A program designed to keep tabs on city vehicles has been undermined by a report showing that departments routinely are renting cars not subject to tracking. (Deborah Svoboda/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Vehicle tracking program uncovers high use of rentals by city departments

A program intended to save costs and improve safety by tracking The City’s vehicle fleet has encountered an unexpected obstacle: a high number of vehicle rentals by city departments.

The discovery was made by a Budget and Legislative Analyst report obtained by the Examiner assessing The City’s telematics program, which uses vehicle tracking to reduce gasoline usage, speeding and other costly and dangerous behaviors.

But rented vehicles escape such scrutiny. And between September 2017 and September 2019, the report found, city departments rented cars for 79,354 days, to the tune of $2.6 million.

A whopping 18.6 percent of those rentals were deemed luxury, premium or elite vehicles by Enterprise Rent-a-Car, with which The City has a contract.

About half of San Francisco’s vehicles are outfitted with black boxes that track location, speed and gas usage due to 2016 legislation. But the report found departments haven’t significantly acted on that data, which could save The City another $10.5 million annually.

“It’s nobody’s fault, because when we first started this program, we didn’t know what to expect,” said Supervisor Norman Yee, who introduced the legislation creating the telematics program. “Now, we’re finding there’s too many loose ends.”

Yee plans to introduce legislation next week that tightens up the program. Departments would be required to provide a written report to the City Administrator’s Office, which oversees the program, about its corrective action with deadlines.

Departments would also be required to report on vehicle leases around five days before, helping to prevent some excessive rentals. Cars that sit unused in one department could potentially be loaned to another department.

San Francisco has about 7,930 cars managed by the City Administrator, about 52 percent of which had black boxes installed as of August 2019. Law enforcement vehicles were some of the last to install black boxes but had until June to comply, expecting to add 1,000 more devices to city vehicles.

The San Francisco Police Department accounted for $1.2 million of overall rental costs during that period, renting 398 vehicles amounting to 42,497 days. It also came first in the number of luxury vehicles rented — 52 cars across 4,918 days costing $160,008.

The report offered one example in which the San Francisco Police Department rented an Infiniti QX70 — an elite SUV that appears to be outside of options in The City’s contract with Enterprise — for 204 days at a total cost of $16,623.

The Public Utilities Commission came next in costs with $663,860 spent on 77 rentals across 23,429 days. It rented 30 luxury vehicles for 8,534 days, costing $284,011.

During the same period, the Department of Elections rented 494 cars used between 3,627 days but cost $392,207. Six luxury vehicles were rented for 50 days costing $5,201.

Further, the Budget and Legislative Analyst report found 55 instances where cars were rented for more than a year, “which effectively subverts the Board of Supervisors’ budget approval of departments’ vehicle purchases.”

Rentals are not monitored by one central agency. Yee noted it didn’t make sense for the Elections Department to own cars year-round and said there might be a good reason behind overall luxury car uses, but that more answers are needed.

“Maybe some of these luxury cars could be explained away, but I think there’s too much to explain away,” Yee said. “We need to tighten that up.”

One of the telematics program’s goals is to curb speeding by city employees, which can lead to deadly or severe collisions and costly settlements. The City paid $77 million in litigation related to the fleet between 2010 and 2014, Yee previously told the Examiner.

The new report found that between September 2018 and September 2019, telematic data logged at least 148,034 speeding incidents in city vehicles equipped with black boxes. Of those incidents, 16.3 percent went between 20 to 29 miles per hour over the posted speed limit.

And at least 768 vehicles had 50 or more speeding incidents in the same period.

Yee is expected to introduce legislation next week.

imojadad@sfexaminer.com

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