Satellites follow the fleet

Satellites follow the fleet

Vehicle management is the newest Global Positioning System app

BY DONNA YOUNG | GCN STAFF

Former U.S. Air Force pilot and Desert Storm veteran Arby Creach uses his electronic warfare experience to bring satellite technology down to Earth in Florida school buses.

Creach, the Polk County School District's Transportation Services operations director, said his district is piloting a Global Positioning System (GPS) fleet management tool to track school buses'466 of 'em.


Desert Storm veteran Arby Creach uses a GPS vehicle-monitoring tool to keep track of Florida school buses.
The district, the fifth largest school system in the Southeast, is using Sidekick GPS from Alternative Security Solutions Inc. of Tallahassee, Fla.

Creach said Sidekick monitors equipment performance much like an airplane flight data recorder. It tracks a vehicle's location, speed and direction, showing the date and time of each trip.

Creach's system exemplifies the newest application trend for GPS: vehicle management.

The Polk County system uses the Defense Department's Navstar Global Positioning System, a constellation of orbiting satellites that provides navigation data to military and civilian users worldwide. The Air Force's 50th Space Wing at Schriever Air Force Base, Colo., operates and controls Navstar.

Sidekick records position and time data on a standard static RAM memory card in the on-board unit. The card is removed from the vehicle periodically and its data loaded into the Sidekick base station software, which runs on 550-MHz PCs with 64M of RAM.
The GPS tool has helped the district in several ways.

For example, school officials use it to resolve disputes with parents by proving that buses are arriving at their stops on time, Creach said.

'Kids like to hide until buses go past because they want to skip school and then they tell their parents that the bus never showed up,' he said. 'When we get complaints from parents, we can use the system to show exactly when the bus was at the stop.'

Keep an eye out

Creach said that the GPS installation has also helped the district reduce transportation costs by letting officials closely track bus drivers' activities.

'When drivers know they are being tracked, they are less likely to go anywhere off of their routes,' Creach said. 'And if a bus driver is using the bus to go grocery shopping or run errands, we can take action to change the situation.'

Creach said another benefit of running GPS is the data verification it can provide in case of an emergency or accident. 'GPS records if the flashers, doors and other safety features were working correctly,' Creach said.

Creach serves as Computer Technology Committee chairman for the Florida Association of Pupil Transportation and is lobbying to have GPS become standard equipment in all school buses.

'It's not just a management issue, it's a safety issue for the kids to have GPS installed on the buses,' he said.
The district plans to move its GPS to the Web in the future.

'That way, if a bus breaks down, it will be easier for us to locate another bus close by that can easily cover a driver's run for them,' he said. 'We will be able to know exactly where our buses are at all times.'

Polk County's Mosquito Control Division is using Sidekick in its pesticide spraying trucks to monitor locations that have been treated.

Robert Ward, Mosquito Control manager, said the county has installed the system in 12 of its trucks.

'Before we used GPS, we didn't always have a clear way of determining the exact areas that had been treated with pesticides,' Ward said.

'Quite often, we would have to treat an entire area again to make sure we didn't miss any portion,' he said. 'Now we can track the exact portions of an area that have been treated and that makes our work more efficient and effective.'

Michael Gaston, Las Vegas Public Works Field Operations maintenance supervisor, said his city uses GPS to track mileage and driver activity for its street sweepers.

'If we get a complaint that a street has not been serviced or if someone says a sweeper was speeding through a neighborhood, we can check the data and can prove the complaint is either right or wrong,' he said. Gaston said Las Vegas has 30 street sweepers equipped with Sidekick GPS.

Small fleets, too

GPS is not just for jurisdictions operating large fleets. The capital of West Virginia, Charleston, population 54,000, uses FleetTrack from Integrated Systems Research Corp. of Baltimore for its trash trucks.

Gary Smith, Charleston's equipment maintenance superintendent, said the Refuse Department has installed GPS in 15 of the city's trucks.

Charleston's system feeds data to the Web and lets Smith easily track vehicles as they move.

'If we get a call from a resident who says they missed putting out their trash in time for the truck, we can look on our map and see exactly from the flashes on the screen where each truck is,' Smith said.

'We can then radio to the truck that is closest to the resident's neighborhood and ask the driver to make a pickup,' he said.
Smith said Charleston is considering installing GPS in its police vehicles.

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