New Brunswick

Saint John plows will gather data while clearing snow

When winter comes and snowstorms start, the plows in Saint John will do more than clear city streets.

Information will be analyzed to help make snow-clearing more efficient

Software has been installed in 66 pieces of snow-clearing equipment to collect data on distance, speed, use and other factors. (Bobbi-Jean MacKinnon/CBC)

When winter comes and the snowstorms start, the plows in Saint John will be doing more than clear city streets. 

The plows will be recording data with AVL tracking software, and the city's department of transportation will use it to optimize plowing routes and operations. 

The project is one of five to receive funding through an innovation challenge hosted by Enterprise Saint John.

A partnership was formed with computer consultants T4G for in-kind support for data analysis.

Jeff Hussey, the deputy commissioner of the department, said each winter is a challenge because of unpredictable weather patterns. 

"We can't base our operation on predictions because every storm is different and every storm is unique." 

The geographical area of the city, construction, roads being down and other factor also affect the plows' routes and timing for getting the streets cleared.

Hussey said the data gathered in the AVL system, which is like a black box, will let the city know what the workload will be for each plow on each route. It will provide information such as location, speeds and whether the salter system has been on or off.

The AVL system has been installed on 66 pieces of equipment. 

"Then we'll take all that data and run it through an analytics program and be able to build a model that will allow us to throw injects in at particular points to see how we can optimize our routes." 

When plows fail

Hussey said injects describe downed plows and snow-removal equipment that can't be used on their routes and have to be replaced with other equipment. 

"If equipment A goes down and it's on route A, then how's the frontline operation going to handle covering route A  when that truck is out of service." 

Jeff Hussey, the deputy transportation commissioner, said it's hard to plan for each winter when the weather is so unpredictable. (Bobbi-Jean MacKinnon/CBC)

​Hussey said if a plow is out, the system should be able to tell staff how they can divide the work among other plows, so the work gets done within the set timeline. 

Partial data was recorded last year, and Hussy said this winter will give the city a full season of data to use. He added that the little bit of data it already has showed there were all kinds of injects staff weren't even aware of. 

It also showed how long it takes to do general maintenance on the plows. 

"T4G will take all that data and run their analytics on that and start building that program." Hussey said. 

"It will tell us how efficient we are in our processes as we stand today, and what efficiencies we can make in the future."

With files from Information Morning Saint John