Five questions for the fleet manager

Kathy Wellik in fleet parking lot

Director of transportation services Kathy Wellik. Photo by Christopher Gannon.

The basics:

Kathy Wellik, director of transportation services
Years at Iowa State: 12
Previous career: Banking
National board of directors service: NAFA Fleet Management Association, National Conference of State Fleet Administrators
Regional board service: chair of the NAFA Mid-West chapter
Staff: Seven full-time, 10-15 part-time (students)
2016 reservations: 11,431 (daily and seasonal) 

How large is the vehicle fleet you manage?

The numbers change constantly, depending on the time of year. Auctions to sell used vehicles are in June and October; our new purchases -- 50 to 65 annually -- arrive from February to May. But it's around 580 vehicles. Of that, about 360 are permanently assigned to departments on and off campus, through annual leases. That includes extension vehicles, residence and dining trucks and vans, ISU Police cars and some local ISU farm vehicles. We also manage vehicles for the two state Board of Regents' special schools (School for the Deaf and Educational Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired). That leaves about 220 vehicles for daily and seasonal reservations.

Is there a common misnomer about transportation services?

Probably that employees think they are going to pay less through a car rental company. They don't always compare apples to apples. Our rates include fuel and our insurance. Plus, I'd emphasize the importance of using a university vehicle for university business. If there's an accident, it's on our insurance; if you're in a personal vehicle, it's your insurance and your deductible.

Do you ever turn down a vehicle request? (For example: I'm going to San Diego but I hate to fly, so can I reserve a car?)

We really try hard to not say no. Probably the farthest we've sent a vehicle was a pickup truck to Mexico. A research team had to go down twice a year to study figs that grew only in a specific location. Because it was out of country, that required a separate insurance policy, and we learned a few lessons over the time of that project . . . like send three spare tires, use thicker tire treads and put a lockable topper on the truck.

We try to find a solution. If we don't have a 15-passenger van available at the time you need, would two seven-passenger vans work? We try to be a "yes, we can" department.

What's on your wish list?

An electronic key box for the front entry. It would give us 24-hour checkout, which would help us make more efficient use of our vehicles -- we would need fewer, probably -- and it would provide better weekend service. Right now, all weekend reservation vehicles have to be picked up between 3 and 5 Friday afternoon.

A customer steering committee is giving us input on both sides of this option. Some just value a really clean car. A department that makes frequent weekend runs to the airport appreciates more flexibility on scheduling. We have the system budgeted, but we need to make a final decision about whether to add it, probably in the next six months.

What's to love about a job that depends on no vehicle breakdowns, no lockouts and fully inflated tires for smooth sailing on a daily basis?

Every day is different, and I love that. I feel like a firefighter sometimes, but I like the challenge. For example, making a reservation work for a customer when someone else returns that car late. Or, figuring out solutions when a customer calls about a vehicle breakdown out of town somewhere. The world is not perfect, and you have to make the best of what you have.