City of Saint John Department of Public Works and Transportation
Published on September 15, 2021
A municipality’s public works department plays a big role in the overall maintenance and safety of the communities it serves. Rarely does a day go by when we don’t meet snowplows, sanitation trucks, construction crews, or firetrucks throughout our daily commutes. The City of Saint John, situated along the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick, operates a fleet of roughly 240 vehicles year-round. With a budget of roughly $38 million annually, the Public Works and Transportation Department services 1,160 kilometres of roadways.
From a high level, the city needed to track the location of their vehicles and how they were being used. That’s when the public works team contacted Northern BI to kick-start a process improvement project using Geotab GO devices. The testing allowed the city to collect valuable data about fleet activities. With the right information in hand, the department has increased efficiencies, fleet visibility, and saved over $50,000 in fuel annually. Here’s how they did it.
Vehicle location, activity & usage: where and how are our vehicles being used?
Geographically, the municipality of Saint John is a large city spanning 316 square kilometres. Oftentimes, fleet supervisors manage crews in all four corners of the city. “Before implementing Geotab GO devices, supervisors would have to call or radio drivers about their whereabouts and job completions,” says the city’s Operations Manager, Tom McGrath. “At first there was some hesitation from the frontend supervisors (big brother watching), but the more we showed them the advantages, the more they got onboard. Having this tool at their fingertips allows them to see the movement and job progression from a single dashboard – it goes a long way.”
It’s difficult to stay on top of what’s going on in the field when you have a public works department that’s 100 plus strong. From snow plows and street sweepers to sanitation and firetrucks, a lot of the city’s activity is tracked using the MyGeotab fleet management solution. While they mainly use the system as a verification tool, it’s also helped collect data about specific events. Like any community, citizens will sometimes call the city to address concerns about its personnel or maintenance activities.
“There are many calls the drivers aren’t even aware of when citizens complain about a big yellow truck hitting their mailbox,” explains McGrath. “With MyGeotab, we can look at the vehicle’s history to see if any of our trucks were in the area at the said time. With this information, we’re able to match the data with insurance claims.”
While it isn’t always communicated, the city has been able to clear its drivers against certain claims. “We’ve actually been able to prove on several occasions that some claims weren’t legitimate because the software showed our vehicles weren’t in the area.” Using the “Area Activity” feature in MyGeotab, fleet managers can enter a specific date and time to find that vehicle’s location. This tool alone saves the city loads of time since they don’t have to review an entire vehicle’s trip history.
Maintenance: creating a preventative maintenance program
Vehicle maintenance costs and scheduling can be one of the biggest complexities when managing a fleet. Before using Geotab, the City of Saint John didn’t have a sustainable preventative maintenance program. With a fleet of 240+ vehicles, regular maintenance checks would sometimes get overlooked. “If you go beyond a vehicle’s scheduled maintenance, that’s where it all deteriorates,” says Operations Manager for Public Works and Transportation, Kevin Loughery. “We wanted to proactively fix equipment and vehicles before it became a bigger expense.”
Using Geotab telematics across their fleet, the city collected accurate odometer readings to schedule maintenance checks. “The upload of the odometer information gives us the ability to move from being a reactive shop to a proactive shop,” says Loughery.
“Before Geotab, we were going beyond the regular maintenance checks which reduced the lifecycle of the vehicles.” Rather than keeping track manually or using a spreadsheet, the Geotab GO device automates the process by notifying which vehicles need servicing. Fleet managers can create customized rulesets or use the software’s default settings. Thanks to this Geotab feature, the city saves time not having to second-guess maintenance requirements. “Instead of having a vehicle last five years, we’re seeing them last their expected lifespan of seven years,” comments Loughery.
Fuel consumption: reducing idling and harsh driving behaviour
Fuel expenses can account for up to 60 percent of an organization’s operating budget. The average Canadian spends $1,742 a year on fuel to run a passenger vehicle. But municipal fleets have an assortment of vehicles of which most consume thousands of dollars more in fuel. Aside from regular maintenance inspections and tire rotations, reducing aggressive driving and idling saves on fuel. Not only is it dangerous, but speeding, accelerating quickly and taking harsh corners all contribute to an increase in fuel consumption.
