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A study in telematics: How one fleet turned data into big savings

 A GCI truck is loaded at a site. GCI has leveraged Verizon Connect’s telematics solution to drive more efficiencies in dispatching, maintenance and fuel tax rebates for off-road diesel use. ( Photo: Verizon Connect)
A GCI truck is loaded at a site. GCI has leveraged Verizon Connect’s telematics solution to drive more efficiencies in dispatching, maintenance and fuel tax rebates for off-road diesel use. ( Photo: Verizon Connect)

INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana. Businesses large and small want to drive efficiencies, but many smaller operations can’t afford the large, enterprise telematics solutions that fleets of thousands of trucks benefit from. Verizon Connect’s telematics offerings are designed for small businesses, and Aaron Witmer’s operation is a prime example. Witmer told FreightWaves that Verizon Connect’s solution is saving his operation over $90,000 a year just in fuel tax reporting.

Witmer is operations manager for GCI Gravel Conveyor in Indianapolis. GCI operates a fleet of 21 trucks, 10 traditional dump trucks and 11 “stone slinger” trucks. These vehicles feature a V-shaped dump that aggregate is pumped out of using a 19-foot boom, allowing the product to be placed exactly where it needs to be on a job site and avoiding multiple hands touching the product.

Because GCI runs its trucks on-highway, it is subject to on-road diesel fuel taxes, but its off-road diesel use is not subject to those same taxes, meaning that fuel usage needs to be tracked. GCI trucks are capable of running with the power takeoff (PTO) in the on position, so drivers simply turn on the PTO when they enter a job site and the Verizon Connect system does the rest, recording running time of the PTO. Staff then does the calculations and GCI is able to apply for fuel tax refunds for its off-road diesel use.

Witmer said GCI, which implemented the Verizon system three years ago, is seeing savings beyond just fuel tax rebates, though.

“I’m using it on every aspect of the business,” he said, noting dispatch, vehicle tracking, maintenance tracking, fuel consumption and PTO usage as areas where it is benefiting the fleet.

Kevin Aries, global product success lead for Verizon Connect, said the telematics solution is not only for smaller companies and easily translates to other business applications, including freight haulers. Whitmer agreed.

“I am a member of a lot of groups and I see people from other companies. How we deliver to the end customer is different, but we how get [the product] there is the same,” Witmer said. “We still use people and trucks.”

To illustrate the solution’s potential, Witmer pointed to the usage of used trucks. GCI used to utilize used trucks until he realized how much each truck was costing the company in terms of efficiency and money.

“Most fleets have some used trucks,” he said, “and most track their [value] based on how much it is costing them to keep the truck running in maintenance. I learned very quickly using Verizon Connect that my downtime costs were much greater than what I was putting into the truck.”

These “hidden costs” included downtime for repairs, towing fees, and even customer delays. “We found the used trucks were costing us three times more than we expected,” Witmer noted.

“These are the types of insights we are trying to deliver,” Aries said. “Anyone can tell the costs … to replace a tire, but what does it cost in terms of [hidden costs]?”

Verizon has recently added asset tracking to its telematics solution. With assets such as generators or dumpsters sitting on job sites, companies want to be sure they can leave these items at the site without fear of theft. The same technology could be added to any non-powered asset such as trailers, Aries said.

The Verizon Cat-M1 Enterprise Asset Tracker provides near real-time location alerts for trailers and other non-powered assets and notifies fleet managers in the event of significant changes to the asset’s temperature, tilt, vibration, shock, humidity, light and pressure.

The telematics solution also features upcoming jobs, capture notes, photos and signatures. All that information is made available to back office personnel.

The new addition includes search and filter options, geofences and custom alerts to help track and manage equipment, uncover unauthorized use and assist in theft recovery.

Witmer noted how geofencing has allowed his company to more accurately bill customers for time. GCI geofences all its job sites so as soon as the truck enters that location, the customer’s bill starts tallying. Witmer explained that GCI charges customers by the minute once the truck enters the site, so time on the site needs to be accurately recorded.

While the version of the solution GCI uses requires its staff to manually formulate those customer bills, Aries said the more robust enterprise addition can be integrated with some accounting systems.

Witmer was at the Work Truck Show offering testimonials of the product to other vocational fleets attending the show, but Aries noted that Verizon’s solutions are easily adaptable to almost any fleet and more robust offerings include options such as temperature monitoring, something that can be critical in last-mile grocery delivery. Scheduling and asset allocation are other big uses cases, he said.

“It’s also around theft and misuse of equipment,” Aries said, something that all fleets are concerned with.

Brian Straight

Brian Straight leads FreightWaves' Modern Shipper brand as Managing Editor. A journalism graduate of the University of Rhode Island, he has covered everything from a presidential election, to professional sports and Little League baseball, and for more than 10 years has covered trucking and logistics. Before joining FreightWaves, he was previously responsible for the editorial quality and production of Fleet Owner magazine and Brian lives in Connecticut with his wife and two kids and spends his time coaching his son’s baseball team, golfing with his daughter, and pursuing his never-ending quest to become a professional bowler. You can reach him at [email protected]