COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Columbus has begun installing GPS tracking units in city-owned vehicles, hoping to save big on fuel and eliminate misuse by employees.
About 840 vehicles, including those in the police and fire divisions and Recreation and Parks Department, have been equipped with devices that track speed, location and the vehicle's path. They will alert managers if a vehicle is left idling.
A total of 2,000 city vehicles will be equipped with the devices by the end of this year, costing the city about $1.5 million, said Kelly Reagan, the fleet administrator. The city is contracting with AssetWorks Inc., a fleet-management company based in Wayne, Pa., to implement the system.
"This helps fulfill Mayor (Michael B.) Coleman's 'green' action plan, and the GPS is one small piece of that," Reagan said.
Coleman also wants the GPS units because he is frustrated by seeing employees misuse vehicles and by news reports detailing those misdeeds.
City officials also pointed to GPS sensors as an answer to a Dispatch investigation late last year that found that nearly 450 employees logged 5.6 million miles in vehicles they use for work and to commute to and from home. Reagan and other administrators said at the time they could not account for all the miles those employees had driven.
The tracking system will communicate with a Web-based program that will monitor all the city's marked vehicles, meaning undercover vehicles in the police and fire divisions will not be monitored. But fire and police administrators' vehicles will be equipped with the devices.
Fire and police union officials have expressed concerns that the devices will be used to discipline employees, saying that GPS units are not agreed upon in collective-bargaining contracts.
Reagan said department administrators will handle any issues with employee misuse and will be responsible for monitoring driving behavior. He said the city's Human Resources Department and union officials are discussing the issue.
The tracking units also will help with vehicle maintenance by notifying managers when a vehicle's engine light or other warning lights come on.
Paul Rakosky, the city's finance director, said those savings, along with fuel and employee efficiency, will far outweigh the cost of the system.
The city has reduced its fuel consumption since 2010 by purchasing more fuel-efficient vehicles and vehicles that run on other fuels, such as compressed natural gas.
In 2010, the city consumed 516,461 gallons of diesel fuel and gasoline; last year, it purchased 444,719 gallons, according to data provided by fleet management.