Tacoma Public Utilities Success Story

Tacoma Public Utilities Recovers Stolen Truck Thanks to GPS Insight Technology

Tacoma Public Utilities wanted a reliable way to recover stolen or lost vehicles, and they found that exact solution with GPS tracking from GPS Insight.

Publicly owned since 1893, Tacoma Public Utilities (TPU) provides safe, clean drinking water and electricity to more than 200,000 customers in Washington, as well as owns and operates a railroad. TPU manages approximately 1400 pieces of equipment, including heavy construction equipment, specially outfitted trucks, and boats. Currently, TPU uses GPS Insight tracking devices on 500 vehicles.

Vehicle Missing

In a particular case, one night an F-250 Ford pickup disappeared from their property. They made the discovery the next morning when the work group manager sought out the supervisor to ask why the truck was missing from its normal parking spot.

“The supervisor responded that it wasn’t on the schedule for any maintenance, and they didn’t have it in the garage,” said Don Ashmore, six-year fleet manager at TPU. “He said, hang on a minute, let me look it up in GPS Insight and I’ll find out where it is.”

Instead of finding someone had just mistakenly left the truck in a different spot, they used GPS tracking to immediately discover the truck was parked at a local apartment complex.

“We started to do a little more investigating and pulling in some more information,” Ashmore said. “Using GPS Insight data, we mapped the truck’s path and could see when the truck left the yard, where it went, and where and when it stopped moving.”

Stolen Truck

Tracking It Down

Using this data, they also determined that before going to the apartment complex, the truck had stopped at a hospital in a nearby city.

“We already knew there was an accident that happened outside our gates the previous evening,” Ashmore said. “It was possible that someone left the scene of the accident and commandeered our vehicle. So using GPS Insight data, we were actually able to track the truck when it left the yard, to the hospital, to the apartment where it spent the night. We were able to track it to the exact current location due to the historical data that GPS Insight collects on our vehicles.”

In addition, TPU was able to turn over all the collected information to the police department.

“Since we were able to pin down the exact time it was taken from us, and when it was taken to the hospital, there’s the assumption the police would be able to use that data to locate the individual,” Ashmore said.

Providing Value

Though they were able to assist the police in their investigation, they were especially glad to recover the valuable vehicle.

“With GPS Insight, we were able to gather a world of data that would narrow it down to one suspect. Our part is to hand over the information and let the police do their job. We got our vehicle back without any major damage, which was really what we wanted.”
Don Ashmore

Fleet Manager, Tacoma Public Utilities

Though this is the most recent incident, it’s not the first. Prior to 2020, a TPU worker stepped away from his vehicle to take a break, and his truck was stolen.

“We were able to utilize GPS Insight mapping data, real time data, and historical data to recover it from a strip yard,” Ashmore said. “We were in constant contact with the police department during the recovery.”

Essential Services

Having GPS data to make recoveries like these is just one of the many ways GPS Insight can provide value.

“We’re very thankful to have telematics data,” Ashmore said. “For me alone, it helps promote the use of them. It helps when I sit in front of executives and start talking about the cost savings and value of having telematics on our fleet, and one of them is being able to track and recover vehicles.”

TPU needs to run effectively at all times, including having the right tools.

“We can’t slow our process down, because we provide essential functions,” he said. “We need our equipment so we can efficiently do our jobs.”

A Variety of Benefits

Though GPS Insight provides solutions for incidents like these, it also works for TPU in ordinary ways each day. Consider:

Power managers take real-time vehicle location data and overlay it with a grid map of their power distribution. When there’s a power interruption, managers can send the closest crew to fix it.
They work with inspectors who patrol 147,290 acres of remote, off-road land. Due in part to an incident where a driver had an accident but no way to communicate with the outside world, they now use GPS Insight to maintain constant contact and increase driver safety.
With the increasing energy requirements, TPU is using GPS Insight data to run reports on alternative solutions like electric and hybrid vehicles to research energy needs for the future.

Overall, GPS tracking has helped TPU save taxpayer dollars, improve dispatching, and significantly boost driver safety. And for Ashmore, the ongoing support from the GPS Insight team has played a key role in reaping all the benefits from the technology. 

“We entered the relationship with very little or no knowledge of what telematics is and what telematics can do,” Ashmore says.  “It’s been a benefit to learn as we go, and a great partnership… it comes down to the personnel working together with us to make sure we’re taken care of.”


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