AVL/GPS systems help optimize snowplowing

Automatic vehicle location (AVL) systems using GPS are creating opportunities for local agencies to improve their operations even in real time. A five-page guide and a video from the LRRB highlight the features and benefits of such systems for snowplowing. 

Snow plow driving through snow

Several local agencies in Minnesota have deployed AVL systems, collecting varying levels of data. System costs depend on the data points collected, frequency of data collection, and level of analysis specified by users. Typical fees are $20 to $30 per month per unit; other systems eliminate monthly fees and are deployed at an annual cost.

Besides cost, agencies considering a system should determine how they want to use the data, what performance measures are important to their operations, and how often they need to retrieve data. Performance measures may include route completion time, material management, and idling time. Another key factor is how the system will be introduced to staff and integrated with existing practices.

Benefits reported by the Minnesota agencies include faster route completion and better route equity or balance (in time and miles). Playing back events can identify deadhead or duplication miles, providing data for staff training. 

Other benefits extend more directly to the public. By knowing where all units are in real time, agencies can improve safety and emergency response time. The data can also help respond to the public about route status and other questions. For example, Crow Wing County’s “Where’s My Snowplow” app has made operations more transparent and built public trust. (The app tied for second place in the 2022 Minnesota Mousetrap competition.) 

The LRRB guide closes with this note: “The biggest lesson learned was that the local agencies and their dedicated maintenance staff know and understand their system the best.” When aligned with performance objectives, AVL data helps them optimize operations—and benefit the public. 

The video gives highlights of AVL systems and shares how Crow Wing County, St. Louis County, and the City of Crystal are using the technology. 

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