Thursday, February 24, 2011

Wirelessly Keeping New York City Streets Clean

January 2009, Government Fleet - Feature

With on-the-street inspectors and a wireless reporting system, New York City is making a big dent in street maintenance.

By Shelley Mika

With more than 8.2 million citizens, New York City is one of the world's most populous cities. Part and parcel to a city of this size is an equally large infrastructure, and just like any roadway system in cities across the country, maintenance of these roads is an important factor in keeping the system running safely and smoothly.

Clearly, the more streets in a city and the more traffic on those streets, the more maintenance issues arise. To provide more complete street maintenance and repair, the City formed the Street Conditions Observation Unit (SCOUT), a team of 15 inspectors who patrol the streets looking for maintenance problems. Armed with a wireless reporting system, the SCOUT system has been able to significantly improve the condition of New York City's extensive street system.

SCOUT Helps City Locate Problems

Until recently, the City of New York relied on citizens to report street maintenance issues, such as potholes, litter, and graffiti. However, that user-dependent system wasn't 100-percent reliable. Even though the City designated a 3-1-1 phone number, citizens tended to report only issues affecting them personally, which left the City unaware of many problems and therefore incapable of solving them.

In 2007, Mayor Michael Bloomberg created the SCOUT team. These inspectors patrol the streets daily, covering each New York City street every month. When maintenance issues are spotted, SCOUT inspectors record the issue and report it to the proper agency.

To more quickly and efficiently communicate problems to the proper agency, the City employed a wireless reporting device that electronically provides inspectors required forms, while also instantly relaying those reports to City agencies via BlackBerry handheld devices.

"We looked to TeleNav Track to improve the process of monitoring street conditions so improvements can be made quickly and efficiently," said Girish Chhugani, executive director – Program Management Office. "TeleNav Track provides SCOUT inspectors customized wireless forms for easy data entry on their BlackBerry smart phones. This information is then wirelessly routed to the appropriate agency for corrective action."

SCOUT System Enhances Quality Assurance

SCOUT inspectors also use an image capture function to take photos of maintenance items as part of a quality assurance process performed on a percentage of issues.

Because TeleNav Track includes a GPS tracking system, fleet managers can also track inspectors' routes.

"The ability to quickly customize and deploy forms to the field is a very important and unique feature of TeleNav Track. The ability to track the route of the inspectors using the Web-based management tool provided by TeleNav is also a very important feature needed by the SCOUT program," Chhugani said.

While TeleNav Track revamped New York City's reporting system, launching the program was fairly simple.

"We were able to easily customize the wireless forms to fit our specific needs and what we wanted to use them for. It only took a few hours to learn how to use the system, and we started seeing results in the first month," Chhugani said.

By pairing the SCOUT team with TeleNav Track, the City has identified a greater number of street maintenance issues and resolved them more quickly. The City continues to rely on citizens to play their part in maintaining street conditions. The 3-1-1 system remains in place, but with SCOUT on the Web (www.nyc.gov/scout), launched August 2008, citizens can view street conditions in their neighborhood and track the status of repairs to the responsible agency, allowing citizens to work in tandem with the City to keep streets safe and improve the quality of life for New Yorkers.

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