by Terry Stigall
IUâ€™s Judson Mead Geologic Field Station is one of the top field stations in the U.S. for graduate level field geology programs. Every summer, IUâ€™s Geology Department takes 80 students to the field station campus in the Tobacco Root Mountains in Montana. Students travel from Bloomington to Montana caravan fashion in large four-wheel drive SUVs. This caravan becomes an on-theroad classroom from Rapid City to Montana, stopping and teaching at various geologic locations along the way. Once at the field station, the students have daily classroom exercises in the mountains that require the use of the four-wheel drive vehicles.
In the past, all this traveling has been done in 12 large SUVâ€™s (Chevy Suburbans) plus a car and a mini-van. The Suburbans were large enough to carry six students, including day-packs and/or luggage and equipment. These larger vehicles with a wide wheel base were well suited for the rough (often gravel) rural roads of Montana. The IU motor pool maintained the Suburbans, and the Geology Department received them pristinely clean, with fire extinguishers and high-quality, heavy-duty tires. The motor pool charged the field station a mileage fee rather than a daily rate. A local garage in Whitehall, Montana worked with the field station to maintain a stock of tires for the vehicles to keep accidents and delays to a minimum.
When the motor pool was outsourced to Enterprise, we were able to use 6 or 8 of the Suburbans the motor pool still had available the first year. The remaining vehicles were Enterprise vehicles - a few large Suburbans plus mid-sized SUVs. We needed around 18 vehicles the first year. The Enterprise vehicles were not clean when presented and did not include fire extinguishers, which the Geology Department had to provide. Enterprise leased these by the month with unlimited miles, but we needed more vehicles because they didn't hold as many students and gear.
The second year (2008), we used all Enterprise vehicles - again leased by the month with unlimited miles. Geology paid $200 extra per vehicle to have them delivered with heavy-duty tires. Again, Enterprise couldn't supply all large-size SUVs. As a result, we ended up taking about 23 vehicles (instead of 18), because the only vehicles Enterprise could provide were smaller SUVs. Our costs increased because we paid extra for the tires and for additional vehicles.
Once in Montana, these Enterprise supplied vehicles began to have flat tires, sometimes 2 flats on the same day on the same vehicle. This compromised the safety of the students and significantly delayed the program because it totally disabled the vehicle. It soon became clear that the tires Enterprise claimed were heavy-duty were not acceptable. The field station's director believed they were headed for a potential disaster, and so, for the safety of the students, IU Purchasing authorized the field station to purchase better, heavier ply tires for the entire fleet of the Enterprise vehicles being used. Once this was done, the course progressed with no more flats.
When the vehicles returned to Bloomington, Enterprise rejected them because they felt the new heavy-ply tires were not safe for highway use. Enterprise refused to reimburse IU for the cost of the new tires, and they demanded that the original tires be returned to the vehicles, at IU's expense. IU had to pay to ship all 84 tires from the Whitehall garage back to Bloomington. IU also had to pay daily rental on the vehicles until a local garage could switch out the tires, at IU's expense. Once removed, IU collected all the new tires, put them on a pallet, and is paying storage for them at the IU warehouse, so that in the summer of 2009 they can be used, re-mounted on the Enterprise vehicles, at our expense.
Originally Enterprise said they would keep as many of the large SUVs as they could for use in 2009. The latest news now, though, is that they are reducing the fleet, retiring the large SUVs altogether, and will have only the midsize SUVs available. This means the IU caravan fleet, which used to average 15 vehicles, will now grow to around 25 vehicles or more. Each extra vehicle will, of course, require new heavy-duty tires and a fire extinguisher paid for by IU Purchasing.