Navman Wireless technology controls costs, emissions for fleets

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Navman Wireless technology controls costs, emissions for fleets

One message that resonated loudly for me during VERGE Boston was the suggestion by retired U.S. Marine Corps Colonel Mark "Puck" Mykleby that green business might be well-served by a subtle rebranding.

By talking up "full-spectrum" sustainability, businesses can fulfill both an economic and environmental agenda, Mykleby asserted.

"The economics are so frickin' sound," he said during his keynote remarks. "Are they water-tight? Hell no, nothing is. But if you start creating a default setting, and start talking about opportunity space, all of sudden, when real jobs start developing, and real progress (is made) -- whether it's infrastructure or whether its public health – all the benefits we know from thinking in a sustainability-based mindset. That is what is going to win the day."

That common sense approach to sustainability is something The Provider Enterprises, a midsize bus company in Brentwood, N.H., that transports special needs students to and from schools across the state, embraced many years ago.

When it started installing wireless navigation technology in all its buses in 2005, the strategy certainly wasn't motivated by an environmental or green business agenda.

But that has been a welcome side benefit of an overarching strategy to control excessive idling and reduce fuel consumption, said owner Garrett Scholes, who was behind the project. "I can't imagine operating our fleet without it," he said. "It has become a very important way of managing our costs."

The Provider, founded by Scholes' mother, operates a fleet of about 255 buses, which transport approximately 2,000 students per week across 125,000 miles. Along the way, it burns roughly 44,000 gallons of fuel per month, he estimated.

From a cost standpoint, it probably won't surprise you to hear that fuel accounts for between 14 percent and 16 percent of The Provider's annual expenses, compared with 8 percent to 10 percent back when it first started using fleet management technology.

Photo of bus fleet provided by Gustav/Shutterstock

To keep tabs on that consumption, and reduce it whenever possible, every vehicle is outfitted with the Qube, a location-based tracking system developed by Navman Wireless. The tamper-proof technology tracks parameters such as location, speed and mileage, and can be connected to a messaging system. While Scholes didn't have exact costs available, he figured the system costs around $600 per vehicle to install. Beyond that, the wireless data service needed to support it costs $35 per month, per vehicle, he estimated.

Originally conceived as a way of logging employee work hours, the Navman Wireless solution keep tabs on when Provider vehicles are switched on and switched off. It also tracks route information, so it can determine whether a driver is using the most direct route to pick up and drop off students – another factor that affects fuel consumption.     

Every area manager can access daily reports about that data, so they can tell which drivers have violated the company's policy to limit idling at no more than 15 minutes or if they have driven above the maximum speed limit of 60 miles per hour. (The data is available for six months; beyond that, The Provider needs to request it from Navman Wireless, which keeps archives).

The dispatchers also can see that information in real time, which enables them to call or message the driver in question. To keep messages from becoming a safety issue or driving distraction, the driver can't actually retrieve or respond to a message unless the vehicle has been stopped and pulled over, Scholes said.

But that real-time messaging capability is important: if a child doesn't need to be picked up on a given day, the dispatcher can alert the driver and change route, saving on fuel, he said.

Ultimately, the Navman Wireless technology helps The Provider make better decisions that also happen to be good environmental decisions, Scholes told me when I first interviewed him several years ago about this solution. “Our definition of being green is cutting out waste,” he told me at that time, sounding that theme again during our follow-up interview earlier this week.

Navman Wireless, acquired by Fortune 250 technology company Danaher in January 2013, currently monitors more than 175,000 vehicles, making it one of the world's largest fleet management providers.

Astonishingly, Scholes said few of his competitors have latched onto the potential of fleet management as an operational efficiency measure, let alone a sustainability strategy. "We are the only ones in this area that do what we do. People have GPS systems in their buses, but they are not as rigorous about tracking this data as we are," he said.