- Associated Press - Saturday, October 11, 2014

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - California’s transportation agency is spending $2.5 million to update its fleet of vehicles with high-tech gear.

The Sacramento Bee reported Saturday (https://tinyurl.com/p5kxf7z ) that Caltrans is installing GPS tracking devices on its 7,500 sedans, snow plows, trucks and other vehicles. The devices will report where vehicles are traveling, how long they idle and their speed, among other things. The devices will also track which employee is driving.

In July, the California Highway Patrol found a stolen Caltrans vehicle and arrested a thief within an hour of it going missing because of a GPS tracking device.

The devices cost $2.5 million, and Caltrans will spend another $1.5 million on a reporting system annually.

Industry experts say other state transportation agencies are expected to deploy similar monitors, and private companies are already using the technology to improve operations and hold employees accountable.

It is unclear how much money and time the new technology will save the department, Caltrans Deputy Director Steve Takigawa said. A pilot program monitoring 200 vehicles cut fuel consumption by 16 percent because workers improved their driving and maintenance of the vehicles improved. Caltrans also estimates it will save at least $500,000 each year by ending manual vehicle logs.

Caltrans managers and workers are still sorting out how to interpret and handle the new technology.

“We’re not trying to put the fear into our employees,” Takigawa said. “We’re saying that we value our employees, that this is the right thing to do, and that it’s in their interests.”

Caltrans’ largest union, Professional Engineers in California Government, say reports generated by the monitoring devices could be misinterpreted or unfairly used to limit employees’ movements.

“Our main concern is that employees and their supervisors know what’s OK and what isn’t,” said Bruce Blanning, the union’s executive director. “If you’re on an assignment in the field for a couple of days and you’re off the clock, can you take (a Caltrans vehicle) to a restaurant for dinner? To a movie?”

The union and Caltrans officials are discussing the issues and technology.

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