City vehicles roll toward tracking system

Nearly all San Francisco city vehicles will soon be equipped with “black box” tracking devices intended to collect data on drivers and their behavior on the road under legislation approved by the Board of Supervisors Tuesday.

The legislation, introduced by Supervisor Norman Yee, calls for The City to equip all city vehicles with telematic vehicle tracking systems except those used by law enforcement, although Yee said he is working on extending it to those vehicles as well.

The data collected by the devices, similar to the “black boxes” used in airplanes, is intended to help prevent pedestrian deaths by reducing speeding and encouraging safe driving. The devices will also reduce costs by helping city officials maintain vehicles more effectively, increase fuel efficiency and limit unauthorized use, officials said.

City employees will be told that vehicles are equipped with the tracking devices, so that they will made be more conscious about how they drive, Yee said.

“We will know what you are doing, we will know where you are going, we will know how fast you’re going,” Yee said.

City Administrator Naomi Kelly, who oversees the program, said The City has already installed the devices in over 3,600 vehicles and expects to have them installed in more than 80 percent of city vehicles within a year.

The City is also introducing an improved driver training program for employees using city vehicles this fall, using an interactive online program, she said.

“It’s a privilege to drive a city vehicle, and if you have that privilege you need to drive it safely,” Kelly said.

Yee said The City has spent nearly $77 million on settlements and judgments for claims and litigation related to city vehicles over the past five years.

This year, a health department employee driving a city vehicle was involved in a fatal collision that killed 38-year-old Berkeley resident Thu Phan on Feb. 5. The driver in that collision, 67-year-old James Harris of Antioch, was later charged with misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter.

A Muni bus was also involved last October in a collision that killed a bicyclist, 47-year-old Mark Heryer of Berkeley. Muni buses currently use some forms of partial tracking technology, but not a full telematic system, according to a budget and legislative analyst report issued in February.

More recently, a paratransit bus struck and killed 86-year-old Lurilla Harris last Thursday as she crossed Franklin Street at Geary Boulevard. Harris had just gotten off the bus, which was operated by a city contractor working for Transdev Services Inc., moments earlier.

The legislation approved today does not include vehicles operated by city contractors, although Yee said he is looking at legislation that would cover them. However, Annette Williams, manager of the accessible service program for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, said at today’s Board of Supervisors meeting that paratransit vehicles are city owned and equipped with mobile data computers.

Yee said he is also looking at legislation that would require sensors on large city vehicles to let them know when they are about to hit or back into someone.

Today’s legislation was approved with the support of groups such as Walk San Francisco and the Bicycle Coalition, as well as Senior & Disability Action, of which Lurilla Harris was a member.