Magazine Article | January 26, 2012

Snowplow Season: Time For Real-Time Route Management

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

By Brent Willing, president, CompassCom,

The benefits of fleet tracking can come in handy when winter weather hits.

Automatic vehicle location (AVL) can provide fleet understanding at a glance, knowing that the vehicles assigned to any particular route are exactly where they are supposed to be. Different organizations, of course, have different methods for planning and monitoring their routes, based on their specific needs. It being February, with the winter still upon us, let’s take snowplows as an example, with the understanding that other kinds of fleet vehicles, such as vactor trucks for stormwater work or mosquito sprayers, may be organized in a different way, even within the same organization.

During snow season, routes can be color-coded onto the GIS mapping system used to monitor the fleet. The vehicle(s) assigned to a particular route can be color-coded to match. And, the system can show “bread crumbs” along the route that are color-coded to show what activity is going on. As an example, vehicle #206 shows on the map as purple, so if it strays onto a green route, managers will know immediately. When vehicle #206 is using its spreader and the plow is down, the dots on the breadcrumbs along the route show yellow. When the plow is down but the spreader controller is not being used, the dots are blue. If the snowplow truck is moving without plowing or using the spreader/sprayer function, the breadcrumbs are green.

Clients using this system have quickly found out where better efficiencies can be brought to bear. For instance, all the snowplow trucks leaving from the county garage don’t need to plow or sand as they are leaving, only once they get to their assigned route. One client discovered that snowplow drivers were all starting their spreader controllers unnecessarily as soon as they rolled out.

When snowplow trucks take a wrong turn or mistakenly go into another truck’s route, managers can get them back on track with a phone call. And, if a truck leaves its assigned road or stops moving on its route without an explanation, managers can react quickly to potential safety issues.

Managing the snowplow routes through real-time AVL provides another benefit as well: proof to the second of when the roads on the route were plowed and salted. This reduces liability claims as well as answers questions from citizens calling to find out if or when their own routes have been plowed. Through replay and reports, managers can both analyze fleet performance for improvement year to year and answer consumer questions or complaints easily.

AVL Offers Improvements Every Year
Real-time route monitoring is only one small part of the benefit of AVL; using reports from the system to measure performance and make improvements year by year adds up to huge cost benefits.

By helping managers create better, more efficient routes, AVL saves fuel, time, and vehicle wear. It provides credible and measurable cost savings. Better-managed maintenance provides more accurate mileage and driving pattern data. Optimizing payload and routes uses fewer materials (salt, sand, mag-chloride) in vehicles such as sprayers, snowplows, and sweepers. These along with aiding legal and administrative requirements, such as insurance costs, emissions and vehicle performance compliance, and operator accountability and safety, all add up to considerable savings.

During a snowstorm, having precise routes already determined and identified, based on knowledge from the previous year, can help maximize the utility of the entire fleet and allow management to monitor and control their snowplow fleet with confidence.