The Bloomberg administration has spent millions of dollars installing custom-designed GPS tracking units in fire and sanitation trucks over the past several years, but the system is rife with malfunctions, according to audits by city Comptroller John Liu. The GPS system has repeatedly shown fire trucks and sanitation trucks to be in the middle of New York Harbor or sinking in Long Island Sound, when in fact they were still safely on land. The city has spent as much as $56,000 for a single unit in a sanitation truck, and will continue to spend money on what Liu calls "wasted on technology that falls short of what’s promised, raising questions about the oversight of expensive outside consultants."
According to Liu, the automated vehicle-location projects are "a classic case of what not to do—build a complex new system when simple, already available consumer-oriented devices could do the job at a fraction of the cost." Fire trucks, for instance, are already tracked by computer-aided dispatch systems. And even when the new GPS units work correctly, the locations are time-delayed, which isn't much use when you're operating a speeding truck in an emergency. The city spent $7.3 million to have the units developed and installed on fire trucks.
The Sanitation Department units cost $3.7 million to outfit 48 trucks, and are intended to send real-time information such as oil pressure and battery voltage to field supervisors, who are equipped with tablet computers. The system also lets the supervisors know if a driver's lunch break has gone on too long, or if a tailgate was left open. But the tablets have a nasty habit of freezing or breaking on a regular basis, and according to the Times, one supervisor told the auditors, "No trucks tracking! Some have not tracked since July!"
All this overpriced faulty technology makes us nostalgic for the old days (i.e., the '90s—"Hammer Time"), when one man with a police scanner could hop on the back of fire truck and save the day with good old fashioned human navigation.