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    Miles and Miles of Safe Driving

    Aug. 19, 2019
    Still one of the hottest additions to any service company’s capabilities, GPS tracking puts safety and efficiency at the top of the list.

    As the miles add up, a service company’s need for accurate and reliable vehicle tracking also increases.

    Case in point: the 160 vehicles driven by technicians employed by Bill Howe Services – a plumbing, HVAC, restoration and flood services company — logged more than 2.5 million miles in 2018, driving to and fro within a mere 30-mile service radius. 

    To track its vehicles over that immense number of miles, the San Diego, California-based business is now using GPS vehicle tracking by Verizon Connect.

    Rhett Wheeler, operational risk manager for Bill Howe Services, has found immense value in GPS vehicle tracking by Verizon Connect. He’s an expert in this field, having managed similar needs for 15 years as a franchise risk manager for Domino’s Pizza. There, he managed operations for up to 20 franchise locations. 

    “My greatest responsibilities at Bill Howe Services are managing the fleet, managing the drivers, and making sure everybody is safely home to their families at night," - Rhett Wheeler

    “My greatest responsibilities at Bill Howe Services are managing the fleet, managing the drivers, and making sure everybody is safely home to their families at night,” Wheeler said.

    Letdown Became a Blessing The firm switched to Verizon Connect after its previous tracking provider made a major, unannounced change in its coverage contract which would have left 90% of its fleet untrackable. 

    The management team considered a half dozen or more different solutions. It selected Fleetmatics, which was later purchased by Verizon Connect in 2016.

    “Now, it’s called Verizon Connect Reveal, and it is actually a very incredible product. The user interface is beautiful. They gave us five units to test. None of their competitors did that,” Wheeler recalled.

    During the trial run, Wheeler said he could watch the trucks move on a tracking map, which was updated every 30 seconds. The program tracks vehicle speed and location and records the vehicle operator’s driving

    “I could go on for hours about the product, but hands down, it was the best product we saw. And the service contract was incredible,” he said.

    Installed in Three Days
    Wheeler said he was prepared to give Verizon Connect three weeks to install the units on what at the time was a 150-vehicle fleet. Then came a pleasant surprise.

    “Verizon Connect sent out five installers, and got the units on every single one of our vehicles in three-days’ time. They made it very easy for us to transition to them, and we’ve been very happy since,” Wheeler said.

    Any occasional service needs drivers encounter are handled swiftly, often while the truck is still in the field. 

    “They will call the technician, troubleshoot the power  cycle, and confirm that the driver is in a good cell service area. Worst-case scenario, a piece of hardware needs to be replaced, and they ship it out, in some cases on the same day. So in two days I have someone at the shop replacing the unit in the truck, making sure it’s reporting and doing everything it’s supposed to do.

    “It’s comforting to know that when I have a problem, they’re very quick to hop on it and solve it, because that’s how Bill Howe Services operates, too,” Wheeler said.

    He added that Verizon Connect has improved the company’s dispatching accuracy, since dispatchers know exactly where the teams are and what they’re doing. It allows dispatchers to see in what direction the vehicle is traveling, and who is best available to handle a sudden call.

    “Long gone are the days of, ‘we have no idea where a tech is going.’ I now know he’s driving to 123 Main Street, and will be there for four hours. Verizon Connect has increased on-the-job efficiency. There’s also an awareness by the driver that their behavior’s being watched while they’re behind the wheel of a company asset.”

    Wheeler admitted that, for a short time, “big brother is watching you” was a common joke around the company, but soon, driver awareness became part of the culture.

    “Nobody thinks about it anymore. It’s just part of what goes on. And, it helps them make more money because they’re being held accountable, and most of our technicians are paid on production. So, it’s in their best interest to get the job done efficiently and as quickly as possible,” Wheeler explained.

    Staying in Their Lanes
    Verizon Connect Reveal’s geo-fencing ability keeps drivers clear of toll roads, which in turn prevents fines.

    “If you pay the toll within 72 hours, it costs $2. But if you don’t pay it, they send a notice in the mail. Because the license plate is registered to our home office, by the time we received the notice, the $2 toll had turned into a $42 fine. So, we created a geo-fence around toll roads. If the driver can’t avoid the toll road or it’s an emergency, I can go to the web portal and pay the toll online,” Wheeler explained.

    Back at the home office, dispatchers use two monitors. On one side is their email, and on the other side is the Verizon Connect live map. All the traffic reports are enabled, so they can see where an accident has occurred, and tell the driver to take an alternate route,” Wheeler said.

    And, if he or other supervisors are away from the office, the Verizon Connect phone app will keep them in on the action. 

    Property protection and driver security are added benefits realized from using Verizon Connect Reveal.

    “One of our assets was stolen and we knew exactly where it was,” Wheeler recalled. “We reported the location to the police, and they recovered it. The tool is amazing. It can be used for just about anything under the sun related to asset tracking to preventive maintenance, such as mileage until the next oil change.” 

    Verizon Connect Reveal also records vehicle idling time, which is important in California, a state where fuel prices now exceed $4/gallon.

    Weekly safety scores are posted in the office, to help drivers evaluate their progress as safe drivers, and to help them appreciate the need for tracking, and to see that “big brother” has their best interests at heart. 

    “We post reports in the office once each week, with safety scores, which are tabulated by Verizon Connect.  The algorithm calculates miles driven and number of safety incidences that may or may not have occurred over a set timeframe,” he said.

    Verizon Connect Reveal records vehicle idling time, which is important in California, a state where fuel prices now exceed $4/gallon.

    According to Wheeler, when Bill Howe Services first adopted the program, its driver safety scores averaged in the 70 percent-range, with some in the 30s and others in the high 90 percentile (the best). This helped him determine which drivers needed driver training.

    “We coached and trained, and I did ride-alongs for days, weeks and months. We finally got everybody at a 96-97 percent average safety score, week in, week out. And I rarely have anybody fall below a 90% safety score,” he shared.

    To recognize good driving habits, Bill Howe Services presents an annual “Safest Driver” award. 

    To recognize good driving habits, Bill Howe Services presents an annual “Safest Driver” award. 

    “We haven’t had an asphalt accident in nine months, and we definitely celebrate those wins,” Wheeler said. “This tool has helped us coach our team to be better drivers. Because, before, it was all based on emotions, like, ‘this guys’s a bad driver, so I better follow him around for the day.’ But now, I have the actual science and facts, such as, ‘you had 15 hard-braking events last week, so let’s work together to fix it.’”