Put away the pens and paper

The transportation industry is too complex to ignore fleet management systems

By David Hubbard

In this day and age, computer software programs to manage fleet maintenance and safety are shop imperatives.

Granted, an extremely organized mechanic armed with reams of paper, a filing cabinet and a limited workload can create a functioning preventative maintenance system, says Michael Hinckley, president of EasyBus Inc., a provider of onboard surveillance and data collection systems primarily for school buses, but tracking and reporting the maintenance of the smallest fleet requires the work of a computer system.

If and when that extremely organized mechanic leaves, the company faces the horrendous task and expense of maintaining transitional continuity, otherwise it leads to failed bus inspections, poor vehicle performance due to missed preventative maintenance, or worst of all — an accident.

The best-equipped, sharpest technicians can no longer compete with their computer counterparts for all work summaries on a vehicle.

Even the most organized mechanic concedes that the time it costs to summarize maintenance data is reason alone to purchase an easy-to-use preventative maintenance software program.

Hinckley suggests three areas in which bus and motorcoach operators can expect nearly incalculable benefits from a sustainable and scalable software program.

Under-inspected vehicles- According to the U.S. Department of Energy a perfected preventative maintenance schedule is the absolute best way to increase vehicle fuel efficiency by 10 to 40 percent per vehicle.

Over-inspected vehicles- School bus operators that fear being out of compliance may lump together multiple preventative maintenance measures every 30 days whether they are due or not. The truth is different engine types require different intervals for oil changes and lubes. Without a computerized system it is difficult to maintain a sophisticated inspection regime tailored to each individual vehicle.

Federal and state compliance- The cost to buy and implement a fleet management program pales in comparison to the cost of a vehicle taken off the road due to a failed state inspection, not to mention the bad press associated with having a low ratio of compliance.

It is impossible to exactly amortize these gains in fuel efficiency, decreased labor and materials use, but Hinckley says EasyBus thinks $100 per vehicle per year is a fair and conservative representative value for these areas of savings.

BatRF by Stemco
The BatRF system by Stemco uses radio frequency (RF)-equipped sensors and readers in conjunction with WebBAT, a Web-hosted data management application to collect and organize mileage and tire pressure information. The system requires no software, only a Web browser. Three types of readers provide real-time tire pressure or mileage information that transfers from the wheel end attachment into WebBAT. HandBAT is handheld, the e-gate reader reads from the yard entrance or maintenance bay, and the mobile reader connects the hosted Web service to the individual sensors on vehicles.

The modular and scalable system allows users to build custom-tailored solutions according to size and need.
Two RF sensor types feed the BatRF system. The AirBAT tire pressure sensor fits into the valve stem of each tire. A red blinking LED for each tire signals a tire with low pressure. The AirBAT sensor may be used as a stand alone pressure monitor, or with one of the other BatRF readers to automatically collect pressure information.

TracBAT electronic hubodometer sensor tracks distance. The sensor mounts on the wheel end and contains no moving parts. Specific tire calibrations are programmable along with any mileage presets or measurements. The system quickly sorts out the tires that need inflation or repairs.

WebBAT reports help the overall effectiveness of a tire maintenance program, in which rising fuel costs make maintaining tires to the proper inflation levels more important than ever. Properly inflated tires may improve fuel mileage by as much as 3.3 percent. Under-inflated tires can lower fuel mileage by 0.4 percent for every 1 psi drop in the pressure of all tires. Under-inflated tires will have a higher rolling resistance and a shorter life due to side wall flexure, the end result being more dollars out of pocket.

“A great number of bus operations still rely on mechanical hubodometers and handwritten logs to track preventative maintenance,” says Stempco president, Subin Luke. “Such systems often lead to transcription errors.”
Luke says the TracBAT and HandBAT fleets can also track fuel, coolant and oil usage.

DriveWare by Elite Systems

Elite Business Systems, Laguna Hills, CA, provides DriveWare as a means to streamline cumbersome and repetitious record keeping. Sales manager Antony Osuna says the capability to keep track of fuel tax compilations is a dynamic feature of this system.

“Whether it is for one vehicle or a multiple vehicle fleet, each state an operator travels through requires a separate fuel tax accounting,” he says. “We believe operators need all the help they can get with this process.”

DriveWare saves time by handling all the tasks associated with reporting fuel taxes for each state. The system integrates with Microsoft Mappoint so much of the work can be completed in advance as the operator takes the reservation and plans the trip. As the system calculates mileage and estimated fuel usage routing, the itinerary shows on screen.

“The driver might bring his paperwork to show any extra trips or deviations,” says Osuna. “But it is just a matter of entering that data and having the program make these minor recalculations.”

DriveWare also delivers on preventative maintenance (PM), posting reminders when PM is due on each vehicle, as well as reports when the work is finished.

Paradigm Technology

Coach Manager Express from Paradigm Technology Consulting (PTC) is a popular fleet management system among top North American motorcoach carriers.

The Paradigm Transportation Suite (PTS) and Coach Manager provide a wide array of fleet management applications to streamline driver data collection and reporting. PTS captures all the data from charter, contract and line-run and internal trips. It records driver advances and expenses, as well as mileage and fuel purchases by state.

Coach Manager focuses on charter management, while the recently released Coach Manager Express includes only the features operators of small and medium-size fleets feel they need

“The success operators who utilize Coach Manager have enjoyed over the years is now available to the entire industry throughout the U.S. and Canada,” says Paradigm president Bridgette Hobart-Janeczko. “With this release even the smallest of organizations can enjoy many of the rich features and functionality of Coach Manager.”

She says the Distinctive Systems Coach Manager products coupled with the PTS provides companies suitable quotation and price calculation features, charter and contract booking processes, complete client accounting and dispatching tools, all within a security-controlled environment. BR