How the City of Ottawa is optimizing fleet operations with data

Published on May 8, 2023

Canada’s capital, Ottawa, is one of the nation’s most visited and admired cities. As a central hub for government, the city’s 4,000+ fleet is subject to high service level standards. Not only does the city need to ensure roadways are safe, but all eyes are on Ottawa to set the stage for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In 2017, Ottawa invested in Geotab to help track emissions by measuring idling and fuel consumption to determine where improvements could be made.

Using Geotab to save fuel costs

“The rollout of Geotab started with a pilot project to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, idling and fuel,” says Shawn Smithson, Section Manager for Fleet Info & Fuel Systems for the city. “The benefits outweighed the cost and many other departments wanted to be a part of the pilot project.”

In the first year of using Geotab, the city intended to reduce its fuel consumption by seven percent. With an average annual fuel budget of $18 million, the savings were approximately $1.26 million – and it didn’t stop there. Every year thereafter, the city’s fleet intends to save another two percent on fuel thanks to using Geotab. But how did they do it? To start, the city set parameters around acceptable idling and input exception rules inside MyGeotab. After connecting vehicle temperature sensors to MyGeotab, the city deemed it unacceptable for drivers to idle for more than two minutes when the outdoor temperature is between +5 and +27 degrees Celsius. Exception rules within MyGeotab were set up to warn drivers whenever they idle beyond the new policy. With this rich data in hand, the city’s fleet services team can run reports based on actual fuel usage and cost – including heat maps to identify regions of high idling activity.

Geotab idling data inside a Power BI report.
*The data provided in this image is for general informational purposes only. All data is fictional and does not reflect actual personnel or operational activity.

Cracking down on poor driving behaviour

After some time running the pilot project, the city identified a bigger issue–driver behaviour. “When we dove deeper into the reporting, we started seeing driver behaviour as an issue,” says Shawn. “With safety being a top priority, we knew we had to implement Geotab across the rest of the fleet.” Geotab enables the city to measure and report on posted road speeds against the vehicles’ speedometer. Using Geotab’s rulesets, the device will beep 10 times when a community safety zone is approached. By using Power BI, the City of Ottawa can view speeding reports as well.

The city’s substantial fleet is mostly outfitted with Geotab devices to crack down on unsafe driving activity. Everything from light-duty sedans, trucks, smart cars, SUVs, boom trucks, snowplow equipment – and even bicycles and Zambonis have Geotab devices installed. “Almost all of our vehicles are now using Geotab,” says Shawn. “We’re also looking into adding Geotab to our city transit buses, as well as police and fire units.”

In 2016, the City of Ottawa introduced a pilot program with redlight cameras to reduce the number of incidents at intersections. These types of cameras are unique to the city – with 23 new cameras being added throughout 2023, and the goal of adding more until 2026. The improved visibility of Geotab means fewer speeding incidents and redlight camera infractions by city-owned vehicles.

Geotab safety data in a Power BI report. 
*The data provided in this image is for general informational purposes only. All data is fictional and does not reflect actual personnel or operational activity.
A City of Ottawa snow plow. (Photo provided by Phil Séguin)

The power of software integration

For large government fleets, integrating multiple software systems is a must. Ottawa’s fleet services department uses a variety of software programs to keep tabs on its fleet activities including M5 (FleetFocus), PowerBI, FuelFocus in addition to Geotab. As the data being collected grew, the city needed a way to connect vehicle activity, driver records, consumables, and other resources in one place. Enter the Geotab Data Connector – a pre-built, turnkey API that allows software systems to integrate and exchange data.

Geotab’s data connection tools have given Ottawa the keys to integrate idling, safety, maintenance, driver abstracts, fuel, vehicle classifications, solid waste reports and more all into M5. The integration has saved the city significant time having to review multiple software systems and has greatly improved the accuracy of data. By centralizing the data, the city can respond quickly to maintenance issues and maximize the availability of its assets leading to an increased service level for citizens.

Geotab vehicle data inside a Power BI report.
*The data provided in this image is for general informational purposes only. All data is fictional and does not reflect actual personnel or operational activity.
A City of Ottawa garbage truck. (Photo provided by Phil Séguin)

Using “Area Activity” to monitor citizen inquiries

Tracking fleet vehicles has been a priority for the city. In the winter, they can see where their snowplows are located at any given time. This is especially important in situations when they receive complaints about a snowplow potentially hitting someone’s property. “We often get councillor complaints from the public,” says Shawn. “The Area Activity function in Geotab has been amazing. We can say ‘ok, this unit and operator were in the area – or they weren’t – and we can say that we didn’t actually have a plow in the area.’ So that’s been a safety factor for our operators as well.” The city also uses the Collision Reconstruction feature often to help address vehicle incidents.

A City of Ottawa sidewalk plow. (Photo provided by Phil Séguin)

Northern BI has been there every step of the way

The City of Ottawa has been extremely pleased with the support they’ve received from Northern BI. Their Customer Success Manager, Amanda, has been a crucial factor in the support they get. “Amanda has been a godsend to us,” comments Shawn. “She’s always on the ball and is extremely helpful.” Amanda and Northern BI President, Dwayne Primeau, meet weekly with the City of Ottawa. With such a level of open communication, they’ve been able to voice any challenges they’ve experienced and receive suggestions to overcome those. “Dwayne is always on our weekly calls even though he’s a busy guy and the president of the company. That says a lot. We appreciate the attention to detail and handholding!”

Northern BI also helped the City of Ottawa when it found issues implementing Geotab into its fleet. The open communication between everyone has allowed the city to voice any challenges they’ve faced. In turn, Northern BI is always quick to suggest a solution. “Northern BI bent over backwards for us – not just because they wanted our business, but because they’re really easy to work with,” says Shawn.

Throughout the telematics journey, the city learned the value of not only partnering with a reputable Geotab reseller but having the right internal resources in place to execute the project. If your municipality is interested in taking its fleet management solution to the next level, contact Northern BI today. We have extensive experience helping fleets across Canada and the U.S. implement telematics and maximize their return on investment.

To support an integration project of this size, it’s important to have the right resources in place. Shawn’s team, Phil Séguin, Robert Scharf, Adnan Tahir and Yan Baturin, have been instrumental to the success of the entire project.


City of Ottawa

Fleet size:


Vehicle types:

Light-duty sedans, trucks, SUVs, boom trucks



“Northern BI bent over backwards for us – not just because they wanted our business, but because they’re really easy to work with.”

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Torrie Rogers

Marketing Coordinator

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