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Fleet Profile: Bristol Waste Company

Date: 25 November 2022   |   Author: Rachel Boagey

Rachel Boagey speaks with Iain Fortune, fleet manager at Bristol Waste Company, who oversees the daily use of the city's fleet of 220 vehicles.

Starting off his career as a service manager, Iain Fortune landed himself in the fleet manager role at Bristol Waste Company (BWC) seven years ago. The fleet consists mainly of refuse and recycling collection trucks and street cleaning equipment, with a mission to work with Bristol to help communities recycle more and waste less. 

BWC employs over 600 local people who make 17 million scheduled collections every year, operate 230 vehicles, collect 140,000 tonnes of waste and recycling per annum - of which 53,000 tonnes is sent for composting or recycling in the Bristol Region.

While the heavier fleet acts as collection vehicles, the car fleet will be used by the sales team and service managers to carry out trade collections and visiting clients. The car fleet is small at just three cars, but the company intends to expand the car fleet quickly over the next 12 months. "We are bringing more cars onto the fleet as soon as the order books allow and we're also looking into a salary sacrifice scheme for staff to have company cars." 

Transitioning to cars, and e-power

The company has recently adopted a small car fleet, which it expects to grow in the coming months and years. Fortune explains that with the car fleet, the company is starting as it means to go on with electric vehicles, taking learnings from the success it has seen with the electrification of its heavier vehicles. 

BWC has historically, where feasible, opted for electric vehicles, to date replacing nearly 20 diesel supervisor vans and six light commercial vehicles with electric ones. 

"Bristol is the number one core city for recycling," Fortune tells us. "That's something we are incredibly proud of, and a testament to the passion and support we see from the public in making sure Bristol wastes nothing." 

Because of this ethos, the company has become committed to constantly increasing its sustainability and reducing its impact on the environment, including with its fleet. "With our fleet, we aim to reduce our carbon footprint and harmful emissions while increasing our ability to recycle more," Fortune says.

"We've had a really positive experience with electric vans and we expect the same with cars too," Fortune explains. As it's based mostly within Bristol, Fortune's fleet covers relatively low mileage and therefore low range anxiety. 

"The cars we have adopted consist of an electric Mini and an electric Hyundai," Fortune tells us. "We chose electric cars because we already have 25 electric Renaults and Citroens on the fleet and not only have our drivers responded really well but we've found they're really fit for the purpose of our fleet." 

The move to electric the fleet was partially influenced by the introduction of Bristol's new Clean Air Zone (CAZ), which comes into operation on Monday 28 November 2022. With the introduction of the CAZ, no vehicle is banned from driving in the zone, but the most polluting vehicles will have to pay a daily charge. 

By introducing this, the city is following in the footsteps of Bath, Bradford and Portsmouth as Bristol City Council works towards a target of reaching legal NO2 levels by the end of 2023.

Fortune believes the introduction of the CAZ will mean many people will move away from the purchase of a new car, instead looking to their employers to offer them a company vehicle, hence the predicted growth of his car fleet. 

As for charging, the electric vehicles are all spread across different depots, "so the expectation of a bun fight for charging points never really materialised," Fortune adds.
"In the winter we get a little problem with the range being reduced by about half. But in the summer we easily nail 160 miles so they can be charged every other day rather than every day. 

"Don't get me wrong, there was a bit of noise when we first told our drivers they were going electric," says Fortune. "Fast forward to now and I believe I would have a very hard job extracting the electric vans and putting our drivers back into diesel vehicles," he tells us. "It would very much be regarded as a backwards move." 

Fortune can prove that electrification of his vehicles has had a positive impact on the fleet's driver behaviour. "They are far more gentle with the vehicles and are not getting the bumps and bangs like they used to," he says. Fortune also tells us his drivers enjoy building the regenerative power into the battery. "Electric vehicles are helping them to drive safely, even though that wasn't the original goal necessarily, or even a consideration when we first looked at adopting them," says Fortune. 

Demand, but no supply 

Unfortunately, like many other fleets right now, a significant problem the fleet team has faced recently is the shortage of vehicles. This in turn often means reaching for expensive short-term hires. "Vans are really difficult to get hold of these days, as are cars," he explains. "We've been waiting for the electric Peugeot 2008 for so long that we have a stand-in electric Hyundai for now, and that's the same story all over the fleet.

"We currently have an order in to increase our car fleet but with the slow down of the order books, we're struggling to grow as quickly as we would have liked," he says. "Instead, we have cars on hire at great expense."

When the vehicles do become available, Fortune says often they're far out of budget for his Government-funded fleet. "We raise procurement for funding for some vehicles when we're hoping to purchase them, and when the manufacturer gets in touch to say they're ready, they tell us the price of them has since gone up by 10%. That's really difficult for us, as we then need to go back to step one and raise the funding again," says Fortune. 

However, the variety of vehicles coming onto the market is something Fortune finds exciting. "Every manufacturer now has a solution for what we're looking for when it comes to electric cars, which is interesting, because I can drill into what I want, not what I'm given. "I am usually looking for the things nobody else wants too, for example, I can choose an EV which doesn't have a 300 mile range. I don't need a car that can go 120mph. We just don't need it for where we operate and what we do," he says. Fortune explains, "Even though you're using electric power, you have to pay for it and it still requires carbon to be produced, so if we don't need the power, we won't take it."

New challenges ahead

Once the car fleet is populated, Fortune expects again to be able to transfer some learnings from his van fleet across to his car fleet. This time, referring to how to manage the operation of a vehicle. However, he says the intricacies of BIK taxation and company car policy are very new challenges for him and his fleet colleagues. "Allowing people to use a vehicle privately and potentially non-employees in the vehicles, as well as driver behaviour outside of the core work hours is something that needs to be looked at with a fine tooth comb," he explains. 

But a limited budget and a team with very full plates means managing that side of the car fleet will be a challenge. "The reality is, when you offer people salary sacrifice vehicles, they're going to be making personal choices such as colour and the number of seats, for example. We'll need to figure out how exactly to manage those requests," he says. 

Fortune's role is already busy, full of long-term planning so the daily challenges are more manageable. His role is supported by two HR staff who he jokes keep him and the rest of the team, who consist of back office, mechanics, cleaners and logistics, out of prison. "The hope is that what comes our way on a daily basis in terms of maintenance, acquisitions, disposals, for example, is as full as possible, because that means we were prepared. 

"However, with humans at the wheel we're almost guaranteed some kind of excitement on a daily basis," laughs Fortune. "There's not an hour that goes by without an email with the subject line 'oops' accompanied by a picture of a Tesco trolley in the back of a car. Just today, a guy who works in security lost his car keys, which was a new one for us." 

The new vans have a host of other features including being narrower to help them navigate Bristol's historic, smaller streets, a more efficient operating system, overload protection to minimise the impact on highway surfaces and stainless-steel bodies for a longer life reducing the impact on materials. 

They have also been fitted with 360 degree camera systems, reverse radars, driver identification systems and driver behaviour technology, assessing harsh braking, acceleration, fast cornering and leaving the vehicle idle for too long. 

With the introduction of the car fleet, Fortune hopes to continue with the use of this technology. "Any driver behaviour monitoring we can do links up with our decarbonisation plan and the holistic approach to our impact on the streets of Bristol," Fortune concludes.