Working on an island comes with its unique challenges. Glenn Yamada, fleet and facilities supervisor for Hawaii Gas, shared how his company delivers service to customers throughout the state with trucks that are safe and handled by drivers who understand the importance of their job.
Fueling the Movement of Fuel
Founded in 1904, Hawaii Gas is the only gas utility operating in Hawaii and is a wholly-owned indirect subsidiary of Macquarie Infrastructure Corporation. More than 300 energy professionals serve approximately 70,000 residential and commercial customers on all six major Hawaiian Islands.
Hawaii Gas has manufactured synthetic natural gas (SNG) from a refinery by-product called naphtha since 1975. SNG and propane have a smaller carbon footprint, emitting 30% to 45% less carbon dioxide (CO2) than other energy sources such as coal and oil.
In 2018, it added renewable natural gas (RNG) to its fuel supply by capturing and processing biogas from the City & County of Honolulu’s Honouliuli Wastewater Treatment Plant to create methane. RNG is a clean, carbon-negative natural gas alternative made locally in the state. As a result, SNG and RNG are distributed through approximately 1,100 miles of underground gas pipeline on Oahu. Those customers located away from the pipeline on Oahu and neighbor islands are supplied with propane.
Serving with a Diverse, Safe Fleet
The company currently runs a fleet of 240 trucks. Passenger vehicles make up 7% of the fleet, heavy-duty Class 8 trucks account for 10%, medium-duty Class 4-7 trucks make up 38%, and 45% are light-duty trucks and vans.
All trucks are used for propane gas delivery, pipeline repair and maintenance applications, residential customer services, and internal-use applications.
Spec’ing trucks to promote worker’s safety and productivity is a priority for the company. It’s added front and rear strobes, retractable steps for workers to stand on so they don’t injure themselves trying to climb on, and more drawer modules to store tools. On higher trucks like Ford F-550s, it’s added an extended running board to make it easier for the driver and passenger to get in and out of the gap.
Hawaii Gas equips its trucks in a way that will simplify and/or improve efficiencies of maintenance operations to achieve a lower total cost of ownership.
For example, it standardized the engine transmission on its larger trucks to have the same powertrain. This enables the company to keep fewer maintenance parts on hand and simplifies the work for the technicians because they are looking at the same thing all the time. In addition, with the way the trucks are spec’ed, the company tends to receive a better return on investment at resale.
Yamada is particularly excited to see how the company’s new cabover propane delivery bobtail truck performs on service routes where maneuverability is at a premium.
Keeping Up with New Developments
The company’s challenges include keeping up with the ever-changing new technologies available to be implemented into current production vehicles. Creating an environment and retaining a workforce that understands and embraces these new technologies go hand-in-hand with this difficulty.
Finally, adapting to long lead times to receive new trucks from manufacturers or bodybuilders and higher ocean freight costs to get them to Hawaii is another challenge.
“We are striving to understand better how drivers are utilizing the vehicles, so we can ensure trucks are being operated to their full potential,” Yamada said.
In a past Work Truck article, he previously mentioned that when he started with Hawaii Gas 16 years ago, they ran trucks pretty much until they had to be replaced.
“Now we are looking at replacing before it gets too expensive to run. In doing so, we’re also looking into maximizing any return that can be obtained from the vehicle being replaced to lower and control our replacement costs,” he explained.
The COVID-19 pandemic has kept many administrative and operations people on a work-from-home status or limited operational work duties. This change has affected the process involved in purchasing new vehicles, maintaining the fleet, and completing other related tasks associated with it.
Meeting Every Need
Before working at Hawaii Gas, Yamada started as an automotive mechanic by trade and then transitioned into trucks and machinery. He said his job is interesting, challenging, and he never experiences a dull moment.
His advice to other fleet managers is to persevere in hard times and always do your due diligence when making major decisions for the fleet.