Mobile Applications Case Study
CalVans Keeps Vans on a Roll with Mobile Application (Cont'd)
The average monthly cost of a vanpool has dropped by $300 a month as a result of keeping the vans in operation for over 70,000 miles.”
- Ron Hughes, Executive Director, CalVans
Manage a widely dispersed fleet of vanpool vehicles to ensure regulatory compliance, increase user safety, manage costs and secure outside funding
AT&T mobile broadband network (data and voice) and Webtech Wireless® Quadrant® solution connect each van for near real-time, centralized data collection and tracking
Access to additional funding sources; automated, wireless reporting supports vehicle maintenance and driver accountability and helps reduce repair and insurance costs
Public transit program provides cost effective rural transportation services
The 475 van fleet provides more than 9,500 trips to its riders on a daily basis
The California Vanpool Authority (CalVans) operates the largest public vanpool program in California. CalVans focuses on serving residents in the San Joaquin and Salinas Valleys, providing a large number of farm workers with their only viable means of transportation. The CalVans project grew out of a small pilot started by Kings County Area Public transit agency. It now services residents of 14 counties and is managed by a 10-member Board representing these areas. Those now served by the program include over 1,700 farm workers who use the affordable vanpool program to travel to and from the farm in volunteer-driven vehicles. CalVans promotes successful communities by fostering safe, cost-efficient travel and cleaner air.
CalVans clients include farm workers who use the vanpool service and farmers who employ them. For multiple reasons – promoting safe and efficient vehicle operation, ensuring regulatory compliance, securing continued funding and more – managers need to track and report details of a van’s activity. CalVans’s original radio tracking system often lost connection with vehicles in California’s vast and varied landscape. Driver activity, speed and distance traveled, and vehicle condition were reported as pages of data that arrived days or weeks after the fact. This older tracking system compromised the success and the potential of the forward thinking program.
CalVans now equips each van with a Webtech Wireless GPS/Telematics Locator that is connected through the AT&T mobile broadband network and an in-vehicle Webtech Wireless Mobile Data Terminal (MDT). Now CalVans staff can track a vehicle, identify who is driving by the log-in process, how many riders are aboard, how far and fast the vehicle has traveled, and communicate with a hands-free voice system. Reports from each van’s onboard computer help flag problems and enable preventative maintenance to be completed on schedule, allowing vans to remain in service longer. Because unsafe driving can be corrected immediately, insurance costs are down by more than two thirds.
Innovating a New Way
California’s agricultural heartland stretches hundreds of miles across the state’s Central Valley. In the middle is Kings County, home to diverse communities of rural workers. It was there that Kings County Area Public Transit Agency (KCAPTA) established a program which has transformed the worker carpool idea into a publicly-managed system of viable transportation for more than 4,700 rural commuters within fifteen counties.
What’s exciting is that we’re at a point where what we build from here can become a national model, a nationwide best practice.”
- Ron Hughes, Executive Director, CalVans
In 2002, KCAPTA launched a program to serve the region’s large population of farm workers. Led by its Executive Director, Ron Hughes, the Agricultural Industries Transportation Services (AITS) program was developed to provide rural farm workers safe, affordable, and reliable shared-ride transportation to agricultural worksites. At the same time KCAPTA established the Kings Area Rural Transit (KART) vanpool program for non-farm workers. A large number of State employees use this system to access one of the many State prisons located in the Valley.
“I’m after those people who don’t have a car, good credit or the ability to drive to work in rural areas,” explained Hughes. “That’s where the public sector comes in; their mission is to provide transportation across the board that’s seamless and cost effective.”
In the absence of a comprehensive, publicly provided transportation system, uninsured drivers, dangerously modified vehicles, crowded roads and harmful emissions levels ultimately affected all area residents. KCAPTA was determined to address such unsafe and unsustainable conditions.
The Challenge of Complex Operations
To establish its groundbreaking service, KCAPTA had to navigate through layers of federal and state regulations, working with the Federal and State Departments of Labor and the California DMV. But regulatory issues were just part of the challenge. Hughes and his team also faced the operational complexity of the program itself.
In addition to tracking vehicle use and maintenance to ensure the program’s safety and affordability, KCAPTA had to also comply with strict government standards to secure program funding and vehicle insurance. Each requires diligent monitoring and reporting of performance data.
CalVans Staff manages its fleet of 475 vanpools and drivers in real time. Each day drivers travel to unique locations, often traveling over a 100 miles per day. KCAPTA initially relied on a radio-based tracking system that communicated through a repeater device every 15 minutes. “Whenever a vehicle went to the mountains or got outside of repeater range, we couldn’t see it,” said Hughes. “As we got bigger we ‘lost’ vehicles.” Such failures to communicate could put riders in danger during emergencies.
In addition, the reporting system could not detail vehicle use. Drivers filled out weekly reports of van travels. “We had no way to know in real-time how far a van had traveled,” Hughes said. “We ended up chasing vans that went farther than they had reported in their payment sheet.” This led to higher costs for both the program and the vanpool riders.
