Pain at the pump: Another crisis for public safety

As fuel prices skyrocket, look for ways to reduce control fuel costs now, prepare for the long-term and address employee morale


If you haven’t seen the headlines, you’ve certainly seen the price marquees at the gas stations in your service area or jurisdiction. Gasoline and diesel fuel prices, according to GasBuddy.com, are at or near record-setting levels in the U.S. The Russian invasion of Ukraine is upending global fuel markets and prices at the pumps have steadily increased for the past two weeks. With no clear end in sight for the war or its impacts on economic uncertainty and fuel costs, public safety leaders, fleet managers and personnel could be challenged by increased fuel costs and lower morale for weeks or months to come.  

Money has to come from somewhere 

As public safety agencies almost always need to balance their bottom line, there is little margin to absorb increased costs in already strained budgets. As fuel prices and expenditures increase, expect to see decreased funds available for salary bonuses (a key tool in the current retention crisis); less money for training, especially attending off-site events; and delays in purchasing new products that aren’t urgently needed.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is upending global fuel markets and prices at the pumps have steadily increased for the past two weeks.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine is upending global fuel markets and prices at the pumps have steadily increased for the past two weeks. (Photo/Getty Images)

Where will the cuts happen in your agency?    

Find ways to save on fuel use now 

In the short term, to minimize the impact of fuel prices on the bottom line, agency leaders and fleet managers should implement solutions to reduce their fleet’s fuel use.

Some ways to reduce fuel use or spend less per gallon include:  

  • Negotiating a fleet purchasing discount with gas stations in your service area 

  • Maintaining vehicles for optimum performance, including keeping tires inflated to the manufacturer’s recommended pressure 

  • Reducing the time vehicles are idling at the station, incident, or posting location 

  • Using the most fuel-efficient route recommended by mapping software 

  • Reminding drivers that gentle acceleration and deceleration reduce fuel use and prolong brake life 

Unfortunately, these are the low-hanging fruit of fuel savings and are likely in use by most fleet managers to save on fuel and reduce vehicle wear and tear.

What are other ways to immediately reduce your agency’s fuel consumption?  

Don't let this crisis go to waste 

You've probably heard the phrase, “don’t waste a crisis,” applied to any number of challenges faced by today’s public safety leaders. From COVID-19, to recruitment and retention, to public protests about policing, to the constant battle for more funding, there is no shortage of crises for today’s leaders to rally around to affect change to their organization’s culture, structure and service lines. With that in mind, here are a few things that should be explored in the months ahead, including the next budget period.  

  • Assess fuel consumption and lifetime operating costs when purchasing patrol vehicles, as well as other vehicles used by your department. Purchase hybrids, plug-in electric vehicles and electric vehicles to reduce fuel use. When budgeting for new vehicle purchases, keep in mind that the lifetime operating costs of electric vehicles are lower than similar internal combustion vehicles.  

  • Increase the use of remote services. The COVID-19 pandemic plunged many organizations into increasing telemedicine and teleconferences and replacing other services that had historically been done face-to-face with phone, video call, text chat or web forms. Continuing and increasing teleservices will save on fuel costs and the time spent by personnel traveling to and from an incident or service request.  

  • Invest in fleet monitoring and analysis software and services that optimize routing, automatically adjust vehicle idling to reduce fuel consumption, and set benchmarks for the department to set goals for fuel consumption and savings. 

What are other ways for your organization to transform in the wake of this current crisis? 

As fuel prices go up, morale goes down 

You probably know the law of supply and demand from high school or college economics. As the price of fuel goes up, demand will decrease, but demand only goes down for the fuel consumers who can reduce their consumption. For many public safety employees, the commute to and from work, as well as their other daily driving needs, like taking their kids to school or going to the grocery store, are fixed. They can’t easily reduce their demand.  

As the cost of working – the amount spent to have a job – increases, expect to see morale go down. When an employee’s paycheck doesn’t go as far as it did a month ago, the real-life economic stress from making difficult choices about housing, leisure activities and saving for retirement piles on top of a group of professionals already at risk of high work-related stress and burnout. This stress might be especially acute for police officers who commute long distances to work in cities they can’t afford to live in.  

Support for Ukraine 

I can’t presume to fully understand how global macroeconomics and commodity prices impact the daily decisions of public safety personnel. But I am confident that the uncertainty will persist, and fluctuation of the global fuel supply will have a direct and potentially significant impact on individual and agency budgets for weeks or months to come. If you and your agency haven’t already acknowledged how increasing fuel prices have impacted your operating budget and personnel’s morale, you ought to.  

Finally, I believe it is possible to simultaneously be concerned about the death and suffering of Ukrainians and how a war on the other side of the world is impacting agency budgets and personal wealth. For me, it’s not one or another. My thoughts and support continue to be with the people of Ukraine, especially the firefighters, paramedics and police officers who are continuing to serve their communities while defending their homes and neighbors from the Russian invasion. I am grateful for their heroism, sacrifice and defense of freedom.

NEXT: How to stand up an electric police fleet

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