A VEHICLE monitoring system installed by Shetland Islands Council in the spring is set to save the local authority between £30,000 and £50,000 a year as staff become better drivers.
SIC's estate operations manager Carl Symons said there has been "significant reductions" in fuel usage among the council's 230-vehicle fleet as drivers take more care on the roads.
The Teletrac Navman GPS equipment is used on a range of SIC vehicles and it cost around £134,000 to install, meaning that it should pay for itself with three to four years.
It produces monthly driver performance reports in areas such as speed, over-revving, harsh breaking and cornering, while a panic button can be used for lone drivers or people with health conditions.
The tracking system, as well as on-board cameras, can also be used in countering insurance claims as it provides accurate insights into any accidents or incidents.
"It's only been in service since April, so we are projecting forward, but we are already being significant reductions in fuel and the budget setting exercise for next year has seen a reduction in the council's fuel expenditure across all services, so it is doing what it is supposed to do," Symons said.
"What we have seen is a marked improvement in driver performance, using the driver scorecard system.
"In terms of fuel used, it's coming down, and what's also coming down is idling. We've reduced that right down. I'm told the big reductions were that they have stopped having the vehicles on while on the ferries.
"When there is no given focus on fuel reduction, and given the fact that how would we know - whereas this system says 'you are idling a lot - why are you idling' because they've got their vehicles turning over in the ferry queue, or whatever."
Symons denied there was any element of 'snooping' involved in the system, with no-one sitting watching over the tracking and more emphasis placed on reports and alerts.
"This system is all about safety - it's not about beating our staff with a stick," he said.
"I'd stand by the axiom that council workers are quite dedicated to what they do, and I'd very clear about it - the system wasn't put in place to catch people out, it was put in place to actually defend them, and to defend them from third party claims.
"The system has cameras on board and we can record the footage if the driver presses the panic button. We can actually see what the driver saw at the point of accident. It has been used three times to assist our drivers."
"The system does not instigate disciplinary," Symons added, "but it might be something we use during a hearing."
A separate system is set to be used on the council's fleet of gritters and it will give drivers information on the amount of salt used and the angle it is spread at, while it will also link into the SIC's ice stations so that drivers can pinpoint what roads need the greatest attention.
Symons said he is looking into having a tracking system for gritters and bin lorries available to the public in the future. "That would be something that everyone would see common sense in, and something we'd probably do," he said.
So were there any surprises thrown up when the monitoring system was first switched on?
"We discovered that the biggest pressure for our drivers is getting from Ulsta and across Yell to pick up the ferries," Symons said, "because at points we've seen the speeds going up.
"I think the ferry timetable is such that if the vehicle is travelling at 50, it's very difficult for them to connect from one ferry to the next."
There were a couple of initial glitches in the system too which thankfully have been ironed out.
"Some people appeared to have circumnavigated the world twice in a month," Symons said.