Industry leader and California operator Maurice Brewster contributes insights to a Wall Street Journal article.
Running a fleet of vehicles means you will occasionally lose a set of keys. It may be temporary, or perhaps forever. Lost keys can disrupt passenger service as well as lose money for your business. Learn how to properly manage keys to your fleet and office. Toni Woodmansee of Mad City Limo and Party Bus maintains a separate locked box with another set of keys. (LCT photo) A sample key chit or tag available through such outlets as Grainger.com and Xpresstags.com. (LCT photo)
Who Needs Keys To What?
The first part of key management is determining who needs keys to what. The second part is making sure a back-up set of original factory made keys for all of your fleet vehicles are kept in a secure lock box. Locking key racks can be found from valet parking supply vendors such as SD2K.com, thevaletspot.com, Grainger Industrial Supplies (grainger.com), and similar vendors.
You will not find these types of key racks at Walmart or Home Depot. Duplicates for the lock box should be made as well, and access to the lock box of original keys should be restricted to a handful of your most trusted managers. The locked key box should safeguard original keys used only in emergencies or to make duplicates.
Vehicle lockouts happen when a key fob is accidentally locked inside the vehicle. If this happens minutes before picking up a passenger, the passenger could be seriously delayed. It could lead you to dispatch another vehicle, a tow-truck, or a locksmith. All options will cost you. A lockout on a Mercedes-Benz S-Class will set you back about $560, according to an article in MDMedic.com.
Michael Angerton, manager of The Valet Scene of Bakersfield, Calif., learned just how expensive it can be after losing a customer’s key at a recent charity event. For this reason, each fleet vehicle should have three keys. This includes two ignition keys that are “programmed.” One key is considered the operating key, and the other is the back-up and should remain in the chauffeur’s pocket until the vehicle is returned at the end of the shift. In addition, a door key should be hidden somewhere on the vehicle that accesses the door but doesn’t have the electronic chip needed to start the vehicle engine. While chipped keys can start at $50 and easily go into the hundreds, a non-chipped key will be less than $10 and you can request a locksmith to make it without the chip.
Key Check Out
Operators use many methods to control keys. On the elaborate side, Tony Mehdiof of Northpoint Transportation in Atlanta uses a barcode on each key that is scanned by a barcode reader and an employee ID. Once the chauffeur scans the key, a separate software system records the scan and the key continues to be checked out to that employee until scanned again upon return. It is highly likely your chauffeurs come and go with no one around to check out keys. At Mad City Limo and Party Bus in Madison, Wisc., office manager Toni Woodmansee says all chauffeurs have a key to the building and the combination to a lockbox where operating keys are stored. Woodmansee maintains a separate locked box with another set of keys.
The Tag System
Another easy method of monitoring who has taken a key is to use a “chit” or key tag. In this process, using “chits” or little round metal tags that identify an employee by employee number is exchanged for items such as iPads, cell phones, and other equipment. Each employee is provided with anywhere from one to five chits (see example) stamped with a unique identifying number such as an employee number. When removing a key from an open key rack, a chit is left behind on the key hook and exchanged back when the keys are returned to the rack. Chits also can be sourced from Grainger.com and Xpresstags.com.
Using Paper Logs
Some operators use a simple method of writing it down on a paper log sheet with an entry as simple as writing “Bob Smith — SUV #4.” Others use index cards in a small index card box with a single card for each set of keys, and the person checking out the keys signs the index card. This system is better used for operations where the vehicle and/or keys stay with the same person for a longer period than a single shift. When a chauffeur is assigned a vehicle on a permanent or semi-permanent basis, this system will work just fine.
While all employees probably need access to your office at all times, administrative areas should be kept locked and access restricted. Federal DOT regulations require driver qualification files be kept in locked cabinets. Master keys should be issued sparingly. Even those keys marked, “Do Not Duplicate,” can often be duplicated by locksmiths without question. Before issuing keys to your employees, ask yourself what this employee needs access to on a regular basis. Not every office employee needs access to a closet that holds your office supplies. Only your office manager should handle supplies and retrieve items for others as needed. While you might not think this is important, you may be surprised how many paper pads, staples, reams of paper, and other goods end up in the houses of your employees.
The same goes for supplies such as bottled water, champagne flutes, and other glassware. However, locking these things up can be a little more tricky because employees may need access to these items when your business office is closed. Consider giving senior chauffeurs keys to these areas.
You should maintain a list of every person who has keys to your office, the date they were issued, and the date they were collected. Periodically you should change your locks in case a former employee made a duplicate. It doesn’t mean you need to buy all new locks. A locksmith can move locks from one door to another, so if a former employee does have a front door key, his duplicate key won’t work anymore.
Toni Woodmansee of Mad City Limo and Party Bus maintains a separate locked box with another set of keys. (LCT photo)
A sample key chit or tag available through such outlets as Grainger.com and Xpresstags.com. (LCT photo)
Having no control over your keys or a loosely controlled program invites a higher loss of keys and a lack of accountability. Have you ever had a situation where the keys to a vehicle sitting in your yard are missing? It happens. You might spend hours calling employees trying to find the missing key.
Having accountability through a check-out process makes your employees take better care of keys because they are easily tied back to the employee. This applies to all keys including cabinets, padlocks, closet doors, and anything else requiring a key. Every key should be accounted for at all times, and a second key available in case of a loss. If you don’t want to invest time and money in a key management system, you may consider having a security video camera aimed at the key rack so you can go back and review video if you lose a key.
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