16 Mar 22

Managing a critical fleet when the odds are stacked against you

Tariq Hussein Ghazzawi, EMRO Regional Fleet Manager, manages a fleet of 400 vehicles and drivers in WHO’s regional office for the Eastern Mediterranean. As the area is vast and comprises challenging terrain, land cruisers are the primary vehicle. And because there’s also conflict and areas of lawlessness in some countries like Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Pakistan, 102 of the vehicles Tariq manages are armoured, specially fitted out for WHO by Toyota Gibraltar. Tariq understands the benefits of leasing but because there are no leasing programmes available in his area, all of the vehicles is owned and others are rented if needed, but this could soon change.

“We have a long-term agreement with Toyota Gibraltar. However, there is a new initiative that is being led by UN organisations where they are proposing a leasing programme. It’s expected this programme will be cheaper and more cost efficient than owning a vehicle. But it’s still in the early stages. I believe that by the end of 2022, it will be rolled out and the leasing services will start being delivered.”

Primary challenges of managing WHO fleet operations in EMOR

Tariq took up his post at WHO in September 2019, having built up several years of experience driving and managing transport for NGOs, including World Vision International, he takes up the story:

“Back then, fleet management was not a substantial department within WHO so I had to virtually start from scratch. There was no data collection whatsoever so therefore no benchmarking, no key performance indication. So I started working with country offices, developing focal points, building their capacity and programming their vehicles into the system.

The first thing to do was to install tracking equipment and this hasn’t been easy. Some countries, such as Yemen, Syria, Egypt and Somalia, after almost three years, are still without it. We are slowly overcoming these issues by procuring local tracking equipment, and programming it into our fleet management system.”

Procuring a fleet management system

“We have a fleet management system through a partnership with a company called TerraMar Networks. They supply a system called tracpoint. This provides us with the opportunity to utilise the fleet data we collect on fuel, maintenance, and all the information that is gathered from the tracking equipment. It is basically available through tracpoint.

I receive regular scheduled reports and through these can check different areas regarding fleet management. Alongside fuel and maintenance data, I can also see valuable information such as speeding incidents. The maximum speed allowed within WHO is 100km/h (60mph). If any vehicle goes above that we’re alerted and we investigate the incident with the applicable country office.”

Driver safety is critical

“The advice I would give to other fleet managers is to focus on safety, primarily for the safety of drivers but also to protect against losses - financial, reputation and in terms of vehicle downtime. Safe drivers are also economic and efficient drivers.

I would also remind every fleet manager to help take care of their drivers’ mental health and to ensure that their morale is strong. I usually ask every driver how many hours of sleep they get, how they are feeling, do they have issues with their family or financial issues?

It’s tempting as a fleet manager to disconnect from these issues. Drivers are the most important personnel in fleet management and if we overlook them and turn a blind eye to their problems, we will not be able to achieve our objectives. So, I always call to have a debrief with drivers after each trip. It can become redundant and a little boring, but it can also help build a good relationship and increases their morale as they know they have somebody ready to support them.

Something that has surprised me in this role and continues to bother me is the lack of female drivers. I had the opportunity to recruit and work with female drivers and they were much safer than men. That’s not just my opinion either, it's proven through research and data that female drivers are safer compared to male drivers in general. I am surprised at how difficult it is to recruit women drivers. Whenever I post a driver position, most often 100% of the applicants will be male.”

Even in challenging areas, electrification is an option for sustainability

“We have two Nissan Leaf EVs in Jordan and some in Lebanon, which have turned out to be very practical, especially in a country like Lebanon, where there are issues with fuel supply. I'm hoping that as the technology evolves solar energy will become a substantial part of fleet management very soon.

We have a number of hybrid vehicles as well, such as Toyota RAV4s and Camrys. The first Camry of ours was introduced in Egypt in 2021. These vehicles are proving to be efficient in terms of fuel consumption and servicing. EVs are used mainly in cities such as Beirut and Alma. However, I expect them to be deployed into field locations in the future. I’m currently thinking about the Volkswagen iD4 and iD6.

Tariq concludes by stating his major pillars in fleet management, which are cost efficiency, safety, effectiveness (or programme delivery) and environmental impact. Over the next 18 months, he will focus attention on the fleet’s environmental impact and trying to introduce more sustainable solutions into fleet operations.

Main image: Shutterstock. In article images 1) a Toyota Land Cruiser used by WHO to transport medical equipment and personnel. 2) A UN vehicle flipped on its side in a river - thankfully not in Tariq's territory, this was in South Sudan but it illustrates the sort of conditions and dangers WHO drivers face on daily basis. 

Authored by: Alison Pittaway