Telematics are known for yielding benefits like reduced liability, improved maintenance, and fuel savings, but those are just a few of the big hitters on a long list of benefits. Many other applications exist that can help fleets make full use of their telematics solutions.
A panel of experts recently shared their experiences with some of the lesser-known, but highly effective uses of telematics at the 2022 Government Fleet Expo & Conference in Detroit, Michigan. The panel included Kelly Reagan, fleet administrator for the City of Columbus, Ohio; Keith Kerman, chief fleet officer and deputy commissioner for New York City’s Department of Citywide Administrative Services, Donnie Cruz, fleet operations manager for the City and County of Denver; and Al Curtis, fleet services director for Cobb County, Georgia.
Their case studies reveal how fleets can get the most out of their existing telematics solutions or make a stronger case for adopting the technology.
Improving Public Relations in Columbus, Ohio
The City of Columbus, Ohio, has GPS installed on about 3,000 of its fleet units. Although the fleet uses telematics for many of the traditional objectives, like tracking and monitoring equipment, mechanical alerts and trouble codes, and monitoring driver behavior, the City’s top priority was to improve public perception of the department.
“Our primary objective was to get off of the television every night,” shared Reagan. “We had television stations chasing a number of employees to ‘catch them goofing off.’”
Reagan went on to explain that the supervisor was getting calls from residents with complaints like watching a mowing crew stand around while waist-high grass across the street hadn’t been cut. Oftentimes the response to these calls was that the city didn’t have enough time to get everything done.
“Those are the kinds of things that hit the paper, and the mayor’s office just really got tired of it,” Reagan said. “So it was a behavioral issue for us and our primary focus was to track our equipment.”
Using vehicle location data, speeding, and idling alerts, the city could see where drivers were stopping and whether they were staying focused on the job or making unnecessary stops that wasted time. Doing so also helped improve employees’ driving behavior and gave the city valuable information to respond to citizen complaints. Reagan said GPS has helped mitigate lawsuits. It also regularly exonerates police and other City employees from false claims.
Another PR effort was finding an interface that would allow the general public to see how equipment was operating and gain a better understanding of the work that was being done.
One example Reagan shared was the city’s Warrior Watch platform. Using GPS data, this publicly accessible platform gives citizens information about snow and ice service activity from the last 72 hours. The platform is updated minute-by-minute, and citizens can see which streets have been serviced. Warrior Watch keeps the city accountable while also providing critical data to the general public during snow events.
While using telematics to improve public perception, the city saw some other very positive benefits. Service alerts have helped the fleet avoid costly repairs and improve vehicle safety, and the city’s fuel consumption is also down. But the city’s original goal has been accomplished.
“We’re not on the television any longer, which is huge,” Reagan said. “We’re going to continue to use it to help with behavioral issues for the city. I don’t think GPS is going anywhere but up.”
Fighting Underutilization, Speeding, and Theft in New York City
With 30,000 vehicles and 156 vehicle types, New York City operates the largest — and perhaps the most complex — municipal fleet. The city has an equally large telematics program, with 23,695 telematics systems installed on City assets.
“Our programming costs about $3 million a year. It’s a big program. So I need to basically offset $3 million plus,” said Kerman.
Kerman is achieving those savings, in part, by using telematics to analyze utilization and rightsize the fleet. “One of the things we’re doing is trying to reduce the size of the fleet, to better allocate the fleet, and to look seriously at where we may have excess capacity,” he said.
“Telematics is giving us a lot of different tools.”
Kerman said he’s able to look at several related metrics, including utilization and non-utilization on a weekly basis or daily basis, total trips, and total miles. He noted a favorite report is average trips per workday. If a vehicle takes fewer than two trips per day, Kerman said that is a place to ask questions and look for efficiencies. “Is there another way to do that trip? If it’s an office trip, is there the subway?” Kerman remarked. “It’s one thing if you’re a building inspector and you’re going to 10 spots a day — taking the subway is absurd. But if you’re in an administrative job, you really just have to go one place every day. Well, maybe we can find another way to get to that place.”
One of the ways New York City can cut cars without impacting the City’s core functionality is through Fleet Share, a motor pool program similar to Zipcar. The program has about 500 city vehicles, including 80 all-electric vehicles, which different agencies share and can reserve online as needed, solving for those one-off trips while reducing the number of vehicles in the fleet. This sharing software is now linked to the City’s telematics program.
In addition to the city’s right-sizing efforts, Kerman also shared a few other initiatives of note:
- Fuel Efficiency Reporting — Using telematics, Kerman was able to assess the real fuel economy of fleet vehicles as compared to the EPA fuel economy listings, then publish the findings, similar to a Consumer Reports report. “We were particularly interested in hybrids, and what we found was that hybrids aren’t just more fuel efficient than nonhybrids; they outperform their EPA listings better than non-hybrids. And we’re operating five thousand of them, so it’s a pretty big sample size,” Kerman commented.
- Intelligent Speed Assist — NYC is investigating Intelligent Speed Assist — devices that limit the top speed of vehicles. “Through telematics live alerts, we’ve been able to cut excessive speeding — speeding over 25 miles over the limit — by more than half,” Kerman said. ISA offers the potential to take this even further.
- Theft Protection — With vehicle theft a growing problem in both the city and the state of New York, GPS location data has helped the city find stolen vehicles. “We have an almost daily game of ‘stolen and find it,’” Kerman said. “We have a relationship with the police department and we’re getting most of them back.”
