03 September 2009

First rewards efficient driving

A friend recently told me that the new Greyhound coaches were to have the DriveGreen fuel reduction feedback system applied and that drivers of this new, potentially flagship service were to be monitored about their driving efficiency. This is a specific example of which I was not aware (nor was I aware that Greyhound drivers are to be paid £9 per hour), but First has long since signed up for the DriveGreen system, pledging to introduce it to much of its bus fleet in the UK.

Effectively, the system - also trialled with other bus companies at a splattering of depots in England - informs the driver of his or her driving efficiency using a green or red light to indicate performance. A red light means they're needlessly wasting diesel and adding excess pollution to the atmosphere; a green light shows that everything's a-okay.

As you'd imagine, trade unions have been very cautious about the introduction of this kind of scheme. There remains the possibility that drivers could be disciplined for constant inefficient driving. Generally, unions grudgingly accept the introduction of such scheme and state on-the-record that they're happy for their members to give it a go, since no contract of employment contains any sort of clause precluding a driver from having his/her driving monitored by their employer as they see fit.

First must see the savings made at its trial fleets as substantial, in excess of £2 million as this is the amount they've made available to be shared amongst its workforce to thank drivers who've been 'green' behind the wheel. First believes that this incentive will increase the proportion of its workforce willing to reduce CO2 emissions, while at the same time improve their driving skills - and lest we forget save First a packet on diesel costs!

For First to make any kind of obvious saving, the £2mil pot must not displace the efficiencies made by generating its workforce to drive more efficiently; therefore, the figure First must have estimated it could save by fitting most of its 9,000-strong bus and coach fleet with DriveGreen, will have been considerably more!

Trials have taken place at its depots in London, Glasgow and Bradford. Buses involved were fitted with GPS technology that can detect dozens of driving movements each minute and immediately informs the driver how well they are driving through the ‘traffic light’ LED monitor on the dashboard.

The driver can then make immediate changes to his/her driving to ensure buses travel more efficiently to produce fewer emissions as well as improving the journey experience for passengers. Drivers can also view the overall quality of their drive on a dedicated website where a score is allocated to each session. Many modern coaches have 'fuel economy' settings within the dashboard computer, which afford the driver details of the average and instantaneous miles per gallon.

Don't forget it was Sir Moir Lockhead who came out with my all-time favourite bus industry one-liners a few years ago in a BUSES Focus interview, instructing his drivers to ensure they "give each passenger their moment." Clearly 'their moment' is being extended to their entire journey on board one of his buses. It was an embarrassingly crass statement to make at the time, but good on him!

As part of ensuring First passengers are given 'their moment', the company has revealed that, following detailed examination of its trials of DriveGreen, a 70% decrease in unnecessary driving manoeuvres has taken place since March; that each driver has generally used 500 less litres of fuel; and that CO2 emissions could be cut by 1.2 tonnes each year. Most First buses and coaches will have the DriveGreen system installed by the summer of 2010. Working out how to reward their most efficient drivers and not alienate those classed as inefficient may not be so straightforward! (GWB)