Garage Life in the Age of COVID-19

Garage Life in the Age of COVID-19

By Donald Dunphy and Gena Galeros

April 2020

The current pandemic has created a new set of challenges for NAFA members. We caught up with a Fleet District Manager (he asked to remain anonymous) for a toll road agency in the Central United States to get his field report.

The majority of his management team is working from home, so the fleet is not operating at a normal rate and only doing emergency repairs. “My mechanics are working two days a week. We pretty much have a skeleton crew in the field.” His organization has 12 garages and normally has three to four mechanics per garage. “We’ve split them in half, so there are only two gentlemen working on vehicles at the same time. The only vehicles that we are kind of keeping an eye on and running are the essential vehicles…like our help trucks that run the road and keep an eye out for patrons if they run out of gas or if there’s an accident. We are doing a minimal amount out there just to keep the roads safe.”

Reorganizing a Workforce

Because of shelter-at-home protocols and the mandate for physical distancing, his fleet has had to rethink its scheduling. “We are a little bit less busy and just trying to keep on essentials to make everything work and to keep the distance of human interaction between everybody so we can get through this. On Wednesdays, we have nobody in.  We do have some workers that are out taking care of the road, but we operate only two garages per week.”

Supply Chain

He states that, so far, his fleet has been lucky with parts. “We have NAPA auto supply in-house four days a week and NAPA has a warehouse close by that is still open and running.  When we saw this coming, we decided to ask NAPA to stock up on as many of the essential parts that we need on the vehicles that we are running – whether it be oil filters, having enough oil, having enough tires, stuff like that, just to keep everything running. So far, we have had no issues on obtaining parts.”

Morale and Unity

The changes may seem surreal, but this fleet manager states the morale has stayed positive so far. “Even though we have a little bit less work, it’s a longer day. We are on 12-hour shifts instead of just eight-hour shifts because we run 24/7 to support the Tollway.”

His dominant concern right now is focused on everyone’s health. “Not just us in management, but our technicians and mechanics out in the field,” he explains. “When they come in, we ask them to try to be as separated from each other as possible, and obviously to be wearing their personal protective equipment.”

Right now, there are no issues with morale or productivity. “We all touch base with each other in the morning, have a small conversation on what’s going on, look at if there are any emergencies that we need to look at, etc.” He looks forward to a day when these additional precautions will no longer be necessary and says he will keep at them to ensure the safety of the entire team and the stakeholders they serve.

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