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Right on track

February 18, 2013

Mondello Park track is wet from an early morning rain shower. It is 8:00am on competition day. A day when every twist and turn on track and road will count. Where patience and skill will count. And a driver’s knowledge will give them the edge. It is a day when An Post’s first Eco Driver Challenge will come down to the wire.


Competition day

The sight of a black and white chequered race flag flying over Mondello Park greets the 20 competitors – 10 drivers and 10 delivery services managers from DSUs nationwide. A driving competition with a difference, the Eco Driver Challenge sets out to find the most skilled, fuel efficient and customer focused drivers in the company.

 

The prize? The opportunity to represent the company at the world’s first driving competition for postal staff - the International Postal Corporation (IPC) Drivers’ Challenge in Montpellier, France.

Like any motor track pro-team, An Post has its own in place. Trackside Eamon Keogh, fleet technical manager, oversees the vital logistics of the day. Beside him, delivery vans and Ford Transit trucks 
from the An Post fleet are lined up in a row ready for the competitors.

In the pit lane, team managers Michael Burke, Gerry Cunningham, Paul Hanley and Kevin Martin (who act as official adjudicators) hold stopwatches and score sheets on clipboards. In charge of operations is Doug Nunan, head of transport. It is Doug and his transport team that have pulled together every element of the Eco Driver Challenge in Formula One race time.

“Sustainability is the core reason for bringing our drivers here today. We are testing competitors on their ability to drive in an eco-friendly manner. We will also measure their fuel efficiency and customer service. There are other important skills we will measure too, including speed management and road safety,” says Doug.


The challenge begins

For the event, competitors are divided into 10 teams of two consisting of one driver and manager with driving challenges split between them. For the first Eco Driver event, the top ten DSMs were invited to take part based on Champions League results In Quarter 2, while 10 drivers were invited based on their Assessment and Driving training scores.


With minutes to go, the atmosphere builds as the challenge begins. Inside Mondello, the 10 teams engage in some last minute friendly banter before the first part of the competition – the written Theory Test consisting of questions from the Rules of the Road, the Driving for Work Manual and the Collection and Delivery Manual.


Once complete, the driving element of the competition roars into life. As the chequered flag is lowered, Mark Browne and Joseph Burns of Team One drive out on the first route with gritty determination. Every team leaves within seconds of each other. On the 2km long track, it is a convoy of An Post delivery vans.

The Customer Delivery Experience pitches team against team. They load up their vehicles with a tray of mail and deliver to customers at four marked delivery locations around Mondello Park. Key to success in the overall challenge is a high score for fuel economy, driving skill and driving ability. But that is not nearly enough. Drivers also have to be customer focused and understand the delivery needs of customers, as well as being fully versed in An Post products and services.


Skilful driving comes into play as they take on the Eco Drive – a 30km route driven at a steady speed around the roads of Kildare. Fuel is measured every minute, the figure added up from the time drivers turn on the ignition, to the time they turn it off. It’s easy to see why the chosen 20 are the cream of An Post’s driving crop.

Driver Gerard Walsh from Naas DSU says, “When I received my letter inviting me to take part, I was delighted. I have actually been here as a spectator so it was great to get the opportunity to drive on this course.” As an An Post Driver, it is second nature to him. “I drive a Ford Transit
for my first mail pick up from the North Kildare Office and I drive a seven and a half tonne truck to collect mail from the Dublin Mails Centre,” he says.


A battle to the top

At the halfway point, it’s a battle for the top podium position. “It’s a competition to see who is a good driver rather than
about speed,” says network fleet technical manager Kevin Martin, Dublin Mails Centre. “It is very exhilarating and enjoyable and team spirit is high. The Driver Discipline element of the challenge could catch some Drivers out as they have to drive and navigate in the larger transits.”


The afternoon sees drivers take on the Driver Daily Check and Speed Control test. The Daily Check must be carried out before delivery staff set off in their vehicles every morning and includes checking tyre pressure, wipers, seatbelts, lights and tyre thread depth. Revs per minute, braking and speed are also monitored for this part of the challenge over three laps of the track. Drivers must not exceed 80km per hour,
with their braking speed recorded as they corner into the track bends.


For competitors, experience is key. Donegal DSM John Lafferty says, “I was a driver for 13 years so that knowledge has really stood to me today.” His teammate, Anthony Kelly agrees and adds, “We are not thinking about winning or losing, just competing.” 

Professional driving experience is something Bernard Hudson, representing Team Five, knows all about, driving Artic Trucks daily from the Dublin Mails Centre. “I am not nervous at all; it’s a very enjoyable day. There is a great sense of competition. Failure is not an option!” he says jokingly.


For the final Driver Discipline task, the motor track is set up with traffic cones and drivers navigate carefully around them, reversing, parallel parking and completing a slalom exercise. They are scored on each task, their observation skills, control and accuracy.


We are the champions!

Back at Mondello base, Mick Spain, national administration manager, is 
surrounded by laptops and monitoring 
equipment to collate and
 record the latest score results and statistics as they are sent in
from Team Managers. Fuel
 consumption is monitored electronically on every van, with figures relayed back within 10 minutes from the 
testing routes. With so much to take into 
account, a single penalty point can make all the
difference.


The competition leader
board is constantly
 changing but each participant is unaware of their placing at any stage so it is a competition to be won or lost. The final result comes in and Terry Meegan, DSM, DSU 18 and Emmanuel (Mono) Cassidy, Naas DSU are declared the Eco Driver Challenge winners!

As the results are announced, a delighted Terry says, “It is a great pleasure and an honour to represent An Post in France. I am very much looking forward to it.”


As Emmanual Cassidy joins Terry to celebrate on the winner’s podium he says, “It’s fantastic, I wasn’t expecting to win, to actually come out as the Top Driver is a shock. The Eco Driver Challenge is all down to being aware of what is on the road, what is in front of you, planning your journey properly and driving safely.”


Good for our business

The Eco Driver Challenge will play an important role in the future success of the company’s sustainability programme. It will also improve fuel efficiency, encourage safe driving, reduce the risk of traffic accidents and enhance customer service.


Liam O’Sullivan, mail operations director, explains, “We have the largest fleet in the country, over 3,000 vehicles in 300 locations. We are on every highway and byway in the country and we use a lot of fuel. It is hugely important that we reduce the amount that we use; it reduces our costs but it also contributes to the environment. We have a lot of green vans; we would like to be a very green company – this is a big contribution to it.”

Article first published in Postnews Dec 12/Jan 13 Issue 149

February 18, 2013

 

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