Research Bureau Urges GPS Trackers on Worcester, Mass., Fleet Vehicles

Baltimore County, Md., added GPS to 850 vehicles and saw county vehicles drive 817,000 fewer miles than in the previous year and save nearly $300,000 worth of fuel, according to the Regional Research Bureau report.

by Cyrus Moulton, Telegram & Gazette / November 1, 2018
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(TNS) — The Worcester, Mass., Regional Research Bureau is recommending equipping city vehicles with GPS tracking capabilities, saying in its most recent report that this would save money, be better for the environment, and provide more oversight over employees, among other benefits.

"The Research Bureau believes the time has come to equip the entirety of Worcester's fleet with GPS tracking capabilities," the bureau wrote in its report, Tracking City Equipment: How Expanded GPS Monitoring Could Benefit Worcester, which was released Wednesday. "The city is missing an opportunity to collect data that can offer now-hidden optimizations and cost savings that cannot be uncovered by human oversight alone."

The city of Worcester owns nearly 900 vehicles, more than half of them assigned to the Department of Public Works and Parks. Nearly 50 vehicles have GPS tracking, including city-owned sweepers and sanders and some contracted sanders. Installation is ongoing for the remainder of the contracted sanders, according to the report.

GPS tracking is already paying off.

"While the DPW would not estimate a dollar amount saved through the system, GPS Insight, which holds Worcester up as a case study, claims a savings of $10,000 per year between time and material saved," the report noted.

The report said tracking systems generally result in two related things: saving money and increasing efficiency.

Although the installation of GPS devices can be costly — at least $200 per vehicle, plus a recurring fee that varies based on the vendor, according to the report — the municipality can save costs through reduced use of fuel. Idling and rapid accelerating and speeding are reduced, as the GPS tracks not just location but also speed and idle time, leading to less fuel use, according to the report. In addition, fleets can be deployed more efficiently for tasks such as snowplowing or garbage pickup, also saving fuel.

For instance, Dallas estimated savings of more than $675,000 in the first year after installing a tracking system in 400 garbage trucks, and attributed $170,000 of that to reduced fuel costs, the report noted.

Baltimore County, Md., added GPS to 850 vehicles and saw county vehicles drive 817,000 fewer miles than in the previous year and save nearly $300,000 worth of fuel, according to the report.

This in turn, benefits the environment, as driving fewer miles and spending less time idling uses less greenhouse-gas emitting fuel, the report said.

The report also said that GPS can improve customer service, resolving residents' complaints about snowplowing, missed garbage pickup, and more.

Finally — and the report notes sometimes controversially — GPS tracking can be used to make sure public employees are doing their assigned tasks, are driving safely, and are working efficiently.

"Public utilities workers in San Diego, health department employees in Indiana, and public works employees in Tampa Bay have all been fired in the past after GPS systems caught them running personal errands or spending time at home when they were supposed to be on the clock at work," the report said.

More locally, Massachusetts — which started tracking snowplow drivers with GPS in 2004 — charged two drivers the next year with larceny for plowing for private customers using salt provided by the state, the report noted.

The technology and practice appears well accepted.

The report cited a 2017 survey finding that 54 percent of respondents saw an improvement in driver behavior after installing GPS or similar equipment in their fleet, while 49 percent saw increased fuel savings. Another 2017 study by a marketing and consulting research firm for GPS and wireless product industries found that in a survey of 500 participating fleets, 80 percent were satisfied with their systems while only 6 percent were not satisfied.

GPS tracking is being used in several Gateway Cities already.

Haverhill has GPS tracking devices on DPW vehicles, fire trucks and police cruisers; Lowell tracks police vehicles; and New Bedford uses GPS on vehicles in its snow removal fleet, according to the report.

Worcester City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. said the city would review the report.

"The city is always open to looking into new ways that municipal services can be more effective, accountable and transparent for our residents," Mr. Augustus said in a statement. "We look forward to fully reviewing the Research Bureau's report and its recommendations on GPS monitoring."

The Worcester Fire Department deferred comment to City Hall, and the Worcester Police Department said it could not comment without looking into the issue.

To be sure, the Research Bureau notes, "drawbacks and pitfalls exist" with GPS tracking. It cited potential costs, potential objections from workers and unions, and additional training for managers to monitor the data.

"Municipalities must be careful to screen and select a program that is appropriate and cost-effective for their situation," the bureau advises.

But the report cites a long list benefits of GPS tracking — everything from eliminating underused vehicles to improving public safety by transmitting a location for supervisors or first responders — and said that Worcester should be realizing them.

"As the second-largest city in New England, with an active fleet of vehicles, Worcester should be a leader in this area," the report concludes. "The benefits of a GPS tracking system that encompasses the city's entire fleet could yield multifaceted benefits for employees, taxpayers, and the city as a whole."

©2018 Telegram & Gazette, Worcester, Mass. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.