Councils are turning to telematic systems to get a more detailed, holistic view of how their vehicle fleets are being used. This helps them save money, lift driver safety and even defend claims against council for damaged vehicles. Patricia Moore reports on the race for fleet smarts.
Specialists asked to identify the need-to-know issues confronting fleet managers in 2017 put telematics top of the list. It’s not new, says Teletrac Navman solutions specialist Chris L’Ecluse. “But it’s come a long way from the ‘where are my vehicles?’ use to which it was put a few years ago.”
Chris says that by plugging as much data as available into existing telematic systems, a ‘data picture’ is created enabling improved fleet operation through better utilisation of vehicle resources, greater fuel economy and improved driver safety.
Safe driving equals efficient driving and the benefits are being realised through a return on investment, he says.
“Telematics can identify exactly how vehicles are being driven; how late and how hard drivers are braking, how hard they’re cornering, and how far over the speed limit they’re travelling.
“Bundled together, these metrics create a driver scorecard and, through adaptive analytics, fleet managers can know exactly how vehicles are being used.”
EROAD general manager NZ Tony Warwood notes that local bodies are looking for innovative ways to meet their obligations under the new health and safety regulations.
“Organisations that weren’t previously using in-vehicle technology are increasingly adopting telematics solutions to simplify compliance across their fleets and reduce risk.”
Tony also notes a higher level of interest in electric vehicles and reducing fleet costs through both vehicle utilisation and sharing fleets between departments.
“Where multiple organisations have shared fleets, vehicle safety is a key issue and innovative in-vehicle technology has a crucial role to play,” he says.
“If a vehicle doesn’t have a clear ‘owner’ it’s harder to ensure it undergoes appropriate safety checks and is fit-for-purpose. Products like EROAD’s Inspect make managing this process easy.”
IntelliTrac CEO Andrew Wallington says the technology driving GPS telematics solutions developed by his company in the late 1990s was designed primarily to provide for local government theft recovery of large plant and equipment.
“It soon emerged as offering an oversight of plant activity with the potential for use as an efficiency tool.”
That led to solutions for waste collection services including the installation of GPS tracking in garbage trucks to monitor bin lift activities and routes.
“It then became apparent that the ‘bin-lift’ reporting and route replays could be used to optimise routing, balance driver workloads and minimise disposal fees.”
Fast forward a decade and Andrew highlights a range of applications from logging bin faults and maintenance issues, to automated job despatch and route organisation, worker health and safety forms and check lists, and video recordings enabling staff to view logged issues.
“Telematics has also helped in defending claims against council for damaged vehicles – even, in some cases, helping councils lay criminal charges against abuse and assault of workers.”
Teletrac Navman’s Chris L’Ecluse notes that data needs to be analysed and understood. “In its raw form it’s simply information. It’s no use until it’s processed into intelligence. Feeding someone too much data without helping them understand or use it means a lot is lost in translation.
“Products like the DIRECTOR software suite, where dedicated analysts produce detailed reports based on what clients want to achieve, allow local government fleet managers visibility over all those metrics by giving them the in-depth understanding they require.”
Meanwhile, Fleetwise CEO Ambrose Plaister says a growing sophistication in local government fleet management is requiring increased attention from fleet managers.
“They must ensure pace is maintained in an industry that is continuously disrupted by new technologies.”
The broad shift to electric vehicles (EVs) is one of the sector’s major challenges, says Ambrose. “To mitigate some of the costs and risks relating to the adoption of EVs – we don’t yet know what the industry will look like in 10 years – we’re seeing local government get involved in EV sharing initiatives with multiple external organisations.
“In the long term the success of this type of solution will rely on achieving a sufficiently large user base and the continued support of organisations willing to compromise.”
He says a lot of local government fleets have moved away from dedicated to pooled vehicles which are shared across the organisation, booked as, and when, required.
“They’ve done the hard work and are perfectly positioned for a gradual transition to EVs. With this internal approach there’s less compromise around vehicle location and availability.”
To date, the adoption of EVs has largely been driven by environmental considerations, says Ambrose. “However, as supply increases and infrastructure is established, adoption will be driven by cost. What will speed this up is central government’s intervention both in the government fleet and in the development of national infrastructure.”
With its current 10-strong fleet of electric vehicles, Northland Regional Council is in the vanguard of early local government adopters. The choice of seven full EVs and three plug-in hybrids is driven by the potential for long-term savings and by environmental factors.
With a 200kW rooftop solar array generating enough power to drive around 500 EV kilometres a day, the council’s annual fuel bill has been cut by about $26,000. (It’s reckoned that EVs run on the equivalent of 30c per litre of petrol and deliver an 80 percent reduction in CO2 emissions.)
Tony reports use of EVs is attracting innovative thinking. “Through partnerships with the likes of Optifleet we’re using the EROAD platform for short-term studies looking at where adoption of EVs might be appropriate and how fleet sizes might be reduced to fund newer vehicles and electric vehicles.
“These studies look not just at distance travelled but also driver behaviour and driver level reporting which produces a much more holistic view of the fleet.”
According to Andrew, changes are driven by the need for councils to maximise efficiencies, improve accountability and customer service, and provide a safe work environment for staff.
“By adding new products and services to existing telematics, councils are able to achieve these objectives and also meet their work health and safety obligations.”
That’s all good news for fleet managers, those behind the wheel, and local government stakeholders.
• Patricia Moore is a freelance writer. firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was first published in the November 2017 issue of NZ Local Government Magazine.