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January 11, 2013

Corbett cuts Pa. fleet of vehicles

HARRISBURG — The Corbett administration has reduced the size of the state vehicle fleet by more than 16 percent, but the amount of gas purchased on state-issued charge cards to fuel business travel has remained almost unchanged.

When Tom Corbett was running for governor, he announced that his administration had a goal of eliminating unneeded vehicles to reduce the size of the state government’s fleet by 10 percent in his first term in office.

After two years, the state has reduced its vehicle fleet by more than 16 percent by barring agencies from granting state vehicles to staff based solely on job title and by requiring that employees follow rigid rules to qualify for use of vehicles. The fleet has gone from more than 10,000 vehicles at the beginning of Corbett’s term in office to 8,274 at the end of 2012, said Troy Thompson, a spokesman for the Department of General Services, the agency responsible for managing the vehicle fleet.

The state estimates that the value of not replacing those fleet vehicles could top $25 million. Vehicles no longer needed by the state are sold at auction. In 2011, the state auctioned 1,178 vehicles – including surplus fleet vehicles and vehicles seized by law enforcement. Last year, the state auctioned 2,505 vehicles. During the two-year period, those sales generated $8.4 million in revenue, or about $2,287 per vehicle.

Thompson said that the modest amounts generated by vehicle sales is chiefly due to the fact that the average age of a vehicle in the state fleet is about nine years.

There also has been a drop in the amount that the state has been paying to employees for mileage because of strict new guidelines for determining what method of travel ought to be employed if the worker has not been issued a state vehicle.

It is all part of a strategy intended to take state vehicles from workers who had been using them for little more than commuter cars while also diminishing the opportunity for state workers to run up unnecessarily high mileage reimbursements tabs, Thompson said.

Even using a conservative estimate of the cost of a vehicle at $16,000 a car, eliminating 1,600 vehicles from the state fleet saved the state $25.6 million, Thompson said.

“When you consider that the average rental car location has about 100 cars, we have essentially eliminated the equivalent of 16 rental car locations from the fleet,” Thompson said.

While those cars have been removed from the vehicle fleet, the amount of gas purchased by government workers using state-issued charge cards for fuel has remained steady.

In 2010, the state spent $21 million on fuel purchased with state-issued charge cards. In 2011, the bill increased to $27.5 million and in 2011, it exceeded $27.65 million.

Thompson attributed the increase to changes in gas prices. Taking into account the average price of gas during that time period, state workers purchased between 7.6 million and 7.7 million gallons of gas in each of those three years.

Those numbers include fuel used by state workers driving state-owned cars and those who have been approved to use rental cars.

To qualify for a state-issued car, an employee must demonstrate that he or she uses the vehicle for at least 1,000 miles of business travel monthly.

Employees who do not have state-issued cars must use a travel calculator to determine whether he or she ought to use a personal vehicle or get a rental car and fuel up with a state-issued gas card.

That initiative has translated into a decrease in the amount paid by the state in the form of mileage reimbursements from $18.4 million in 2010 to $15.1 million last year.

 “We are not in the business of revenue enhancement through mileage,” Thompson said.

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