• Gary Lentsch oversees more than 200 vehicles and pieces of equipment for Eugene Water  Electric Board, Oregon’s largest customer-owned water and electric utility. Reach him at gary.lentsch@eweb.org or 541-685-7470.

    Credit: Eugene Water & Electric

    Gary Lentsch oversees more than 200 vehicles and pieces of equipment for Eugene Water & Electric Board, Oregon’s largest customer-owned water and electric utility. Reach him at gary.lentsch@eweb.org or 541-685-7470.

The Eugene Water & Electric Board (EWEB) is Oregon’s largest customer-owned utility. Founded in 1911 and chartered by the City of Eugene as a municipal utility with a separate elected board, EWEB provides electricity and water to more than 87,000 customers.

The award-winning utility relies on 224 vehicles, ranging from hybrid passenger cars to digger derricks to cranes to bucket, dump, troubleshooter, and vacuum trucks to manage water mains, pipelines, electricity substations, and electric lines supplying 7.8 billion gallons of water and 2.93 billion kilowatt hours of electricity annually.

The utility uses ArcGIS ArcMap to visually display where water and power outages occur throughout its 236-square-mile service area. Fleet Services Supervisor Gary Lentsch was given the task of finding an automatic vehicle location (AVL) system that would easily integrate with Esri’s enterprise mapping-and-asset-management software.

With so many products available on the market, Lentsch decided to look for what was available through the National Joint Powers Alliance, a cooperative-purchasing service that serves 50,000 U.S. government agencies and educational institutions. After evaluating the options, he chose Verizon Networkfleet because it integrates with Esri products, was competitively priced, and provides training and support.

“It takes a lot of staff time to create bids and review documents from vendors,” says Lentsch. “We saved a lot of time using national contract purchasing because these contracts have already been negotiated on behalf of government agencies.”

Training the trainers

Fleet Services began installing Networkfleet’s 5000 series GPS units on every vehicle, plus construction equipment like backhoes and excavators, in November 2012 and was finished by January 2013.

At the same time, Lentsch deployed a “train the trainer” strategy to prepare internal customers for the launch of a new operational system. He temporarily assigned one of his employees as fleet operation coordinator to explain to managers and supervisors in the utility’s various departments how the technology works and how to use the data. This ensured reports would be developed and used consistently throughout the entire organization regardless of division.

“We let everybody know up front what was going on,” he says.

Because Fleet Services had tracked quarterly mileage, engine hours, and gallons of fuel used per vehicle before the deployment, Lentsch had an established performance baseline. No one was more surprised when he compared second quarter 2012 with second quarter 2013 results.

“I was probably the biggest skeptic about whether we could save money using GPS, but I’ve been proven wrong,” he says.

“Notifying the operator when a unit was installed immediately made a positive impact on driving behavior,” he says. “In addition, managers and supervisors are using this tool to make their operations more efficient and impose a higher level of accountability for idling and unnecessary trips.”

16 vehicles sold

Managers and supervisors were unable to accurately track idle time before, but now chart it weekly. When high idle times are reported, they work with their employees to reduce idling and unnecessary trips—one reason for significant fuel savings.

They can also run a report on how many days every month a particular vehicle is used. Since the deployment, 19 vehicles have been returned to Fleet Service’s inventory because of low utilization. Three are assigned to other utility divisions. The remaining 16 were sent to the surplus auction. Based on average life cycle and asset cost, that will save $75,000 annually.

The ArcGIS map shows where utility poles, transformers, waterlines, and water mains are located. Utility managers locate and dispatch vehicles closest to an outage or break, saving time and lowering the number of miles driven. The utility is in the process of tying this information into its work management system (FleetFocus by AssetWorks) to make crews even more productive.

“As a public utility, we’re stewards of the community and of the public’s money,” says Lentsch. “The GPS system fits with our culture of accountability and sustainability. We focus on running our fleet better and utilizing our fleet the right way. That’s just smart management.”

Chris Ransom is director of sales engineering for Verizon Networkfleet. Email cransom@networkfleet.com. For more, visit www.networkfleet.com.