City overspent on pricey Mercedes vans, auditor finds
Ottawa bought 71 Mercedes Sprinter vans between 2011 and 2015
The City of Ottawa bought dozens of Mercedes vehicles for its fleet even though much cheaper models were available, the city's auditor general has found.
Ken Hughes investigated the purchase after someone left an anonymous tip on Ottawa's fraud and waste hotline, and found the city could have saved at least $703,000 over five years if it had opted for less expensive vehicles.
The city procured 71 Mercedes Sprinter vans between 2011 and 2015, a significantly higher number of the vehicles than other Canadian cities purchased over the same period.
The vans are used by several departments to haul goods to work sites, and are favoured for their unusually tall cargo space — tall enough for employees to stand up inside.
Cheaper vans available
Until 2011, the Mercedes van was the only model of its type on the market, but now Nissan, Chrysler and Ford have cheaper alternatives available.
The city bought seven of the vans between May and August 2015, even though the Ford Transit was the more economical option.
"The city could have saved $167,000 had it purchased seven Ford Transit vehicles instead of the Mercedes Sprinter," Hughes noted in his report, tabled Thursday.
Over an earlier period, purchasing 14 Mercedes vans cost the city an extra $396,000, the auditor found.
The city's transit department bought four Sprinters when purchasing a cheaper model would have saved $140,000. The auditor didn't look at every Mercedes purchased by the transit department however, so total savings are potentially higher.
'They made the right decision'
Staff didn't justify the need for the more expensive vans, Hughes found.
They made the right decision, it's just that we could do a better job of documenting it.- Don Dinelle, director, fleet services
In one case a Mercedes van was damaged in a crash and never replaced. Hughes found there was no documentation to explain what it was used for, and no financial analysis to support its purchase in the first place.
The purchase "appears to lack diligence and due regard for economy," the auditor wrote in his report.
Don Dinelle, director of fleet services for the city, said there were good reasons to opt for the more expensive models, but the purchases weren't always justified in writing.
"They made the right decision, it's just that we could do a better job of documenting it," Dinelle said.
City agrees to recommendations
The city tries to keep its fleet as uniform as possible to make repairs and training more efficient, Dinelle said. Because the first wave of vans were purchased at a time when Mercedes offered the only model that fit the city's needs, later purchases followed suit.
The city has since started to transition to the cheaper Ford vans, and hasn't purchased at Mercedes since 2015.
The auditor made eight recommendation to make sure future vehicle purchases are justified, including having staff evaluate cheaper alternatives when they come on the market.
Management agreed to all of the auditor's recommendations.