San Francisco may equip city fleet with GPS tracking

Mike Koozmin/SF ExaminerSan Francisco is considering outfitting city government vehicles with GPS devices in order to track usage.

Mike Koozmin/SF ExaminerSan Francisco is considering outfitting city government vehicles with GPS devices in order to track usage.

San Francisco may outfit its entire city fleet with global positioning devices to improve management and safety of the nearly 8,000 sedans, trucks and transit vehicles.

For years, San Francisco’s efforts to thin out the city fleet, add greener vehicles, reduce gas usage and improve safety have met with mixed results.

But turning to telematics devices, commonly referred to as black boxes, may bring about significant change. The boxes, which track the location of vehicles, could also improve responses to emergencies.

“Vehicle telematics systems have the potential to save The City significant time, money and, potentially, lives,” said a report by Budget Analyst Harvey Rose. The report is being heard today by the Board of Supervisors Government Audit and Oversight Committee.

Among possible benefits, the report said that since the Police Department patrol cars are not equipped with these devices “dispatchers have limited information on the location of police vehicles at any given moment.”

“A telematics system could augment and support the current voice-reporting system, giving dispatchers the ability to more efficiently assign resources when incidents or emergencies occur,” the report said.

The devices are currently installed in 2,332 city fleet vehicles with a plan already in place to add 776 more, for a total of 3,108 vehicles — about one-third of the city fleet. It would cost $1.3 million to equip the 4,373 vehicles that make up the rest of the fleet and about $1.8 million annually for service and training. The entire city fleet totals 7,841, which includes sedans, parking enforcement vehicles, firetrucks and heavy equipment such as bulldozers and backhoes.

Supervisor Norman Yee had requested the report and hearing after attending a Vision Zero conference in New York City, where GPS tracking has met with success. Vision Zero is a growing effort in cities around the world to eliminate pedestrian and bicyclist deaths. “Other cities have also started this. They have found the results have been very positive,” Yee said.

The data collected from the devices can help department managers correct unsafe driving habits, stamp out inappropriate uses of city vehicles and ensure proper maintenance of the fleet. The devices can send alerts for inappropriate use. “When vehicles not assigned for take home use or other activities outside of the City cross the geo-fence, managers can receive instantaneous alerts or subsequent summary reports,” the report said.

Such technology often raises privacy concerns. The report notes that the Department of Human Resources said there are “no known limitations in any labor contracts that would exclude the use of telematics systems on City vehicles.”

The hearing comes in anticipation of the mayor’s budget submission June 1. If funding for these devices is not included, the board could decide to add it.

Bay Area NewsGPSNorman Yeetelematics

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