175 – In-vehicle GPS – Part 1: Why every council should have it.

Posted by Lancing Farrell                                                                                              1100 words

in vehicle gps

I remember looking at in-vehicle monitoring devices in the 1990’s. The technology was basic and there was no 4G network. Since then councils have flirted with in-vehicle GPS. As far as I know, no council in Victoria has installed it throughout their vehicle fleet. This is partially explained by the industrial relations implications (see the next post) but I think it is really explained by the lack of focus on customer service and productivity that pervades the sector. Rate capping will change that.  Most councils wouldn’t even be aware of the potential benefits from the technology. Hence this post.

So, what are the features and benefits of in-vehicle GPS that councils should be thinking about?

To begin with, it provides the opportunity to improve driver performance and safety. The logging of vehicle (read ‘driver’) behavior provides the opportunity to feedback information on safety, vehicle care and fuel efficiency. Most systems provide the data necessary to provide a driver ‘scorecard’ on speeding, braking, and fuel economy. Without feedback, how can drivers improve their performance? Users of in-vehicle GPS report reduced accidents, reduced repairs and maintenance costs, increased re-sale prices, and reduced fuel consumption.

Reducing fuel consumption leads to my next benefit. Some of the saving is from improved driver behavior in smoother acceleration and lower speeds. Most comes from reduced kilometers travelled. In-vehicle GPS enables better planning of travel routes and transposition of work plans into travel plans. Maintenance or servicing schedules developed in asset maintenance systems can be converted into daily work schedules with logical travel order. In addition, workers will know that inefficient travel patterns can be monitored. They will modify their behavior. Instead of travelling from thedepot to work sites via the main shopping street or scenic roads they will start to travel directly.

This has the potential to reduce fuel consumption by up to 30%. If the savings are mainly from reducing the distance travelled, this means that up to 30% less time is spent travelling by workers. This time then becomes available for value adding activities. There should be a significant productivity improvement if workers now have up to 30% more time available. In an operational setting with 100 vehicles and 200 staff this translates into fuel savings of around $150,000 and increased labour availability of potentially 20 EFT (around $1m wages cost). Not all of this will be captured and converted into value adding activity but some will.

The next benefit is in customer service. Most in-vehicle GPS systems provide accurate records of vehicle movements and have the ability to include sensors to record work events. For example, the precise location of a vehicle, whether or not a sweeping brush or mower or bin-lifter has been activated, and a photograph of the work event can all be recorded. This provides accurate ‘proof of service’ to demonstrate that services have been delivered as promised. Some providers can send this information directly to council’s web site. Residents will be able to see services being delivered. They can also see when they were last delivered. No arguments.

The proof of service capability also protects workers. If allegations are made about inappropriate staff behavior, data about diver behavior or vehicle movement and location may assist in proving their innocence (or otherwise).

In-vehicle GPS also links to mapping systems to enable ‘geo-management’ (i.e. the use if spatial mapping to plan and manage work). This allows route optimisation and logical planning of travel to complete work schedules. More importantly, it allows geo-fences to be created. These are polygons in the mapping system that is linked to GPS. The system will know when vehicles enter or leave geo-fenced areas. This is perhaps the most powerful feature of in-vehicle GPS and it allows work to be planned, monitored and recorded in ways that are otherwise not possible.

Geo-management also allows work to be dispatched to the nearest vehicle to a map pint of address. Dispatchers can see the whole fleet and select the most suitable vehicle and communicate with the driver through in vehicle communications devices. These devices also allow pre-start check forms or other information to be recorded, stored and reported. Paperwork and administration costs can be reduced.

Way points or ‘points of interest’ can be created to guide work. Each way point can have a geo-fence to detect activity when it occurs. Zones can be created and alerts sent by SMS or email when vehicles enter and/or leave them. These can be permanent (e.g. the works depot or regular work sites) or temporary (e.g. a grass fire) or retrospective (e.g. somewhere that an investigation into council vehicle movement is occurring). Geo-fenced areas can have ‘no activity’ alerts sent if a vehicle hasn’t moved or left the geo-fenced area within a predetermined time. This leads to the next benefit.

The safety of workers can be better managed. If a worker is on their own and there has been no activity within a geo-fenced area, an alert can be sent to their supervisor. For example, a home care worker visiting a client or someone in a remote area. There are also vehicle mounted or personal distress alarms available with most systems that can be activated by a worker or use ‘person down’ technology to send an alert automatically. For lone or remote workers the technology has a lot to offer to improve occupational health and safety.

Underpinning all of these features and benefits is security. In the event of theft the vehicle location can be tracked to recover it. The data transmitted about odometer or engine hours can be used to schedule servicing. Sensor data on implements or auxillary motors can help plan preventative maintenance. For example, brushes on street sweepers can be replaced before a shift if the senor shows a predetermined wear point has been reached.

Reports are available for vehicle utilisation. The time between starting and turning the engine off is measured, as is time spent moving or idling or with implements engaged. The CO2 emissions per trip can be analysed. The perennial phenomenon of truck engine hours being 95% of available working hours yet the trailed ride on mower engine hours being just 25% of available working hours can be solved. What are these vehicles doing? What driver behaviours are behind the figures?

Some in-vehicle GPS systems link to vehicle booking systems. Shared vehicles can be better utilised. The best ‘push’ underutilised vehicles to users and enable ride sharing by booking seats as well as vehicles. Geo-fencing can be used to enable users to know where a vehicle is parked at the commencement of a journey and where it is booked to go so that they can determine whether they can share the ride. Driver identification is a feature of some systems. Only drivers registered on the system will be able to start the car and drive it without an incessant buzzing noise!

All systems have comprehensive (and customizable) reporting functionality, user access controls, data security and most are available as ‘software as a service’ with web browser accessibility. Most have FBT trip management and reporting. There are lots of features and lots of benefits. I think the real attractions are proof of service, occupational health and safety, cost reduction and productivity improvement.

Take your organisation somewhere it has never been before – manage travel.

Find out how to do it in part 2.