BAKERSFIELD, CA - Kern County has experienced a number of benefits since implementing GPS tracking devices in its fleet vehicles, according to The Bakersfield Californian.

In addition to cutting down on fuel consumption by 14 percent over the previous fiscal year, installing GPS has boosted workers' productivity, efficiency, and safety, reported the Californian.

Since Kern County's Fleet Services department installed GPS tracking devices on 84 vehicles in all 12 divisions of the general services department, as well as another 84 vehicles in four other departments, employees are more appropriately dispatched based on location proximity, according to Fleet Services Manager Larry Werts.

Werts said the systems have helped help increase awareness about efficiency, speed, and cost savings. "It's like a placebo effect," Werts said. Fleet managers can also see when a vehicle is not moving, for how long a period, and, of course, identify a location. A few months ago, those factors helped them determine that a county worker had been snoozing in his truck outside a southwest Bakersfield restaurant. The issue was promptly addressed.

Werts said issues revealed by GPS have even resulted in an employee's termination.

On the safety side, Werts said the county was able to locate a county worker whose truck had broken down in an unfamiliar location in Red Rock Canyon that he was unable to describe. Headquarters was able to send the stalled truck's GPS coordinates to the tow truck company, and he was promptly retrieved.

In addition to General Services, GPS-enhanced vehicles are operating in the Animal Control division (16 trucks), Environmental Health (40), the Public Defender's office (20), and Human Services (8), which has the units on Toyota hybrids that are up and down the state on a regular basis.

An electronic vehicle inspection system, known as Zonar, has also helped cut down on maintenance expenses. The system streamlines vehicle maintenance in the county's Waste Management division. Vehicles are equipped with 11 radio frequency-emitting "pucks" -- inch-and-a-half diameter yellow discs. Before the driver sets out in the morning and upon parking his vehicle at day's end, he or she scans each puck with a hand-held device. When the driver replaces the device in its cradle, information about each of the 11 monitored areas - such as braking, steering, or electrical -- is automatically beamed back to Zonar, which then generates a maintenance work order as needed.

Repairs have dropped dramatically since the discs have been installed, said Werts, since the systems identify problems before they result in larger, more expensive repairs, reported the Californian.