Expanding Uses of GPS

By Jay Wadsworth, SkyTel

Today nearly everyone has heard of global positioning systems (GPS), and many have a good idea of what they do. But, if you think location is the only benefit of GPS, then you may be missing the big picture. Business and government fleets of all sizes and in all industries are rapidly implementing fleet management systems with GPS. The utility industry is no exception.

What may surprise you, though, are the advancements in capabilities that have taken place in the last few years. There are many options to choose from and prices have come down considerably when compared with first-generation solutions that were in excess of $1,500 per vehicle. Today, a solution can be purchased for less than $450 per vehicle and the additional features enable a faster return on that investment.

GPS fundamentally provides location and time information, but when tied to an intelligent wireless system there are numerous other pieces of information that can be gathered on a truck or vehicle. For example, some solutions can monitor vehicle speed, stops, hours in service, PTO (power take off) utilization, and idle time. This information is wirelessly transmitted to a logistics or fleet manager who can use the data to improve operational efficiencies. This is why we don’t just refer to these systems as “GPS vehicle tracking”-the benefits to the fleet operator go far beyond simple tracking to encompass the concept of mobile resource management (MRM).

For example, one of the more important items mentioned by fleet managers is vehicle idle time due to rising fuel costs, which were already a significant operating expense. Did you know that some MRM systems can monitor idle time for a vehicle? If you’re thinking to yourself “So what?” then you’re missing a huge opportunity to reduce operating fuel costs and tax liability.

Let me explain. If a utility fleet operator were interested in reducing fuel costs, then the time that each vehicle is needlessly idling should be of great concern to the operator since this is a controllable variable in the fuel cost equation. For example, if a fleet of 100 trucks has an average idle time of six hours per vehicle per month, the total idle time per month for the fleet would be around 600 hours. Typical mid-size utility trucks are capable of burning 1.5 gallons of fuel per hour of idle. This would total about 900 gallons of fuel burned without the truck moving. In some cases idling is necessary for the job, but we all know there’s a lot of waste in unnecessary truck idling. If engine idling time could be reduced by 50 percent through awareness and active driver management, the fleet operator could realize a potential savings of approximately $1,350 per month (see figure).

Potential Savings of MRM
Utility Fleet Fuel Used While Idling Idle Reduction Goal Cost of Fuel Approximate Savings
100 trucks 900 gal. 50% or 450 gal. $3.00 / gal. $1,350 / mo.

The potential savings from engine idle time management does not stop at the fuel pump though. Fleet operators that pay IFTA fuel taxes or state-specific road taxes are typically eligible for tax credits based on vehicle use including idle time and use on non-public roads or places such as utility rights-of-way, loading docks, supply depots and similar areas. This can lead to tremendous tax savings for some operators. The key is proving where the vehicles were operating and having the data to back up the tax filings. Make sure the MRM product you choose has these reporting capabilities so you can take advantage of potential savings.

Other interesting capabilities of effective MRM systems are their ability to capture and track vehicle activity (including time and location) and accessory utilization such as boom or bucket operation and to summarize that activity in reports that can be used to analyze fleet operations. Many insurance companies also provide premium discounts for vehicles with tracking devices which enable quick recovery of the asset in the event of theft. When implemented properly, MRM systems provide an effective way to attain operational efficiencies, reduce costs and increase accountability for your assets.

Wadsworth is a mobile resource management product manager with SkyTel.

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