GPS tracking system to allow better cost-control, monitoring of fleet

More information and Q&A coming at November safety meetings 

Procedures are in place, reviews complete and roll-out imminent for a GPS-based system that will allow Grant PUD to closely track how its vehicles are being used.

Folks will be on hand during November safety meetings all around the District to talk about the tracking system and answer questions about the new IS-TA-POL-101 — Vehicle/Asset Usage Policy, which will take effect Dec. 1.

A little, black box mounted inside the dash or otherwise discretely on Grant PUD's nearly 450 vehicles, trailers and pieces of earth-moving equipment will give transportation managers more information than they've ever had on everything from vehicle whereabouts and fuel consumption to engine problems and driving habits.

But possibly the biggest advantage is safety related — the ability to quickly locate any vehicle in the fleet when emergencies like wildfires or storms threaten, says Matt Wood, Fleet Maintenance manager.

"These are merely data-retrieval devices. It's how the District chooses to use this data that has the value," Matt says of the GPS system that should be in place, District-wide, by December.

He predicts that information provided by the system, together with training of vehicle operators, could save Grant PUD at least 10 percent on its annual $700,000 expenditure for fuel. And that's just for starters.

Each GPS unit is about the size of a larger smart phone, but a couple inches thick. They hook into the vehicle's own computers to provide data that includes:

  • Each vehicle's real-time location and its route taken over the previous 24 hours
  • Fuel consumption
  • Engine status, including any warning lights on
  • Driving speed
  • Miles covered
  • Amount of time spent idling and immobile

At a sign of trouble — for example, an engine light comes on — the device automatically sends an email alert, so mechanics can quickly get the vehicle into the shop to fix the problem before it becomes more serious.

Through tracking, managers will also know the exact location of other rolling assets, like backhoes or trailers, to quickly dispatch them to where they're needed. The GPS data may also be used for accident tracking or to investigate customer complaints.

"This integrates with our new fuel and fleet system to give us instant reports," Matt says. "It will enhance the safety culture, make us more efficient with fuel and maintenance costs. We'll know where people and equipment are."

Wood did a field test early this year by installing GPS systems from competing companies in about a dozen vehicles.

Grant PUD eventually contracted with the fleet-management company Samsara of San Francisco, Calif. to supply the GPS devices and five years of a monitoring service. Grant PUD Transportation staff will use a website to track a wide range of data on every vehicle in the fleet.

The devices track on only engine conditions and vehicle status. They don't monitor conversations or otherwise record audio, Wood says.

About 30 vehicles already have the devices installed. Starting in December, crews will begin the months-long process of installing the devices in all remaining vehicles.

The cost to Grant through the first of the five years, including purchase of the devices, is approximately $130,000.