Taking back the wheel
The person with the most impact on how a vehicle performs is, arguably, the driver. MARISKA MORRIS finds out why.
On a daily basis, transport operators entrust their drivers with their vehicles and their clients’ goods. More importantly, the operators trust drivers to deliver the goods on time and in a cost effective way. Key to this is monitoring driving behaviour and providing drivers with training to improve their behaviour.
However, before employing drivers it is important for transport operators to vet them thoroughly to ensure that they are actually employing qualified and experienced people who will be able to do the job well.
Michelle Baron-Williamson, CEO of Managed Integrity Evaluation (MIE), says: “Having a comprehensive overview of the company’s drivers – including verifying their identification, commercial licence, criminal record and behaviour (based on past or current job performance) – is important to proactively manage the risk to the business and its continued operations.
“This can be achieved by using advanced vetting solutions that are compliant and consent-based, which will give fleet managers the advantage of making more informed hiring decisions.”
Legislation offers a good starting point for implementing company policies around drivers. By law, drivers are required to hold a professional driving permit to transport goods and passengers for an income in South Africa. They also cannot have had their licence suspended, have been convicted of a criminal offence, or have paid an admission of guilt fine.
While most transport operators tend to conduct basic checks to ensure the person’s identity, whether they have a criminal record, as well as checking their qualification and undertaking credit checks, Baron-Williamson warns that some drivers oversell themselves.
She adds: “The reality is that we live in times of great employment pressures. We’ve also found that some candidates tend to oversell themselves, or even misrepresent information that might disqualify them for the position for which they are applying.”
She advises transport operators to consider implementing stricter controls. Employers should also consider work experience with viable references as an additional requirement, or a test drive as part of the interview process.
Baron-Williamson says: “If driver information was accessible through controlled channels, and merits gained or lost had an effect on the fleet company responsible for the driver, it would result in fleet managers becoming more vigilant in their hiring process.”
Keeping tabs on drivers and vehicles
After drivers have been employed, it is important to monitor their behaviour. Harsh acceleration, braking and cornering, engine revving and excessive idling are all behaviours that can increase fuel cost, put the driver at risk of an accident, or cause vehicle breakdowns.
Monitoring can be done through the use of telematics. For example, UD Trucks Southern Africa introduced built-in telematics with its newest vehicles, which also assists drivers with fuel-efficient behaviour. It alerts the driver when their behaviour is not fuel-efficient and assists them to correct this.
Independent telematics solution providers, such as Ctrack, also offer a range of services to monitor driver behaviour including in-cab recording devices.
Hein Jordt, MD of Ctrack South Africa, notes that the company provides detailed information on driver behaviour, working hours and whether vehicles are driven for business or personal use.
“It is possible to see if vehicles are being used during prohibited times, or in prohibited areas,” Jordt says. “Vehicle routes can be scheduled and optimised for efficiency, meaning they will travel fewer kilometres and get to their destinations quicker.” The telematics solution also allows transport operators to rate drivers and export reports on fuel use and hours worked.”
Altron Netstar is another telematics solutions provider that is able to assist with fleet management software. The company partnered with the Public Utility Transport Corporation (Putco), for example, to assist the bus operator to improve its service.
Altron Group CEO, Mteto Nyati, says: “Our telematics and fleet-management solutions are driving societal impact in safety and security for South Africa.
“We are helping Putco to achieve great business results, but, most importantly, to improve the safety of its 350 000 passengers, who depend on the service.” Altron provides the public-transport provider with 24-hour camera monitoring, real-time vehicle tracking and a managed maintenance service.
“The impact of the Netstar solution on our business is one of continuous improvement,” says Jack Sekwaila, head of MCC at Putco. “Our service has become more reliable and predictable simply because shifts start on time. Drivers no longer spend hours in our massive depots searching for a specific bus. We know where every bus is, every minute of the day.
“Theft of diesel and batteries has reduced significantly, and stolen buses no longer disappear across our northern borders; instead, Netstar retrieves them within an hour. Integrated, automated systems have cut down on data processing lead times and instances of human error. This, combined with improved efficiencies, is having a direct and significant impact on our bottom line.”
To meet Putco’s need for automated systems, detailed reporting and minimising of human error, Netstar implemented its fleet solution for buses and coaches, which includes tracking and recovery units, driver identification tags, emergency panic buttons and cameras on the exterior and interior of the vehicle.
Through the system, drivers are provided with route information and can communicate with the Putco contact centre. The 24-hour monitoring and management system allows service vehicles to tend to breakdowns or accidents much faster.
“The Putco rollout is a prime example of what Altron has in mind when it says that it is in the business of delivering innovation that matters,” concludes Pierre Bruwer, MD of Netstar. “Our solution is highly technical and sophisticated, but its impact is entirely focused on improving the lives of the people who deliver and rely on Putco’s services.”