Yankee Trails does business a new way
New technology goes beyond behavior modification
By David Hubbard
Yankees Trails began with a fleet of two motorcoaches dedicated primarily to service trips between Albany, NY and cities in Vermont. By the late 1980s, the company began offering individual tour packages to destinations along the entire East Coast.
Today, the company operates more than 50 motorcoaches in a fleet that requires 60 drivers. Easily one of the largest tour and charter bus companies in this region of the country, Yankee Trails came to the realization it needed advanced technology to match.
Opportunity for growth
In 2008, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced it was about to dole out close to $12 million in security grants for over-the-road bus operators. The agency would make these funds available to fixed route/inner city companies and charter bus service operators.
“The federal grants represented an exciting opportunity for growth,” says Stephen Tobin, president of Yankee Trails. “A year after completing the rigorous and competitive application process, we were awarded a portion of the grant. The infusion of those funds gave us the means to open the next chapter of our business.”
Tobin says while each Yankee Trails had equipped each motorcoach with a computer chip mounted in the engine to track mileage, retrieving the data was a tedious process. He says the company accessed the information only when there was a dispute over mileage. Usually, the company tracked mileage from the sheets the drivers completed at the end of each route. As a grant recipient, Yankee Trails sought to eliminate the mileage sheets by applying some of its funds to a real-time GPS program to measure and manage driver behavior status and vehicle tracking.
“The GPS tracking applications were similar for each company we spoke with,” says Tobin. “Overall, all the front-end technology and web applications gave us the same kind of data.”
Yankee Trails settled on the proprietary MiX Telematics North America product, Driver Behavior Modification system.
Driver behavior modification
The MiX In-Vehicle Monitoring System (IVMS) technology tracks and records driving behavior. The operator has access to the driver reports which show important data such as fluctuating engine speed that reveals true engine idle time or speeding. MiX fleet analysts look for the same red flags when reviewing the data.
“Once our MiX system was up and running we could observe the driving habits of each operator and provide real-time, actionable reports to Yankee Trails’ management,” said Brian McCoy, vice president of sales and marketing at MiX Telematics North America. “We set up specific reports that display all of the red flags for excessive fuel burning behavior, which are automatically emailed to the Yankee Trails team.”
The front end portion of this technology provides the means for a company to visually observe each route. The system pinpoints the location of a particular coach in real-time and makes note of driving habits that include speeding, harsh acceleration, hard braking and excessive idling. On the back-end a team of analysts carefully monitor the information streaming in from the IVMS technology and create real-time actionable reports the coach company uses in consultations and to modify undesired behavior.
While the majority of Yankee Trails’ drivers understood the intent behind the new initiative with MiX, the company met some resistance. A few saw the program as a type of “Big Brother” constantly looking over their shoulder.
In an effort to reinforce the fuel savings opportunities that the MiX Telematics tracking and monitoring system offered, the company placed a large TV in the driver’s lounge, which shows everything from the location of each motorcoach on a Google satellite map to harsh braking and excessive idling. The TVs allowed each driver to see how the data is helping the company manage overall driving habits.
“Cutting down on speeding not only reduces the odds of a crash, but MPG is lowered by up to 2.2 percent for every one mile per hour over 55,” says McCoy. “Add those potential savings to the roughly two gallons of gas saved per hour by eliminating excessive idling and the reduction of maintenance costs by eliminating hard braking and acceleration and the ROI starts to add up.”
Yankee Trails also used the real-time data that MiX was providing to create a Reinforcement Driver Incentive Program. This program scores every driver based on new information and rewards the top drivers based on fuel savings. The company outlined the parameters of the program and MiX began creating monthly driver reports based on the scoring system.
“Each time our drivers get behind the wheel, they earn points for operating within the guidelines of our new driving program,” says Tobin. “We also penalize for elements of driver behavior we consider unsafe or burns fuel unnecessarily.”
Yankee Trails pays out the cash rewards program quarterly, in which drivers may earn up to $500 over a three-month period. The company says the fuel savings from the improved driving habits make it a win-win situation.
Yankee Trails says it also adapted the MiX DBM solution to help meet payroll challenges. Before, the company paid its drivers by the hour or by the mile, whichever was greater. Each driver maintained the mileage and time data and recorded it on mileage sheets. However, the Yankee Trails human relations department says managing the individual mileage sheets was a constant battle.
The DBM solution tracks the mileage electronically based on the time the bus returns to the station and shuts down. It does not require input from the driver.
“Vehicle tracking is only one capability of this technology,” says Tobin. “This technology has shown our company a new way of doing business.” BR