GPS / Telematics

What's New in Motor Pool Technology?

October 2015, Government Fleet - Feature

by Thi Dao - Also by this author

A keyless solution, such as one offered by INVERS, allows drivers to use a card to unlock the vehicle and access the keys inside. Photo courtesy of INVERS
A keyless solution, such as one offered by INVERS, allows drivers to use a card to unlock the vehicle and access the keys inside. Photo courtesy of INVERS
At A Glance

Motor pool technologies now allow fleet managers to:

  • Better track utilization and odometer readings
  • Allow fleet managers to decide who can check out which vehicles
  • Allow drivers to drop vehicles off at a different location from where they checked them out
  • Encourage sharing of equipment not belonging to a traditional motor pool

You can loan out just about anything in this new sharing economy, from your car to your bike to your WiFi network to your house. New companies are popping up offering technology that makes sharing simpler, by connecting the borrower with the lender. Internal fleet car sharing technology, also known as motor pool technology, has also become more common, and there are now more products than ever before to simplify the sharing experience.

Government Fleet spoke to the largest fleet motor pool technology providers to see what’s new with their products and on the future of fleet vehicle sharing.

Providers Offer Multiple Solutions

Fleets may still have a manual motor pool reservation method, with an employee taking reservation requests and handing out keys. While a personal touch can go a long way, it often isn’t the most cost-effective solution — or the most efficient.

There are three main aspects of motor pool technology: scheduling software, dispatching options, and data collection and recording, said Ed Smith, CEO of Agile Access Control. For scheduling, drivers can often reserve a vehicle online, and dispatching options include kiosks, key control systems, and card access to a vehicle.

INVERS Mobility Solutions, with its North American headquarters in Vancouver, British Columbia, and FleetCommander,­ created by Chantilly, Va.- based Agile, both offer a key box, online reservation system, and a keyless solution that uses a smart card to swipe in.

Boston-based Zipcar’s FastFleet system provides a product similar to its consumer car rental product. Drivers reserve the vehicles online and unlock them with an RFID card.

AssetWorks provides a motor pool module for its fleet management information system, called Key­Valet, that features an integrated online reservation software and secure key box.

Which system a fleet manager chooses to use depends on many factors. Some prefer to keep it partially manual, while others prefer (and have the funding) to go all automatic.

“Cost and convenience are key factors in selecting technologies,” Smith said. While a keyless system may be more convenient, there are costs to consider, including badge management, equipment installation in all vehicles, and monthly cellular charges.

Fleet can choose various methods if they have multiple motor pools.

“You have to have multiple ways to dispatch a vehicle out and back in, and you want to use the one that is most effective for the different segments of your fleet,” Smith said. A fleet may have a centralized motor pool with 100 vehicles that uses a key box or staff dispatch, and it could have an additional, much smaller pool that uses a keyless entry system, all functioning with the same reservation system.

Collecting Data

In addition to automating reservations and dispatch, motor pool technology can provide additional benefits. Kiosks can require that drivers returning keys input vehicle odometer readings to see how far they traveled and to track ­mileage for maintenance purposes.

Of course, you can automate that as well. The most comprehensive information will come from a telematics provider, which can be integrated with the motor pool software or can come with the product, as Zipcar’s FastFleet technology does.

But there are other solutions in addition to active telematics.

INVERS has a key on the vehicle keychain that wirelessly communicates with the vehicle’s on-board computer when the driver is in the car. The vehicle transmits information such as mileage, fuel level, or even charging level for electric vehicles, said Anne Schmidt, sales and marketing manager for INVERS.
With AssetWorks, fleets have several options for gathering telematics data in addition to active GPS. Fleets can gather data such as odometer readings, fuel levels, and fault codes from the vehicle via passive GPS and RFID attennae.

AssetWorks’ KeyValet system is integrated with the company’s fleet management information system. Photo courtesy of AssetWorks
AssetWorks’ KeyValet system is integrated with the company’s fleet management information system. Photo courtesy of AssetWorks

INVERS’ solution allows fleet managers to even out their motor pool utilization, tracking odometer readings and controlling reservations and dispatch so that all vehicles are used evenly, Schmidt said. Administrators can also manually rank vehicles they prefer to be rented out more often to meet utilization goals for specific units.

