The driver of this Rural Electric Cooperative bucket truck was saved thanks to a "panic button" fob that was integrated with the company's telematics solution.
 - Photo courtesy of GPS Insight

The driver of this Rural Electric Cooperative bucket truck was saved thanks to a "panic button" fob that was integrated with the company's telematics solution.

Photo courtesy of GPS Insight

While vocational fleets have many of the same operational needs as traditional service or delivery fleets, they have unique challenges that can tax even the most seasoned fleet professional. Telematics can take the burden off of fleet staff and be the answer to these challenges. 

However, it may mean upending some of the traditional telematics functionality with out-of-the-box thinking and a close working relationship between fleets and their providers to find the right answer.

Oftentimes this results in a customized solution.

For example, Oklahoma-based Rural Electric Cooperative (REC) needed a way for its linemen — many of whom worked alone in isolated, rural areas — to be able to call for help at a touch of a button if they got in trouble. While not a new idea or application for telematics, the solution for REC required the creation of a “panic button” fob that was integrated with its GPS Insight telematics solution. 

And it paid off. A lineman who was in the bucket of his line truck when it was engulfed by a wildfire was able to hit his panic button, summoning help. Because the panic button was tied to the telematics solution, rescuers were able to pinpoint his position and get him to safety. Without the fob, the lineman — and not just his truck — would likely have been overcome by the fire. (It should be noted that the driver’s cellphone was in the cab of the truck and was destroyed in the fire.)

Driver safety beyond the operation of the vehicle — i.e., doing one’s job — is one of the ways that vocational fleets can see a significant benefit from telematics. 

In the case of REC, the organization worked with GPS Insight to find a safety solution that fit its specific operation.

Other ways that vocational fleets can use telematics to improve the safety of its drivers and others include: 

  • Ensuring vehicles are in a safe condition to drive
  • Monitoring drivers to identify and correct risky behavior

Vocational fleets can see other benefits using traditional telematics tools in ways that are specific to its fleet operations.

Vocational Routing

One of the foundations of telematics for vocational fleets is efficiency, often aimed at getting a vehicle from point A to point B as efficiently as possible. Thanks to advancements in routing technology, vocational fleets can get additional advantages from GPS tracking systems’ routing functionality and integration with other software platforms via API, webhooks, map overlays, data connect, or data dump. 

The result is better overall operational efficiency due to the integration of optimized data, which goes directly to the bottom line.

On the flipside, vocational fleets can use data integration to gain insight into costly routing inefficiencies.

For example, Texas Turf Management used its telematics intelligent routing functionality to determine that its drivers were unnecessarily taking tollway roads to jobsites. This resulted in a more than $900-per-month savings — or more than $10,000 per year.

These are only some examples of the way vocational fleets can experience routing benefits from an advanced telematics solution. Others include: 

  • Seeing all vehicles and assets in real time
  • Determining who’s closest to the next job or any emergent situation, e.g., a downed powerline
  • Sending routes to drivers over the air
  • Reviewing historical trip data to analyze efficiencies

Defeating Idling

Historically, telematics first proved its worth in vocational settings by delivering hard data about a problem fleet managers knew existed but couldn’t get real insights: idling. 

As any fleet manager knows, idling is perhaps one of the worst ways a driver can waste fuel.  And, while the problem is well known, it continues to be one that needs vigilant monitoring with the help of a telematics solution.

For example, a GPS Insight customer was able to determine that idle time across its fleet was up to 400 hours per month, wasting 200 gallons of fuel, which was the source of the fleet’s increased vehicle wear and tear and fuel costs. The fleet used the telematics solution to notify the driver in real time to shut off his or her vehicle, and manage these idle events. Within just three months, idle time decreased by 30%.

There are other ways vocational fleets can save on its fuel costs beyond controlling idling, including:

  • Limiting speeding, hard braking, and rapid acceleration
  • Reducing run-time
  • Eliminating unauthorized usage
  • Optimizing routes
  • Verifying fuel card expenses

Going Beyond the Vehicle

For vocational fleets, the vehicle is an important tool to serve its customers — and telematics can be a key component to improve and enhance customer service, including:

  • Responding quickly to customer emergencies
  • Providing location information to customers and partners
  • Serving more customers per day
  • Confirming job completion
  • Billing more accurately

Fundamentally telematics isn’t just for fleets that need traditional routing or monitoring (though they can certainly benefit from these functions). It has a place in any fleet, and your provider can help you, with its expertise and some out-of-the-box thinking, to make telematics an asset to improve your fleet’s safety profile, routing, fuel use, customer service, and ultimately your bottom line.