The Car and Truck Fleet and Leasing Management Magazine

Two Fleets Say Telematics Improve Productivity

March 2002, by Clem Driscoll

Telematics may be the solution for fleet managers searching for ways to increase operational efficiency and profitability. The term telematics refers to systems that integrate wireless communications, wireless Internet technology, and satellite navigation to provide a wide range of services for mobile workers and other motorists. Telematics systems will be increasingly used by fleet operators in the future to monitor the location of fleet vehicles, to increase driver safety, to help develop efficient routes, and to improve fleet communications.

Automatic Vehicle Location Systems Will Be Widely Used

The telematics systems most widely used by fleet operators today are Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) systems. These systems enable fleet managers to monitor the location and status of fleet vehicles on a computer map display. AVL systems can provide fleet managers with benefits such as improved driver productivity, dispatching efficiency, and customer service. Many AVL systems support options for increased productivity and efficiency, such as bar code scanning and signature capture.

Global positioning satellite (GPS)-based AVL systems have been available since the early 1990s, but have been more widely used by long-haul trucking fleets than by local fleet operators. Cost reductions and improvements in wireless communications are now making these systems more popular among local fleet operators, though fewer than 5 percent of local fleets are currently equipped with an AVL system.

Qualcomm's Omni TRACS system is the most widely used AVL system for long-haul operations. More than 250,000 U.S. trucks are equipped with this system, which provides vehicle tracking and satellite-based data communications. Qualcomm also offers OmniExpress as an AVL and mobile communications system for local fleets including private and common carrier fleets. OmniExpress uses the Sprint PCS network to support both data and voice communications.

Another leading supplier of vehicle tracking systems for local fleets is @Road, which offers a low-cost tracking system with optional data communications. The basic tracking system is priced under at $500, with a monthly service fee of approximately $50. The system uses either Cellular Digital Packet Data (i.e., data packets delivered over the cellular network) or the Nextel network for communications. The @Road system is currently used by about 60,000 U.S. fleet vehicles, including service fleets, delivery fleets, and other fleet categories.

Carolyn Greene, a dispatcher with Verizon in Portland, OR, reported that about six months ago the @Road system was installed on 22 Version trucks that service business customers in the Portland area. The principal reason for installing the system was to improve customer service by enabling the dispatcher to identify the closet qualified technician to respond to "major" problems. Under agreements with customers, Verizon has a limited amount of time to respond to these calls. Greene said that the @Road system has enabled her and other dispatchers to find the nearest available technician very quickly and has reduced Verizon's response time. The system is also used to help direct technicians to customer sites in unfamiliar areas. Verizon has now expanded use of the @Road system to include service vehicles in Idaho, Washington, and other service locations in the Northwest.

Another major AVL supplier is Teletrac, which provides AVL and data communication services using a number of wireless communication options, including Cellular Digital Packet Data and Teletrac's own local proprietary networks operating in a number of metropolitan areas. Teletrac in-vehicle units are available for just over $400, with monthly service fees from $36 per month or up. Teletrac currently provides subscription service to approximately 50,000 fleet vehicles. Teletrac was recently acquire by TrafficMaster, based in the UK. This acquisition is likely to lead to the introduction of other fleet and consumer services in the near future.

For fleets that are not actively dispatched, tracking systems are available that store vehicle location and other event data for post-processing, eliminating the cost of real-time communications. Advanced Tracking Technologies Inc. (ATTI) offers the Shadow Tracker, which includes an onboard data recorder, with built-in GPS receiver. The system records actual stops, time at each stop, and mileage traveled. Shadow Tracker configurations support either automatic or manual downloading of data from fleet vehicles. Systems software allows recorded vehicle data to be displayed on a computerized map.

Western Fire Protection in Las Vegas equipped nine service vans and two supervisor vehicles with the Shadow Tracker system several months ago. Nils Schanke, fleet manager of Western Fire Protection, reported that he downloads the vehicle data about once a week. The downloaded data includes the actual time spent at each work site. Schanke says that the system has improved the productivity of the company's mobile workers, who service casino restaurants and kitchens. It has also resulted in a reduction in vehicle fuel consumption and mileage. In addition, the system provides the company with documentation of their workers' presence at customer sites, which can be used to respond to customer inquiries or complaints. Schanke says he is confident that the increased productivity and reduced vehicle operating costs will more than offset the cost of the Shadow Tracker system in a short time.

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