Arbor Memorial: Journey’s End

Arbor Memorial: Journey’s End
Arbor’s Fleet Coordinator, Cindy Chesney, with just a few of the many vehicles she is responsible for. (Photo: Jack Kazmierski)

Some very specialized vehicles lie at the heart of the 500-strong fleet of Arbor Memorial, which has 90 funeral homes across Canada

Few businesses must handle their clients with greater sensitivity than funeral homes. That sensitivity extends to the choice and specification of the professional vehicles that carry the deceased and family members to the funeral service.

As Canada’s largest funeral provider, Toronto-based Arbor Memorial has 76 limousines and 70 coaches among its national fleet of 500 vehicles.

“The Cadillac Ambassador and Lincoln MKT are specifically designed for our families,” says Arbor’s Fleet Coordinator, Cindy Chesney. “With three inches of additional headroom, these raised roof limousines provide maximum comfort for the families we serve.”

Federal Coach in Amelia, Ohio supplies Arbor’s limos and coaches. All new arrivals come to a trucking depot near Durham, Ontario before onward shipment to one of Arbor’s 90+ locations in eight provinces.

“These units are shipped by open carrier to our funeral homes across the country,” says Chesney. “They may travel for several days, so debris and inclement weather can result in minor surface damage to the vehicles before they reach their destination. Every vehicle must be thoroughly inspected, and any damages repaired prior to releasing the vehicle to the funeral home. We plan to introduce vehicle wrapping to minimize transit damage.”

For certain repairs that involve the customizations, the dealership or service centre will need to reach out to the manufacturer in the U.S.. “That can be challenging for the vehicle’s cost management,” she adds. “With shipping and backorders [at the factory], it can take time to get the vehicles back to the funeral homes.”

Once in service, the professional vehicles have an unusual use profile, with lots of local, low-speed running. Careful maintenance ensures that they have a working life far longer than typical fleet items—Arbor has vehicles that date back to 2003.

A diverse fleet

Chesney has been with Arbor Memorial for a year, and in the fleet industry for five, previously working with fleet customers at a dealership. The experience means that she is able to take control of tracking order production and handling deliveries, while working with a third-party leasing partner.

The two most numerous conventional vehicles on fleet are Chrysler 300s and Dodge Caravans, but other manufacturers also feature, including BMW, Chevrolet, Ford, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan and Ram.

“The dimensions of the vehicle play a large part in selection,” says Chesney. “We want to ensure sufficient headroom and legroom. Trunk space is an important consideration because we transport wheelchairs and other assistive devices. The safety of our families is always a priority, so we consider the elements when selecting options like AWD and provide our funeral homes with vehicles that will conquer our diverse Canadian weather.”

Sprinting ahead

Looking to the future, Arbor recently introduced two Mercedes-Benz Sprinter vans as family transportation vehicles in the Ottawa region. Both were upfitted in Canada with lifts to assist family members who require special assistance.

“They require a commercial vehicle operator’s registration but that does allow us to transport 10 or more passengers,” notes Chesney. “Families can travel together, rather than across multiple vehicles.

“Our fleet is always evolving,” she concludes. “I keep a watchful eye on new models and attend fleet conferences to stay current with the latest trends. When we see something we think might be a good fit for Arbor, we don’t hesitate to try out a new model in the market that’s best suited for it.”

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