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Snowplow Management Gets a Lot Smarter in Syracuse, N.Y.

Snowplows in Syracuse, N.Y., have been equipped with fleet management technology from Samsara to improve snow removal operations and give residents a real-time picture of the city’s street conditions.

A snowplow as seen from behind on a snowy road de-icing.
New technology turns snow removal, trash pickup and other basic city services into tasks that can be tracked and visualized.

“Before this winter, our team would have to make numerous rounds of phone calls or physically drive around to see and confirm whether or not streets had been plowed. We knew there had to be a better way,” said Corey Dunham, chief operating officer for Syracuse.

The city uses cloud-based technology from Samsara for the management of its snowplows. Samsara recently introduced features like a real-time map that shows coverage areas and all of the other data points associated with fleet management, like vehicle performance.

“We’re seeing a fundamental shift among public-sector fleets in regards to how they’re thinking about technology investments,” said Karine Gidali, principal product marketing manager for the public sector at Samsara, in an email. “What used to sometimes be a commoditized check box has become a need for comprehensive, accurate insights that can be used to establish policies, increase automation, and provide transparency within communities.”

In Syracuse, the technology helps give management an overall vision of the city’s snowplow coverage at any given time, allowing officials to better manage a limited number of vehicles, said Dunham.

“We can now also make the GPS location of our plows easily accessible to residents on our website,” he added. “This self-service view of plow locations decreases the need for phone calls to the city and improves overall transparency with our constituents.”

The city operates about 25 snowplows and 30 other types of vehicles such as street sweepers and dump trucks.

“We will be rolling it out to smaller pickup trucks in our fleet by the next snow season,” said Dunham. “We’re also working with an outside contractor for sidewalk snow removal, and are implementing Samsara’s sensors and outward-facing cameras on their machines to gain even more visibility.

Other cities like Boston, Baton Rouge, La., and Sacramento, Calif., are using similar fleet management technologies to gain insights into fleet vehicles handling snow removal, garbage collection or rodent abatement.

And as cities eye electric vehicle options for both light-duty vehicles and medium- and heavy-duty vehicles — like a snowplow or garbage truck — officials need insight into how to effectively manage such vehicles.

“Customers really want to know how they can prepare to support an EV fleet from an infrastructure standpoint,” said Gidali. “This will require strategic planning early on, first, by determining the electrification suitability of a fleet’s vehicles and then, by considering critical factors like EV charging station infrastructure, automaker model availability, and total cost of ownership estimates.”

These are the kinds of questions being explored by the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) as it begins a pilot project with electric service truck maker Zeus Electric Chassis. SMUD will begin testing five of the next-gen electric vehicles as the utility advances its goal to fully electrify its fleet of 1,000 vehicles.

One of the medium-duty electric work vehicles made by Zeus Electric Chassis.
SMUD will pilot several medium-duty electric work vehicles made by Zeus Electric Chassis.
Eyragon Eidam/Government Technology

“One of the things that we want to do with Zeus is be, kind of, the beta site, and show that this technology really works, how well it works within the industry,” said Paul Lau, CEO and general manager for SMUD, at an event last week at the California Mobility Center to unveil the vehicle and announce the partnership. “I think it’ll be a great thing for the industry to see how these things work.”
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.