GPS Solution Helps NYC Track Street Inspectors

By Kassandra Kania — June 06, 2008

Crime-stopping isn't the only reason municipalities are turning to GPS. New York City employs it to clean up the streets in a different way -- by tracking conditions such as potholes, graffiti, and damaged bus shelters.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg created the Street Conditions Observation Unit (SCOUT) in August 2007 to supplement the city's 311 phone information system, which allows citizens to call in with questions or file complaints about NYC street conditions, among other issues.

"The mayor wanted us to be proactive and find the problems ourselves to fix instead of waiting for people to call," says Girish Chhugani, executive director, citywide initiatives.

SCOUT consists of 15 inspectors who drive around the city on scooters looking for street conditions that need repair. Using TeleNav Track on GPS-enabled BlackBerry 8800 handsets, inspectors document the types of problems they encounter by selecting them from a dropdown menu.

Next, they enter the street location and add comments when needed. The report is then transmitted wirelessly over the AT&T network to the mayor's office of operations. From there, data is assembled and converted for entry into the 311 system as well as the appropriate agencies' ticketing system for corrective action.

"We're using the GPS to track inspectors and make sure they're covering all their routes," says Chhugani. "Inspectors also use it to navigate, fill out their timesheets, and clock in and out."

Currently, inspectors enter addresses manually, says Chhugani. "Because of the way the city is set up, 40% of the time, address information using GPS was not accurate enough for workers to go out and find the problems after the fact."

The City hopes to track street conditions using GPS in the future, but for now TeleNav Track's primary purpose is fleet management and route verification.

The City is also planning to launch SCOUT on the Web, which will allow citizens to view street conditions that have been reported as well as areas of the city that the SCOUT teams have covered based on information obtained from TeleNav and the 311 system.

"We're trying to get that out by summer," says Chhugani. "When these problems are on display, we'll be more accountable for fixing them."

Using TeleNav Track, inspectors are able to cover every city street once a month. "We haven't done any official trending," says Chhugani, "But every month we go out it seems there are [fewer] problems out there because we're finding and fixing more of them. Our SCOUTs are able to report a problem and have it fixed before a member of the public notices it."

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