Chicago Uses GPS to Track Snow Removal

November 2004, Government Fleet - Feature

by Paul Dexler - Also by this author

Most would agree that Chicago’s winter weather is not one of its best features. The size of the city, combined with the intensity of the winter snowstorms, requires a fleet of 510 snow removal vehicles.Keeping accurate track of the vehicles in use can be a chore, and was next to impossible before the city installed a global positioning system (GPS) developed by WebTech Wireless.Instant Location Data
“In the past, fleet management wouldn’t have any idea of where a vehicle was deployed, versus where the snow activity was going on,” says Molly Mangan, deputy CIO for the City of Chicago. The city tried to incorporate GPS tracking a few years ago with little success. “A very small company built it, and its database wasn’t able to handle our type of volume and our types of peak up-time requirements,” Mangan adds.WebTech Wireless developed the fleet management solution using a high-speed wireless network. The founders of WebTech formerly worked for Motorola and were responsible for some of the first wireless data networks deployed internationally.Up-to-the-Minute Views
Mangan says that while many providers of this type of service are comfortable with an even larger number of vehicles, they are not used to all those vehicles posting at once, on a 30-second refresh basis, in a small geographic area.“And that’s the difference between us and, say, a moving van company. A five-minute refresh on a moving van is not a big deal. But we want a 30-second refresh so that we can see exactly what route (the snow-removal vehicle) followed.”WebTech was able to customize the system to allow for more frequent refreshes than is normally standard. This allows fleet managers to see if a vehicle makes a U-turn in the middle of a street.“We didn’t want to have a posting here, and then another over there, joined by a diagonal line through city streets and not know exactly which way they went, because if they went one way, it means they got the snow out, and the other way means they didn’t,” Mangan continues.She adds that if a vehicle makes an abrupt move, such as a U-turn, it triggers an automatic refresh of the system. “It’s unique, but it’s because we’re in such a dense, tight area. We have a block about every one-eighth of a mile, so we needed to know the exact path they’re taking through the city streets,” she says.GPS Used for Planning
Mangan also explains that a side benefit of the system was finding more economical ways to structure the snow routes. Statistics produced by the system helped the management team better utilize the fleet.The City of Chicago uses the wireless solution to answer the following questions:
• Were many vehicles sitting idle when everyone was deployed?
• If so, how long were they idle?
• Are an appropriate number of vehicles being deployed for a given amount of snow?
• Were the vehicles positioned in the best locations for maximum utilization?
Finally, Mangan notes, the system allows the fleet manager to monitor employees while they are in the vehicles. “Occasionally, you get a bad apple who isn’t doing what he should do. If you call him on the cell phone, he says, ‘Yeah, yeah, I’m going down this route…’ But we know he’s not. We can bring him in and show him.”

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