Kerman said a multitude of potential applications exist with telematics, but it’s up to the user to make the most of them. “Nothing pays for itself; you have to make it pay for itself,” he said. “But as a tool, it’s pretty good to help you do that.”
Electrifying Results in Cobb County, Georgia
Cobb County, Georgia’s telematics program dates back to 2010. Cobb is the third-largest county in the state, and the fleet services about 750,000 citizens and operates 2,600 pieces of equipment, including trucks, cars, vans, excavators, loaders, and sweepers.
A portion of the county’s fleet is electric, and by participating in the EV Watts (Electric Vehicle Widescale Analysis for Tomorrow’s Transportation Solutions) pilot, the county equipped these vehicles with telematics for free. EV Watts is a Department of Energy-funded program that collects data from electric and hybrid vehicles using telematics devices to understand driving and charging patterns. It also helps inform infrastructure and future research and planning for increased use of EVs and hybrids. Fleets can use the telematics data for themselves for free during the 18-to 24-month data collection period, then have the option to keep the device at no cost and pay for a reduced monthly operating charge.
“You can get free telematics at the end of that particular pilot process, and you have all the access to that data as well,” said Curtis. “So you can monitoreverything that’s going on with the vehicle. It’s a good way to get free telematics with no cost.”
Cobb County is planning on keeping the devices, but the data the county has collected so far is already being used to identify electrification opportunities.
By monitoring and collecting data from 75 devices in three different departments, the county pinpointed duty cycles on the daily operations. “We found that the daily duty cycles for 90% of these older, larger, less-efficient vehicles traveled less than 100 miles a day,” Curtis said. “These vehicles were costing departments roughly 60 to 90 cents per mile. We monitored the data and said, ‘ok, this is a good opportunity to get rid of a lot of older inefficient vehicles and move to some electric vehicles.’”
Implementation of telematics helped identify vehicles the county could replace with battery electric vehicles (BEVs) based on their duty cycle and the mission of the departments.
“We added 40 electric vehicles and 26 hybrids to those departments that were involved in the project. These vehicles immediately reduced fuel usage, and we experienced a $100,000 reduction in fuel cost,” Curtis explained. “This deployment directly impacted our overall operational cost, dropping cost per mile to on average 20 cents and reduced over 342,000 lbs. of C02 emissions.”
Smarter Charging at the City and County of Denver
The City and County of Denver has telematics systems installed on 1,800 of its 2,400 pieces of equipment, which include lawn mowers, tractor trailers, construction equipment, refuse equipment, and anything in between. By the end of this year, the goal is to have telematics on every fleet unit.
The city and county use telematics for safety, utilization, and anti-theft purposes, but perhaps the most unique uses are leveraging EV data to maximize the use of charging stations, calculate gallons of fuel saved, and make EV replacement decisions.
Among Denver’s EV fleet are a full-size electric street sweeper, a small street sweeper, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), hybrids, and full-electric vehicles. Instead of pulling data from these assets, Denver began by collecting data from the charging stations themselves.
“We’re able to pull how many charges the charging station had, who’s utilizing it the most — we’re able to see all that data,” said Cruz. While these metrics were helpful, the problem was that the public could also charge EVs at these stations, and that muddied the data pool.
That changed when Denver brought on a telematics provider. Together, the charging station data and data pulled from the vehicle’s engine control module (ECM), allowed the fleet to collect data specific to city and county vehicles.
“We were able to see more accurate data and were able to put that data together to help us make decisions,” Cruz said. “Now we’re able to see vehicle-specific information, miles per gallon equivalency, energy used, the distance that they traveled, and the total estimated cost of what each trip took them. We’re also able to see gallons saved and EV replacement criteria.”
In 2021 alone, the department saved 3,100 gallons of fuel through the use of EVs.
Telematics and charger data also show where, when, how often, and how long vehicles charge, allowing the fleet to determine charging patterns that inform infrastructure decisions.
“We are able to put some of this data together to figure out where our hotspots are, where we need to add charging stations, then communicate with our customers to let them know what they could use," Cruz said.
Denver is also using this information to make the most of its existing charging network. For instance, in looking at 30-day charging trends, Cruz noted that a lot of charging of take-home vehicles was happening during work hours, when charging during off hours is more effective.
“Employees were showing up at work and plugging in during their working hours. So, this is something that we’re working on — trying to get our customers to distribute charging more throughout the day. We don’t have enough infrastructure right now, so if we can stretch those charging times throughout the day or throughout the week, it’s definitely going to be a benefit to our fleet.”
One component of Denver’s charging strategy is automated alerts. Denver’s telematics solution came with the capability to send an automatically generated email once any unit was past 90% of charge. “This was one way we mitigated charging station infrastructure,” Cruz said.
“I have an EV that I take home, and as soon as that hits at 90%, I get that email. Then I’ll go move my vehicle and let somebody else have that charging station. That definitely was a benefit to our fleet.”
Al Curtis, Fleet Services Director, Cobb County, Georgia
Donnie Cruz, Operations Manager, City & County of Denver, Colorado
Keith Kerman, Chief Fleet Officer, Deputy Commissioner, Department of Citywide
Administrative Services (DCAS) New York City, New York
Kelly Reagan, Fleet Administrator, City of Columbus, Ohio