Program funding depends on compliance with governmental regulations. “Reporting to the Federal Transportation Administration (FTA) will result in additional federal funding,” explained Hughes. But reporting critical data on program activity and rider statistics was a labor-intensive task. “You had to sift through a huge amount of data,” said Hughes. Management of the program was difficult and inefficient. Something had to change.
To improve its tracking and reporting capabilities, CalVans chose a mobile fleet management system from Webtech Wireless, and installed a Webtech Wireless Locator and an accompanying Mobile Data Terminal in each van. The AT&T mobile broadband network links each MDT with CalVans headquarters, providing near real-time connectivity.
Now CalVans managers have access to critical information through GPS tracking, ID for drivers and automated reporting of vehicle diagnostics data. Staff can determine instantly each van’s location, speed, distance driven, who is driving and the vehicle’s condition.
“The GPS locator is able to display the location of one van or a group of vans on Google Maps,” explained Hughes. Vans aren’t lost due to out-of-repeater-range terrain or driver misuse. Riders have access to reliable communication in the event of an accident. And the tracking system helps reduce unsafe driver behavior, such as speeding.
“With the new system, I get a daily report for every vehicle showing how far it went and its maximum speed in the last 24-hour period,” said Hughes. Multiple riders in each vanpool are certified to be drivers of the vehicle. Each driver must log in with an individualized PIN in order to start the van. Now, not only does CalVans know if a van was speeding, they know who was driving. This information is communicated to the vanpool driver, promoting accountability. “We have seen a marked reduction in the top speeds since we initiated the program,” Hughes said, “because each driver will get a weekly report generated automatically telling them who was speeding in their van.”
An added feature provided by the system is the ability to send the weekly billing to each van’s main driver through the use of the system’s messaging capabilities. The system generates a weekly report totaling the miles driven by each van which is used to generate a bill that is sent back to each vehicle. The driver then simply collects payment from each rider and sends it to the main office.
Improved access to data has helped CalVans reduce costs benefiting both managers and van riders. “Success is being able to provide a program that minimizes the cost to the participants while maintaining controls that allow us to reduce or minimize our accident rate,” said Hughes. CalVans uses the information supplied by the Webtech Wireless MDT devices to streamline operations and minimize vehicle cost. “The average van is paid for at five years and about 70,000 miles,” explained Hughes. “If I can make that van live through two or three life times, it means I have reduced the cost to participants –and that’s our goal.”
Vehicle maintenance is key. The Webtech Wireless Locator reports vehicle condition to headquarters via the Webtech Wireless Quadrant Web interfaces. When it’s time for routine maintenance, the shop is automatically notified and mechanics travel to the vehicle to perform the work. If it’s a sudden problem that may immediately affect the safety of the riders, management is notified through the system. Staff can then notify the driver from afar, saving time and money.
The ability to monitor all aspects of the vehicle’s operation has provided CalVans the opportunity to let farm worker drivers in Salinas Valley take their vanpools to Yuma for five to six months to continue working. Work in Salinas shuts down in the winter season due to the cooler weather and inability to grow lettuce and broccoli. Most major growers in the area shift their operations to Yuma to continue growing these crops. Being able to go to Yuma provides the Salinas Valley farm worker year-round employment while providing safe transportation for him, the riders and the grower.
This monitoring contributes to the affordability of the vanpool for riders, who pay a small fee to cover transportation costs. “The average monthly cost of a vanpool has dropped by $300 a month as a result of keeping the vans in operation for over 70,000 miles,” said Hughes. “This is a result of keeping driver abuse at a minimum, as well as providing excellent routine and preventative maintenance.” The new system helps CalVans and its riders achieve their shared goal – affordable transportation.
The Road Ahead
The CalVans program is becoming a model for similar agricultural areas in the state and country. “What’s exciting is that we’re at a point where what we build from here can become a national model, a nationwide best practice,” said Hughes.
Data gathered by its Webtech Wireless Quadrant Telematics solution and reported over the AT&T mobile broadband network has enabled CalVans to prove the effectiveness of its program and ensure its continued success. Obtaining vehicle insurance, once a problem, is now easy. “When I first started the program, I had to beg to get insurance. Now I have people knocking on the door,” Hughes said. “We are better able to show the insurance agent that we are on the ball, where before they had to take my word for it.” Since 2002, the yearly insurance bill for each van has dropped from $4,200 to $1,300 – for five times the coverage.
An added benefit also is that federal funding is allocated to local agencies that can prove they are effective in controlling emissions by reducing excess vehicles on the roads. “Certain areas receive federal transportation money based on the number of vehicle miles and passenger miles that occur in an area,” explained Hughes. “Essentially this is incentive money to encourage communities to establish more efficient transportation.” In 2011, CalVans’ detailed reports of vanpool mileage and ridership earned the agency $1,300,000 through the program. Half will be used to buy new vans.
“With the help of CalVans’ new tracking and management system, I can quantify that 4,700 people in our program no longer drive their cars,” said Hughes. “Our program has taken 4,700 cars off the roadway.” As other regions follow in CalVans’ footsteps, a statewide affiliation of agencies, the California Vanpools Association, promises to extend efficient vanpool operations statewide. Even greater strides will be made in the effort to achieve cleaner air and connected communities.