State to buy GPS in effort to save fuel

COLUMBIA --- South Carolina is looking to save money by spending roughly $4 million on GPS units for the school buses and road construction vehicles.

 

The state expects to award a contract this week for 12,250 GPS tracking devices, with just more than half outfitting the state's fleet of public school buses and the rest put on Department of Transportation vehicles, from backhoes to roadside safety trucks. Nine companies submitted bids, according to the state Budget and Control Board.

Cities and school districts nationwide are using GPS to cut waste and abuse. New York City is outfitting a number of its school buses through a pilot program this year. But as the nation's only state to own and maintain a statewide school bus fleet, South Carolina may be the first to install GPS units on all of its school buses.

Beyond tracking vehicles, the GPS units will transmit when drivers speed, excessively idle and accelerate, which transportation officials want to eliminate.

If the devices cut fuel use by a few gallons of gas daily per bus, they'll pay for themselves in a year. Each bus travels 16,000 miles a year, said Don Tudor, the state Education Department's transportation director.

"The numbers are really, really simple. It's amazing how quickly it pays for itself, on top of all the safety benefits," he said.

The units capture every time a school bus opens its doors, flashes lights and puts out its stop sign, so local bus shop officials can check if drivers are properly stopping for students and railroad tracks. If a bus breaks down, officials can pinpoint the closest bus, Mr. Tudor said.

The units will go into roughly two-thirds of DOT's fleet, said John White, the agency's director of supply and equipment.

Across the country, much of the savings from GPS tracking units has come from stopping employees from using their government-issued vehicles to loaf or run private errands.

Last year, the Long Island town of Islip, N.Y., put the devices on 635 vehicles, from street sweepers to tax assessors' and engineering vehicles. Employees kept to their routes during the work day, and those who drove their vehicles home stopped using them for personal travel, said Stephen Lapham, Islip's commissioner of public works. In three months, the town saved 14,000 gallons of gas.

GPS SYSTEMS

South Carolina plans to install GPS devices in public school buses and Department of Transportation vehicles.

WHY? Officials point to other states that employ the technology, saying it cuts down on waste and abuse.

HOW? The system will track vehicles' location, speed and excessive acceleration or idling.

THE HOPE: In trimming fuel use, the systems could pay for themselves within a year, says the state Education Department's transportation director.

-- Associated Press