Next to vehicle maintenance and wages, fleet refuelling is a significant on-going cost for any transport business. For Whitelaws Coaches, a family firm based in Stonehouse, South Lanarkshire, the decision to upgrade and replace its fuel storage tank was therefore an important investment, with considerable implications.
The company operates a total fleet of 41 vehicles, 22 of these are dedicated to local bus service routes and the remainder are touring coaches for general hire and school services.
“Our main concern was how this project could be managed efficiently and without causing any disruption to our operations,” explains managing director, Sandra Whitelaw. “Public service vehicles are operating daily, throughout the week and they are refuelled routinely, whenever they return to the depot and at the end of each shift.
“We needed something more up to date and user friendly. We were aware of the new generation web services and benefits of online connectivity now used across the board for accounting, vehicle tracking and ticketing. A particular advantage of a subscription service for fuel management is that it will make life easier, we simply connect. Unlike in-house software, if there is a problem it will be fixed by the service provider.”
“Our previous fuelling equipment was time expired and the storage tank itself due for replacement. Fuel management and usage monitoring are crucial procedures, in particular for public service vehicles operating registered local routes. The software was installed on a back-office computer and access was restricted to a single seat on the premises. Since we owned the software, we had to deal with IT bureaucracy such as software updates, the creation of reports and backing up records, which was often more complicated to use and time consuming.
“We needed something more up to date and user friendly. We were aware of the new generation web services and benefits of online connectivity now used across the board for accounting, vehicle tracking and ticketing. A particular advantage of a subscription service for fuel management is that it will make life easier, we simply connect. Unlike in-house software, if there is a problem it will be fixed by the service provider. Previously you had to allow a third party to access your system on the premises, which is not ideal as this could be a potential risk to security.
Sandra Whitelaw continues. “With a web service we are paying a fixed subscription and the administration overhead is effectively out-sourced to the service provider. We have all the functionality we require to track our fuelling operations – vehicle mpg performance and stock management. We can tailor reports for different requirements and set up automatic back-ups online.
“Our first step in this procurement was to appoint a local contractor, Merkland Tank of Glasgow as project managers, and they were able to help us refine our operational requirements. Merkland Tank is a full-service operation covering all aspects of supply and technical support and with experience covering pump dispensers and stock management. A number of options were considered but Merkland recommended a high performance Merridale GX pump, incorporating an integral user control panel for use with Merridale FuelWorks – a contemporary web-based fuel management service.
A plan was put in place to install a temporary fuel storage tank, to ensure continuity while the old tank was drained and removed from the existing bund installation. This space was then adapted for the replacement tank. The work proceeded very smoothly and Merkland installed the new Merridale pump dispenser using the existing underground pipework.
Refuelling is carried out by dedicated yard services personnel and only by drivers under exceptional occasions, for example, a touring coach returning after hours. A high-flow pump has been specified to speed up the evening refuelling and turn round operation as service vehicles return to base. Other precautions include a break-away hose coupling to protect the pump.
Accuracy and the transparency of our fuelling records is paramount for a public service vehicle operator. We need to be able to account for all fuel used against specific routes, and to verify registered local service mileage. The Merridale system records every vehicle refuelling transaction automatically so there is no possibility for any manipulation of this information.
After six months of operations there have not been any issues with the Merridale service, apart from a few initial enquiries handled by the FuelWorks telephone support team.
Sandra Whitelaw concludes by saying. We only have a small admin team and we are focussed on delivering customer services and there is no time for nursing needy computer software. I don’t believe in false economy, so we wanted something which was good and robust enough to withstand the operational environment. In terms of the back office that it would be easily manageable and up-to-date.
Merkland and Merridale certainly delivered against all our expectations. Merkland were able to take the pain out of what, for our business was a significant capital investment and could have been a major operational upheaval if not managed professionally. And all the communications we had with Merridale in terms of the fuel management system, getting the back office up and running, our various questions were all covered and they were very helpful as well.
An important outcome from the project was the trust we have built with Merkland and we know that they have invested in their association with Merridale. Since Merkland had been recommended to us as the preferred supplier for a fuel storage tank, we have established an honest open book relationship with Merkland Tanks very quickly. This has been strengthened as Merridale was introduced into the mix, I do believe that we have built a good relationship between the parties and this works very well.