FleetCommander’s specialty is offering a variety of technology options and hundreds of system configuration settings to meet fleet needs, Smith said. The system can be configured to behave differently based on the motor pool site, driver, type of vehicle, and even how the vehicle will be used.

“Flexibility is key,” he explained. “If your solution is not flexible to meet your fleet’s unique needs, you will be left with an inefficient, partially automated system that may not work across the entire fleet.”

Its other selling point is the extent to which it captures utilization data and generates utilization reports, Smith continued.

“Our system is capable of dissecting utilization in such a way as to allow fleet managers to really analyze fleet usage and right-size the fleet,” he said. By dissecting utilization by site, class, department, time of day, vehicle, etc., “fleet managers can be informed and make sound business decisions about where to add or eliminate vehicles,” Smith explained.

Zipcar’s service comes with telematics installed on the vehicle, and customers have access to an online portal that lets them track how and when vehicles are utilized. Odometer and other information is pulled automatically, which allows fleets to get a deeper level of reporting, said Jeremy Lynch, FastFleet national account manager.

The FastFleet technology coupled with a discounted Zipcar contract allows fleets to significantly reduce mileage reimbursement payments, Lynch said. If the agency sets it up this way, when a FastFleet pool vehicle isn’t available, the driver can check out a Zipcar instead at a discounted rate. This is often being used by New York City fleet drivers.

“Municipalities are trying to cut down on reimbursement…It’s getting quite expensive to reimburse, and there’s a lot of liability issues of employees using their own vehicles for government work,” Lynch explained.

KeyValet is fully integrated with the AssetWorks fleet management information system (FMIS). In fact, the company doesn’t sell the module on its own, said Carl Bruce, vice president of sales and marketing.

Among KeyValet’s features is a ­rideshare option for those traveling to the same location.

“People who might be traveling at the same time to a meeting can publish that they can share their vehicle for that ride, and other people making reservations can see that they might be able to go along with the person and not rent their own vehicle,” Bruce explained.

Products Continue to Evolve

Since fleets have opened up to the idea of motor pools in the past 15 years, the technology to manage those pools has continued to evolve. It’s not surprising that many providers are now are focusing on mobile platforms.

INVERS is adding reports and dashboards to its system, which should be available to its customers soon, Schmidt said. The company also offers mobile apps, with one of its university clients about to get its own app.

For FleetCommander, Agile is focusing on not only on staying competitive technologically (with mobile platforms and integration), but also adding features such as reducing personal vehicle usage expenses and tracking total cost of ownership for the life of a vehicle. Other new features include adding different types of scheduled tasks such as reminding users of their vehicle reservations before pick-up, automated cancellation of reservations that aren’t picked up on time, and more, Smith said.

The FleetCommander software allows fleet managers to track data about motor pool vehicles and right-size their fleets. Image courtesy of Agile Access Control
The FleetCommander software allows fleet managers to track data about motor pool vehicles and right-size their fleets. Image courtesy of Agile Access Control

AssetWorks is also working on a mobile app for drivers to make reservations, as well as tablet interfaces for its software.

Zipcar wouldn’t comment on its future product updates, but since it just acquired car-sharing startup Local Motion this summer, the company is working on integrating Local Motion’s product and knowledge into its own product.

Bigger changes are also coming, mainly driven by customer demand.

Bruce from AssetWorks has heard ­customer interest in a feature that allows drivers to drop vehicles off at a different ­location from where they picked them up.

“The early hardware boxes didn’t have the capability to do that, [and there were] limitations of the software at the time,” he said. “That’s one of the things we’re adding to our product going forward, the ability to pick up and drop off at different locations.”

Schmidt from INVERS noted increasing customer interest in this same feature, which the company calls a free-floating pool, mostly on college campuses. Cars are parked in a central campus, and they can be checked out immediately either with a keyless system or through a key manager. Drivers can leave the car anywhere on the campus, making rentals simpler.

