St. John to keep closer eye on its vehicles with TrackNet!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

By Victoria St. Martin

A few of St. John the Baptist Parish’s vehicles are going live.

By the end of this week, administrators and department heads will be monitoring several parish vehicles outfitted with GPS tracking devices as part of a trial phase. The Global Positioning System, which has been on for a week internally to work out kinks, will be up and running after a series of meetings with employees. TrackNet – Fleet Tracking Systems based in New Orleans, La. earned the contract. Department heads and administrators will be able to “see” the location and speed of a vehicle through the system, which is linked to the Internet. A map displays the latitude and longitude of a car, while another feature details thing such as every stop the car made to the speed it had been going.

The system also could send out e-mail alerts if a vehicle goes over a certain speed limit, idles for a certain length of time or needs an oil change, said St. John Chief Administrative Officer Pat McTopy. If all goes well, the monitoring devices will be placed on the entire fleet of 160 vehicles and moving equipment — including tractors, dump trucks and bulldozers — in the next three years. The pilot program includes about 50 out of 80 vehicles, St. John public information officer Buddy Boe said. The tracking devices, which did not require council approval and cost $279 per vehicle, will reduce fuel costs and overtime, while increasing productivity, he said. The council however did approve a change to St. John’s travel policy last week, adding disciplinary measures for employees who tampered with the GPS devices. An employee will be fired after a fifth violation, according to the policy. Leading up to their termination, an employee will be given verbal and written warnings, as well as suspensions.

Boe said 17 vehicles in the Public Works Department, 31 vehicles in the Utilities Department and two in the Recreation Department have the tracking devices. Boe said the trial phase does include vehicles of supervisors, superintendents and foremen. He said after a year, if the first phase is successful, the next phase would include another 50 vehicles of managers and assistant directors. Councilman Ronnie Smith, one of the members who said he supported the effort but wanted to ensure supervisors’ vehicles also would be included in the pilot program, said he felt that an effort was made to be “fair across the board.” McTopy, a former department director in a previous administration, said he remembers each employee in the Utilities Department during the mid-80′s used a hand written sign-in sheet in an effort to monitor vehicle usage. “That was primitive compared to this,” he said, as he looked at a system map on his computer screen. “We recognized even then, there was a need to control things.”