City of Dublin, Ohio: Today’s CNG Fleet to Tomorrow’s Testbed for Autonomous Technology

July 20, 2018

An ACT News Executive Interview with Darryl Syler, Director of Fleet Management for the City of Dublin, Ohio.

Darryl Syler grew up in a small town in Tennessee where his grandfather owned the service garage where his Dad worked, it was only natural that Darryl followed in their footsteps. From the time he could walk, Darryl had a shop rag in his back pocket.

Today, Darryl is the Director of Fleet Management for the City of Dublin, Ohio. In the seven years he’s been with the City of Dublin, he’s grown their compressed natural gas (CNG) fleet to a total of 63 vehicles, added electric vehicles (EVs) and charging infrastructure, and more recently, is working on an autonomous vehicle project. Darryl has been instrumental in helping Dublin with their sustainability efforts, which has garnered the city recognition as one of the 100 Best Fleets for several years (not to mention, Dublin received the ACT Expo Award in 2018 for Leading Public Fleet!), and Darryl has no plans to downshift in to neutral.

Photo of Darryl Syler, Director of Fleet Management (3rd from right) and the City of Dublin fleet team

Darryl Syler, Director of Fleet Management (3rd from right) and the City of Dublin fleet team

ACT News caught up with Darryl to learn more about his history (and success) in fleet management, and his vision for the future.

ACT News: How do you foster innovation in the fleet department with the City of Dublin?

Syler: We are a fleet family with very smart technicians and staff that think outside the box. We’ve fostered a culture that encourages everyone to bring ideas to the table. All of our staff knows they can knock on my office door to show me something new. We’re always looking for the latest innovation to find solutions.

ACT News: How would you describe your workplace culture?

Syler: The City of Dublin is very forward thinking. The city has five, ten, fifteen and twenty-year plans. The city leadership sticks to their goals but that never precludes looking at innovative ways of doing business. In Dublin, we believe sustainability goes a long way toward building a community that we’re all proud of.

One example of the city’s innovation is our involvement in Ohio’s 33 Smart Mobility Corridor. With investment in infrastructure and collaborative partnerships, the 33 Smart Mobility Corridor will soon become the primary test-bed of autonomous and connected vehicle technology and research in the Midwest. The corridor will run from Dublin to Marysville and we’re planning to have pilot programs in place very soon.

Photo of one of the City of Dublin's Nissan Leafs

The City of Dublin is growing their fleet of Nissan Leafs

ACT News: What aspect of your role do you enjoy the most?

Syler: All of it! Having grown up around cars, then spending my first career in the army as a Motor Sergeant, which really means Fleet Manager, then working for the City of Little Rock in fleet, and now as Director of Fleet Management for Dublin – I have a love for what I do.

The technical side of the business is really what keeps me moving. Today, with autonomous vehicles, connected vehicles, blockchain technology – it’s exciting. Having the ability to color outside the lines with my role really keeps fleet work interesting. One key thing to note, it’s teamwork that makes all of this possible. We’ve got ten people on our team, nothing would be possible without all of us working together.

ACT News: What drew you to the City of Dublin originally?                                    

Syler: Before coming to Dublin, I was with the City of Little Rock. I was ready for a more challenging position with a public fleet. At the time, the City Manager of Dublin saw a need to break the fleet department out from under another division, which had never had a fleet manager to grow the department. The city was expanding, Dublin needed a fleet manager. When Dublin offered me the new position, I saw the challenge and took it.

The city had just been awarded grant funds to build their CNG station and needed someone who could oversee that project, as well as manage the fleet. The CNG technology for vehicles and infrastructure, which was new at the time, was intriguing to me. As fleet responsibilities grew, my title grew as well to become Director of Fleet Management.

ACT News: Before working for the City of Dublin, what was the most unusual or interesting job you’ve ever had?

Syler: The summer between my junior and senior year in high school, I thought I was tired of working at my Grandfather’s garage. So, I took a summer job working for a tree nursery. That was the hardest and most humbling work I’ve ever done. After being out in the hot sun day after day, I couldn’t wait for the school year to start. It taught me in the end that everything we do offers life lessons. I’ve carried that with me ever since.

ACT News: What do you feel public fleets need to do to invest in innovation?

Syler: The challenge for public fleets is they have a limited budget as most public fleets are funded through city taxes. Fleets have to make the most of what is available in terms of education for staff, and funding for vehicles and infrastructure. You have to go after all the grant money you can, which means you must do your due diligence.

At Dublin we’ve worked hard to write good grant proposals, resulting in multiple grant awards. That’s how we were able to build a CNG station and it’s how we’ve funded our vehicles.

If a fleet has training opportunities, make sure the staff can take advantage of them. We’re fortunate in that we’re allowed to send staff to the big conferences. As the Director of Fleet Management, I’m only as good as my staff, so I always try to surround myself with people who are smarter than me.

ACT News: What is one thing about your job people don’t expect or know about or hear about?

Syler: Every year the city has an employee appreciation breakfast. A couple of years ago we decided to make a video – something funny – to show during the breakfast. We came up with Darryl’s Used Cars, and made a spoof of ourselves in the fleet department. It went over better than we ever expected. We did it again last year. Now it’s expected that the fleet department will be supplying the entertainment for the breakfast every year.

Photo of a snowplow with a tropical image painted on the plow blade

A City of Dublin CNG multi-use dump truck, with a winter snowplow message

ACT News: What advice would you offer to young professionals interested in pursuing a similar career path?

Syler: Educate yourself; always be learning. Listen and learn from the staff and technicians. Soak up everything you can while in the field. Attend conferences – such as ACT Expo – so you can see what technologies and trends are coming. Above all, make sure you enjoy what you do.

ACT News: What gets your workday off to a good start?

Syler: Starbucks Coffee. Joking aside, it is simply a pleasure to come to work here. It’s a good organization that really cares about their people. Everyone understands the value of open communication.

ACT News: What did you want to be when you grow up?

Syler: Growing up in a rural community, I was like many other young boys; I liked tractors and big trucks. When I was six or seven, I thought the folks with the best job were the guys driving the garbage trucks. Those trucks would come around, they’d throw the trash in the compactor and I thought it was the coolest thing to watch.

In our parting words, Darryl mentioned that he has a quote that he lives by, and all who work with him know that it’s part of his daily mantra. It’s Teddy Roosevelt’s “The Man in the Arena.” Which, in short, is about finding the courage to dare greatly, to not be afraid to fail.