On the run-up to the CV Show contributing editor Steve Banner caught up with John Lawrence, director of business services for Trafficmaster to find out more about the latest products.
With a network of roadside monitors that analyse UK traffic movements along 8,000 miles of motorway and trunk roads, Trafficmaster is well-known for its Smartnav satellite navigation package. Fitted as standard to Citroën's Dispatch and Relay vans, it's available on other makes and models of vehicles too. Van owners countrywide have had reason to be grateful to Trafficmaster's Trackstar stolen vehicle tracking system and the company's real-time traffic information is used by third parties as well as in its own products. So what else can you offer light commercial operators?
We've introduced Fleet Director and Citroën has become the first manufacturer to pilot and offer it in the UK. Despite its name it's suitable for small- to medium-sized businesses and can help them manage their vehicles more effectively.
So what does it do?
It tracks their vans and shows them where they are at any given time on an on-screen map — it's internet-based — thus giving them more control over what their drivers are doing and where they're going. Remember that if a guy runs five vehicles and one of them goes AWOL, then that means that 20 per cent of his resources are no longer fully productive. With Fleet Director in place this is much, much less likely to happen. If you can monitor your light commercials, and the drivers know that is what you are doing, then they are less likely to speed. That means reduced fuel consumption and a reduction in wear and tear on the vehicles too. What's more, it means less damage to your firm's image. If somebody is speeding or driving in an erratic manner and your company's name is on the side of the van, then that makes for a very poor advertisement. If drivers do happen to speed — if, for instance, they are doing over 75mph for more than five minutes — then Fleet Director highlights the fact and you can do something about it.
Does Fleet Director retain a record of your fleet's activities?
Not only does it reveal where the drivers are now, the system shows exactly where they've been. After they completed their first job of the day, did they go straight to the next one? Or did they rendezvous with the other lads at the local café? If that's the case, then you might want to take it up with them. The system shows how many jobs an individual did on a particular day, when he arrived at each one, how long he took and when he departed. Armed with that information you can soon see whether it might be possible for him to fit in a few more and improve his productivity; productivity typically rises by 12 per cent. Don't forget that the ability to see where a van was at a particular time on a particular day could give you a defence against an unwarranted London Congestion Charge Zone penalty notice. It may give you a defence against a parking penalty notice too, and against accusations that one of your vans dented a parked vehicle when it was nowhere near the street it was parked in. All vehicle and journey information is stored for three years.
Mobile engineers who drive vans regularly work on their own. Does the ability of Fleet Director to keep track of where they are help their employer discharge the duty of care towards a lone worker?
No question about it. If somebody is missing — maybe because they've had an accident — then you're going to know about it quickly and can take appropriate action.
Will Fleet Director highlight instances of vans being used outside normal working hours, or outside a particular geographical perimeter, without consent?
Yes; unauthorised use is typically cut by 12 per cent. It will also reveal if a vehicle is still at the driver's home when he should be out working.
Something else it could presumably be used to prove is whether or not a driver has private use of a van and what his benefit-in-kind tax liability, if any, is. So how many drivers can you keep an eye on at any one time on screen?
Up to 16.
Because the system keeps a log of the hours drivers have worked, can it be used to help calculate wages, overtime payments and compliance with the Working Time Directive?
Yes, and because it promotes more efficient working, overtime is typically cut by 15 per cent. What's more, because you can see where each van is, if a customer rings in requesting a visit you can dispatch the one that's nearest to his premises. Otherwise you'll have to ring all of your drivers to see which one is closest. What's more, if the driver isn't sure where the premises are, you can use Fleet Director to send him a route, and he can be re-routed if he's approaching a traffic jam. Clearly that has an enormous, positive impact on productivity and customer service. Bear in mind that if your average revenue per job is £250 — and that wouldn't be uncommon for trades people these days, what with emergency call-out charges and so on — you only have to get a few more jobs in each week and you've paid for Fleet Director several times over. You're also making a big contribution to your bottom line. The on-board unit can be used for hands-free communication incidentally and a two-way messaging terminal is available.
Being able to direct the closest driver also keeps down vehicle wear and tear and fuel consumption. So to what extent can Fleet Director drive down diesel usage?
By up to 30 per cent. If an operator is using the system fully, then as a rule of thumb it would not be uncommon for a driver who was doing 300 miles a week to reduce that to 210 through more efficient working. Clearly that means a big cut in the amount of fuel that's burned. Taking into account all the other savings that such a cut in mileage can bring, we calculate that such a reduction can save the operator as much as £38.30 per week per vehicle. It will also lessen the van's carbon footprint.
Can the system be used to help businesses resolve disputes with customers?
Yes. If a client claims that his deliveries always arrive late, then you can run a report that may prove this is not the case. If you've got a team of tradesmen who carry out maintenance work on social housing and they're accused of never turning up to jobs, then you can show that your guys knocked on someone's door on time as arranged, waited for 10 minutes, then left because there was nobody in. If a customer rings in and asks how far away your driver is and how soon he is likely to arrive, then you can refer to Fleet Director to get the necessary information.
How much does Fleet Director cost per vehicle?
You pay £295 for the onboard black box plus £100 for an optional touch screen and the service itself costs £20.75 a month. In other words about 69p a day including the communications costs. You can have sat nav added too plus Safe Speed, which will alert the driver to speed camera black spots, and stolen vehicle tracking. They cost £4.25 a month each. Annual Fleet Director contracts are available, but most customers seem to prefer to enter into three to five year agreements.
How popular is Fleet Director proving to be?
We launched it at the end of September 2007. We've already got around 200 customers and we're very pleased with its progress so far. We've set up a support team that offers users training and keeps in contact with them regularly, and we've had no major issues with the system to date. It's been well-established in the USA for sometime, with 4,000 van and truck fleets totalling 55,000 vehicles using it daily, so it's got an impressive pedigree.