Motor pools tend to consist of passenger vehicles that can be used by anyone and hence, easy to share. However, Schmidt said she sees a slight uptick in customers interested in putting the technology on specialized equipment, such as cranes, forklifts, and dump trucks. The situation is a bit trickier since operators or departments tend to be more careful with their specialized equipment, saying, “ ‘I don’t want to give my dump truck to a stranger,’ ” Schmidt explained. However, with INVERS, she said you can specify which dump trucks can be checked out for different uses, allowing the fleet manager more control over who can take one out.

“I think what is already on the horizon is sharing between different municipalities,” Schmidt added. In this case, one agency would own the vehicle, and a smaller entity could check out the vehicle.

What Smith from Agile sees is a merger of consumer and fleet-based car sharing.

“Right now there’s a lot of consumer-based car sharing initiatives. I think fleet’s going to try to take some ideas from those and see if they have a place in the fleet marketplace,” Smith said.

However, pushing a consumer product into a fleet application isn’t as simple as it sounds, he warned.

“What you cannot do is overlook what fleet is really trying to accomplish, which is making sure that you have all the right vehicles in the right places at the right time to perform your mission,” Smith explained.

A Product For Heavy Equipment

MuniRent’s software allows crews to rent out heavy and specialized equipment from other crews. Screencapture courtesy of MuniRent
MuniRent’s software allows crews to rent out heavy and specialized equipment from other crews. Screencapture courtesy of MuniRent

Don’t call MuniRent a motor pool solution. Alan Mond, co-founder and CEO, says it’s not one because the vehicles that sign up aren’t in a pool. Instead, they’re heavy equipment, including off-road units, in use by departments that can be loaned out to other user groups.

MuniRent, an Ann Arbor, Mich.-based company offering an online heavy equipment reservation and sharing system, keeps the equipment in the hands of the user department, so it doesn’t have to give vehicles up to a pool.

“Crew supervisors still use their own equipment and manage it day to day. We help make the equipment visible on the MuniRent website,” Mond said. “In other words, the keys and ownership control are still with the crew supervisor, but what MuniRent does very well is it exposes equipment owned by a crew that other crews didn’t know existed.”

The one-year-old company’s biggest client is the Oregon Department of Transportation fleet, which shares more than 200 units of about 15 different types. With decentralized crews and equipment located across the state, the solution works for the DOT fleet.

One crew could log onto the site, view photos of loanable pieces of equipment, choose the dates of reservation, and submit the request to the operator or crew supervisor. They can send notes and upload photos in the system back and forth, requesting a specific attachment or asking about a dent. This provides a record of the conversation that interested parties can review.

Mond said the great thing about sharing off-road equipment is increasing utilization of an expensive asset while reducing rental costs. MuniRent’s research shows that government equipment is only used 30% of the time, leaving it idle the other 70% of time. According to Mond, this is a conservative average, as he’s noted that some agencies have lower utilization rates.

“Pieces of equipment have max utilization life. You can use a skid steer for 10,000 hours before you do a major overhaul. If you use a piece of equipment at 20% utilization, that’s about 400 hours per year and it would take an agency 25 years to fully utilize this Bobcat,” Mond said.

In addition to renting within a fleet, MuniRent is taking part in an inter-agency equipment sharing pilot in Michigan that includes 23 agencies. The company is working to add more public entities, but Mond admits the process is slow.

“That one is a tougher sell because you need a lot more decision makers to come to the table,” he explained.

However, the monetary benefits are there. He estimates that if government agencies rented from each other, they’d get a 50- 70% discount because the owner doesn’t need to make a profit and there’s no “dynamic pricing.”

And there’s one more benefit to equipment sharing that’s extolled by all the motor pool (and vehicle sharing) providers: fleet reduction. By identifying underutilized vehicles and sharing, public agencies are able to reduce their fleet size.

COMMENTS

  1. 1. Ron Katz [ October 07, 2015 @ 05:37PM ]

    Thi, you never thought of Chevin? We have clients with 1 more than 150 motor pool locations managing the reservation and dispatching of vehicles across the country and even around the world! Oh well, maybe next time :-)

    Ron

 

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