WRAL Investigates

Officials want to give private firm keys to state motor fleet

Posted May 19, 2015 7:54 p.m. EDT

— Officials in Gov. Pat McCrory's administration are looking at privatizing much of the state motor fleet, which has been plagued by misuse for years.

In 2009, WRAL Investigates found plenty of state-owned cars going nowhere and collecting dust. The same situation existed for at least two years, despite WRAL News reports, and state agencies kept picking up the tab for leasing vehicles that weren't used.

Since then, the state has culled about 2,000 vehicles from the fleet – it's down to about 6,500 now – and tweaked some usage rules. But thousands of cars still spend most of the time parked.

State statute requires minimum usage of 3,150 miles driven per quarter to justify the need for a vehicle. The recent NC GEAR government reform and efficiency report found just 40 percent of the fleet met that bar in the 2013-14 fiscal year.

"We've got too many cars that aren't being used efficiently. They're sitting idle. The state has paid for them," State Budget Director Lee Roberts said.

In the first seven months of 2014, 75 percent of the fleet vehicles were never even refueled, Roberts said.

Also, many state employees complain it's a pain to check out motor fleet cars.

"It's not all that easy to rent a (state-owned) car," Roberts said. "You can't do it online. You can't pick up a car after hours. Dropping it off after hours isn't all that easy."

He wants to improve customer service by downsizing the motor fleet and contracting with a private rental company to handle short-term leasing of vehicles to state agencies. That proposal has prompted criticism from the State Employees Association of North Carolina, which fears higher costs.

"Why do we need to do something different? We question that use of taxpayer dollars," said Ardis Watkins, SEANC's legislative affairs director, noting that past studies have supported a publicly run motor pool. "We're always concerned about knee-jerk reactions to move towards privatization."

Privatizing short-term leasing would cost the state about $100,000 more per year than maintaining the existing motor fleet, Roberts said, but that would be offset by selling off vehicles and the motor fleet's parking lot – the property sits on prime real estate in west Raleigh across from the North Carolina Museum of Art – as well as by improved customer service.

"We owe it to the taxpayers that we're getting the highest and best value for land the taxpayers own, and I don't think parking cars on it like this is the best way to do that," he said.