the program as well.

Benefits of fuel cards

     Caddo Parish Sheriff's Office officials knew having the ability to fuel at more than just its four locations would be beneficial, but they didn't anticipate all the supplemental benefits they would receive from having a fleet purchasing card. Officers now had access to fuel at hundreds of gas stations within Louisiana, which kept them closer to their designated routes. "The convenience of having retail pay-at-the-pump acceptance at multiple locations is ideal," says Mike Gregory, fleet manager for the Caddo Parish Sherriff's Office, "Deputies can fuel wherever they are — never leaving their vehicles unattended — then get back on the road quickly."

     Similarly, Sonyia Wilson, who manages fleet maintenance for 500 service vehicles in Gastonia, North Carolina, including Gaston County Police Department vehicles, agrees having a fleet fueling card that is accepted at multiple locations in and out of the state has helped her as well. "When our officers are in training or conducting other activities that take them outside our jurisdiction, they can fuel when and where they need it," she explains. "The transaction detail is still recorded on the same invoice and we can track the mileage, location, driver, etc., no matter where they are."

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