With that in mind, the City of Saint John wanted to see if telematics could help reduce their overall fuel costs. Using the Geotab fleet management software, the city began to monitor activities like idling and driving behaviour. After reviewing the data, the city was able to pinpoint the areas where improvements needed to be made across the fleet.
“Typically, drivers would leave vehicles running over lunchtime,” says Loughery. “We were able to correct this quickly by letting our drivers know we’re paying attention to things like idling.” Along with reducing idling, the Geotab telematics solution also increased driver safety concerning speeding, wearing seatbelts and ensuring everyone is following the rules of the road. “It’s helped us significantly with our overall fuel budget for the year,” says Loughery. “In one year, we saved $50,000 just in fuel by implementing telematics. It’s paid dividends in that respect.”
Reporting: making sense of the data
How does the saying go? What isn’t measured can’t be managed. For the City of Saint John, it was important to make sense of the data their 240+ vehicles were collecting. This is where Northern BI’s professional services combined with Geotab telematics take the cake in terms of data insights and return on investment.
“It was all of the reporting and capabilities Northern BI offered that made the difference,” states Loughery. “They worked with us to build reports and features specific to our fleet.”
From an operational standpoint, the reporting has given the public works team valuable insight into what’s happening in the field. “When you have a public works department that’s 100+ strong, it’s difficult to stay on top of everything,” says the city’s fleet director. “We’re able to collect data for specific events such as clearing roads during a winter storm.”
Winter fleet operations: managing routes and material
Once the cold weather hits, the public works team has a lot of objectives and items to measure. With an annual snowfall amount of 232 cm between November and April, the city’s winter fleet is challenged with keeping the streets clear of ice and snow. “A big promise we make to our citizens is making sure the roads are cleared, salted and sanded properly,” says McGrath.
Created for municipal and government fleets, the Geotab Public Works telematics solution measures route completion, plow blade levels and material spreading. In addition to location tracking, the city can dispatch, communicate and measure their efficiencies right from their desktop. “We can tell whether a plow has been up or down a particular street, what time they were there, and if that street received any type of service,” adds the fleet director.
When it comes to managing a public works winter fleet, the Geotab telematics solution checks off all the boxes. Municipalities have a responsibility to uphold standards for accountability, level of service, material management and liability. The City of Saint John uses the Geotab Public Works solution to confidently deliver and report these standards to the community. Having reliable data allows the city to plan, budget and set realistic operating goals.
Our success relies on Northern BI’s support
After evaluating several other telematics providers, the City of Saint John partnered with Northern BI because they followed through on what the competitors couldn’t. “With our previous telematics providers, they talked a big game and promised a lot of things,” says the director. “We would go to them with the same challenges we presented to Northern BI – wishing the software could do this or collect this type of data. But where they fell short was on the execution. Most of the time they would nod their heads up and down, but then nothing ever happened. Since Northern BI came on board, when we bring something to their attention, they work through it and actually execute on it.”
When clients work with Northern BI, they receive exceptional customer service and support. As a leading provider of vehicle telematics, Northern BI’s value rests in the close-knit relationships they have with clients. “One of the big reasons we chose to work with Northern BI was their hands-on approach,” says Loughery. “They’re always there, they answer our questions and work through any issues with us. There’s no it can or can’t be done. Their response is always let’s make it so it can be done.”
For Saint John, much of the public works department’s success relies on Northern BI’s support. “They accomplish more than they set out to do,” comments the fleet director. “I appreciate everything the NBI team does for us. It’s been a great relationship and we hope to see it grow.”
Want to run a more efficient public works or government fleet? Contact Northern BI to get started today!
City of Saint John
Sedans, half-ton trucks, one-ton trucks, fire trucks, tractors, sanitation trucks, dump trucks, street sweepers, snowplows, sidewalk plows, salt trucks, sand trucks, heavy-duty equipment
“In one year, we saved $50,000 just in fuel by implementing telematics. It’s paid dividends in that respect.”