STAMFORD — Dust was the first clue.
It covered the windshields of several city cars parked in the government center garage.
It led to a conclusion that the cars were not being used by employees of the city departments to which they were assigned.
But something didn’t jibe.
Fleet Manager Mike Scacco was hearing that the city didn’t have enough cars for all the employees authorized to use them.
What was going on?
After several checks of the garage’s fourth floor, where city cars are parked, Scacco saw that 30 to 40 of them rarely moved.
But there was no way to tell how often cars were driven, by whom, and for what purpose, because the city didn’t track it.
That didn’t make sense, Scacco said, because buying cars, fueling them, maintaining, repairing and replacing them costs taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.
He examined one of the few sets of data available — fuel reports.
“I checked the mileage. Utilization was extremely poor,” Scacco said. “The cars were not being driven.”
He spoke to city supervisors. He heard of one instance in which five employees of the same department each drove a city car to the same meeting 60 miles away. He learned of project managers who drove city cars ¾ of a mile to a work site and left it there all day.
It was not a good use of an asset that costs the city $25,000 to purchase and another $3,500 to $6,000 a year to maintain, Scacco said.
He decided to try a private-sector practice — requiring employees to share.
That was two years ago, when the city had 80 vehicles. Based on his observations, he took the 31 worst cars out of service.
Using fleet management software, he created a motor pool with the remaining 49 cars.
Under the program, the 100 or so city employees authorized to use a car reserve them with Scacco’s department online. They enter their name, the date and number of hours needed, the type of car required, and the destination.
The employee receives a confirmation number and goes to an electronic box in the security office of the government center lobby.
“The system allows you to take only the key that goes with the confirmation number,” Scacco said. “You return the key the same way.”
Once employees got used to the system, what he found surprised him, Scacco said.
City employees not only didn’t need 80 cars. They didn’t even need the 49 he thought they would.
The motor pool now has 26 cars, and Scacco thinks he may be able to eliminate a couple more. His data shows that, on average, only 68 percent of the cars are used each month.
“We have never not had enough cars for employees,” Scacco said. “There has not been a time when we couldn’t provide a car for someone who needed it.”
Motor pooling has saved the city about $360,000 over the last two years, the data shows. It is projected to save $1 million over five years.
Not only that, but each car in the pool is equipped with GPS to log whereabouts, mileage and driver behavior.
“Managers can track where their people are, if they are making their appointments in a timely manner, how many stops they are making,” Scacco said. “It also allows the risk manager to check for speeding violations.”
That’s enough to warm the hearts of Stamford taxpayers.
In 2010, so many city cars were involved in accidents that officials instituted a safety campaign, slapping “How’s my driving?” stickers on the bumpers and inviting residents to report bad behavior online.
In response, officials received detailed descriptions of speeding, sideswiping, improper passing, tailgating, aggressive lane-changing, cursing, and flipping of the finger. One resident reported a bright blue city-issued Dodge Neon that sailed through an intersection “airborne.”
But the taxpayers’ lament over city cars goes back far longer than that.
There was the former police chief who gave cars out as perks, including to officers who lived out of state and drove them home each day.
There was the former public works supervisor who was caught with his city car at a New York airport, where he was catching a flight to a vacation spot.
That was before Scacco’s time.
“I’ve heard that there wasn’t much accountability,” he said.
Now there is plenty. The program allows his department to determine who’s responsible for damage to a city car. It allows drivers to report mechanical problems. It allows his department to set up maintenance schedules based on mileage data.
And Scacco was able to sell the unneeded cars for a total of about $200,000.
An old sore
Stamford’s program was featured in the June edition of “The Municipal,” a newsletter about products and methods to improve operation of U.S. cities.
But a taxpayer sore spot remains — some city cars still are assigned to individual employees who are allowed to take them home.
Mayor David Martin, who backs Scacco’s efforts, said last year that 66 vehicles are individually assigned, and two-thirds of those individuals live outside of Stamford.
City cars are individually assigned for four reasons, Martin has said. One is that an employee is required to respond to emergencies in a specially equipped vehicle. Another is that an employee’s job requires so much driving that a city car is less expensive than the cost of reimbursement for use of a personal car. A third is that the employee is a senior official such as director of operations or chief of police.
The fourth is an old source of taxpayer dismay. Years ago, Mayor Dannel Malloy, now governor, took away about 30 cars from police and fire department employees because they did not meet new take-home criteria. The employees filed grievances with their unions, and Malloy lost the arbitration and had to give them back.
The arbitrator ruled that the employees could keep the cars simply because the practice had been allowed for so long.