Improved driver behaviour cuts cost

A look at how Gateshead council is making cost savings through the use of telematics

MANAGING a fleet of over 500 vehicles ranging from cars and car derived vans to medium sized vans and up to 26 tonne trucks, Graham Telfer has been responsible for maximising the efficiency of Gateshead council’s fleet for the past 15 years. Since 2010 the Council has had to make savings of over £100 million and it faces a funding gap of over £77million over the next five years.
“We are driven by cost savings”, says Telfer. “This means we have to control costs far more stringently than in the past. That makes it harder for us to invest in technology. Going out and buying vehicles because they are eco-friendly is not something that we can sustain on that basis alone as a council.
“Instead we need to look into measures that will not only reduce costs for the council, but which will help protect our front line services, while keeping council tax levels down.”

Fleet manager Graham Telfer: Telematics has played an important role in helping Gateshead Council cut its fuel bills.
Fleet manager Graham Telfer: Telematics has played an important role in helping Gateshead Council cut its fuel bills.

The telematics system Lightfoot, which has been in place since 2013, has played an important part in helping the council cut fuel bills at the same time as reducing both CO2 emissions and accident rates.
Lightfoot has been able to do this by proactively fixing driver behaviour at source through real-time visual and audible in-cab coaching. Unlike traditional telematics products, says the firm (which carries the same name), which provide ‘after the event’ data on driver behaviour, Lightfoot’s real-time approach directly influences driving style ‘in the moment’. It empowers drivers through alerts that trigger when a harsh manoeuvre occurs, which instantly modifies driving styles.
“We’ve been very impressed with Lightfoot from day one”, says Telfer. “Funding has been the only restriction for us. I’d like to go fleet-wide, but it’s not been possible to do that under current austerity measures, which limit our ability to obtain capital to invest in what is undoubtedly a great piece of technology.”
Due to its limited budgets just 16 of the council’s 120 vans have Lightfoot installed, but these vehicles are those that Telfer describes as being most vital to the council at an operational level:
“Lightfoot is an effective driver training tool. All our new drivers use the vehicles with Lightfoot fitted to them to help get their driver behaviour up to our required level. Given that we only have a limited number of vehicles with Lightfoot fitted, we are doing what we can to make the very most of its impact on our fleet.”
Juggling these vehicles around his fleet is clearly having a positive impact, and Telfer believes that other councils could benefit by adopting a similar approach.
“Each vehicle has multiple users and we also switch the vehicles around the drivers to keep their efficiency levels up. Typically, a traffic/community warden will use the vehicle during the day followed by a security or care worker in the evening. This way our 16 Lightfoot vehicles get used by up to 32 operators in any 24 hours.”
Telfer concedes that when Lightfoot was first introduced his drivers were cautious, however once it was explained that the system was focussed on their safety and that of others then they universally welcomed it.
Telfer explains: “By working with the driver, Lightfoot actively encourages an improved driving style. If a driver is driving in an erratic manner they get an audible and visual prompt with lights that go from green, through amber and into red. Only if they choose to ignore that prompt and verbal alert will they get a violation, and that needs to be replicated three times before we get a red alert, at which point we give them additional driver training.”
This positive approach to ongoing driver development seems to be working well. According to Telfer many of his drivers focus on driving without going into the amber zone, let alone the red zone.
“There’s a great deal of awareness among our team. They want to know who’s the most efficient driver and so we encourage this by sharing and comparing driver performance against their peers. These performance levels also help us in our quarterly and annual reviews enabling us as a council to recognise success and encourage improvement.”
The vast majority of Telfer’s drivers stay within the council’s optimal green zone – which is the desired performance zone within which they expect drivers to sit – for 90%+ of the time. Those that do dip below the 90 per cent level go back into additional driver training where the nature of the violation is addressed, helping to lift driving standards and cut fuel bills.
During the initial trial period and in its first year, Lightfoot helped deliver fuel savings of 20%. Today, combined with other measures including more fuel-efficient vehicles and more fuel-efficient driving styles, Gateshead Council is seeing a 5% reduction in fuel year on year. According to Telfer, a significant proportion of that saving can be attributed directly to Lightfoot.
But it’s not just fuel savings that Lightfoot delivers. Since 2009 Gateshead Council has seen a 40% reduction in accident rates through a collection of measures, of which Lightfoot is responsible for a 6% fall.
This helps to cut many tens of thousands of pounds of repairs from Gateshead Council’s bottom line and results in fewer days lost to sickness. “On this level alone Lightfoot has more than paid for its own cost,” comments Telfer.

Residual value boost
Fewer accident rates have also resulted in a positive impact on the residual value of Gateshead Council’s vehicles.
“In the past when a vehicle went beyond its economical use to the council they had to be sold on,” says Telfer. “Panel damage pre-Lightfoot was very apparent, but combined with driver training we have seen this fall. As a result the asset is a more lucrative purchase for the buyer now. Whereas in the past we were getting hundreds of pounds for vans, we now get over £2-3,000 in some cases.”
However these are not the only benefits that Telfer sees in Lightfoot. For him, it is a practical solution to a problem faced by all councils: telematics data overload.
“As a council we simply don’t have the capacity or headcount to micro-manage data”, says Telfer. “We need to look at what concerns us most. With Lightfoot’s simple traffic-light report we get that. Anything in green is good and we don’t need to concern ourselves. Anything in amber alerts us to an issue, while anything in red is something that we need to address through driver training.”
“The print out is in a tabular format showing the drivers at the top that are performing best and those that are performing less well at the bottom. It’s easy to digest and, unlike traditional telematics solutions, you’re not overwhelmed by reams of documentation. Lightfoot also helps reduce idling time, which can be very expensive from a fuel perspective. We receive an instant readout on idling periods, we feed this back to drivers and, as a result, we have been able to dramatically cut this easily avoidable habit.