When a refuse truck develops a mechanical problem while out on its route, I know with near certainty that my mechanics know about it even if the driver doesn’t. Even if the driver ignores the issue or forgets to tell us about it, we often have a work order before he returns to the shop. It’s one reason we’re caring for vehicles much more proactively.

In 2009, the Sacramento, Calif., City Council approved a five-year contract to install and integrate Zonar’s telematics platform and electronic vehicle inspection report (EVIR) system with AssetWorks’ FleetFocus M5 on 100 refuse trucks and about 500 high-fuel consuming, field-dispatched vehicles like those operated by parking enforcement and animal control officers.

Since 2009, our $750,000 investment in new technology, which has bought us fleet telematics equipment and nearly four years of related services for 600 vehicles, has more than paid off. Smoother workflows and streamlined diagnostics dramatically reduced downtime during the day. This is important because we prefer to maintain refuse trucks at night and work on other assets during the day. Similarly, we’re managing the equipment of other internal customers more efficiently, helping those departments avoid unnecessary downtime.

Fuel consumption fell 25% because drivers spent less time idling and drove more slowly over more efficiently designed routes that eliminated unnecessary or unauthorized miles traveled. In addition to offsetting Zonar’s monthly service fees, the reduction is helping us meet stricter state emission requirements while fulfilling the city’s Climate Action Plan and Fleet Sustainability Policy.

Finally, we became so efficient, we’re one of the few government fleets in the state that hasn’t had to lay off employees.

As a result, all replacement equipment is now budgeted to include the hardware. Eventually, almost all heavy-duty vehicles will have the equipment.

Automation improves compliance

All this is a far cry from the days when we relied solely on drivers’ verbal or written reports to identify mechanical issues that needed repair. Our department of 40 mechanics and 20 equipment service workers maintains 2,300 vehicles at five maintenance shops, including equipment in the city’s fire, solid waste and recycling, transportation, and parks and recreation departments. Two of our shops also service the police department’s 264 vehicles.

The Federal Motor Carrier and Safety Administration requires refuse drivers to conduct pre- and post-trip inspections at the start and end of their shifts, a task that generally takes five to 10 minutes.

Before, drivers handed in manual logs before starting or ending their shifts. The reports were often vague and got buried in a shuffle of papers at our three maintenance shops for heavy-duty vehicles. Sometimes drivers forgot, misplaced, or left reports incomplete. Or they reported problems verbally instead of writing them down.

After looking at several potential solutions, we decided to test how Zonar’s EVIR, which includes a telematics platform that captures data directly from the engine in addition to real-time GPS information, would work with AssetWorks’ FleetFocus. We monitored driver performance and idle time from 184 vehicles in 14 classes for two months.

Our pre-test report to the city council conservatively projected 10% less fuel use. But an independent third-party analysis by Avion Solutions Inc. found that savings actually averaged almost 25%. This convinced the council to approve a five-year contract by a two-thirds majority.

For the next 18 months, Zonar and AssetWorks technical staff worked with the city’s IT department to develop an integration that shares Zonar-captured vehicle fault code data and driver inspection defects with FleetFocus M5.