Transforming Public Vehicles into Smart Fleets can Accelerate Climate and Public Health Solutions, New Report Finds

Drive history analysis shows fleets’ ability to collect air pollution data at unprecedented scales

September 24, 2018
Cristina Mestre, (212) 616-1268,
Kelly Hall, (905) 580-2387,

(Washington, D.C. – Sept. 24, 2018) Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and Geotab today released a new report showcasing how public and commercial fleet vehicles can revolutionize the way air pollution is monitored and measured across the United States. By combining mobile air quality sensors with telematics technologies, the findings suggest that city vehicles in particular could, without changing their regular routes, measure air pollution at a never before seen scale.

“This first-of-its-kind analysis shows how public fleets can transform into urban sensing platforms and become heroes of a cleaner air story,” said Aileen Nowlan, senior manager of EDF+Business and co-author of the report. “Vehicles for animal control, waste management, and public health can play a central role in modernizing air quality monitoring and accelerating our understanding of air pollution. The hyperlocal insights generated by these smart fleets can inform solutions to address the massive health, economic and climate challenges associated with air pollution.”

Air pollution makes tens of millions of people sick each year from cardiac arrest, asthma and other respiratory illnesses – and costs the global economy $225 billion in lost labor income. Recent studies have shown that poor air quality can also have a negative impact on job performance, and vastly increase the number of sick days taken by employees.

The report, “Future Fleets: The Potential for Vehicle Based Pollution Mapping,” notes that air pollution data are currently collected by stationary monitors that are often dispersed miles apart. As a result, experts lack sufficient data to determine the true scale of problems associated with air pollution, which EDF, Aclima, the University of Texas at Austin, and Google’s work in Oakland, California showed can be as much as eight times higher on one end of the block than the other.

“Improving our ability to measure air pollution will improve our ability to manage it – and to improve rapid response rates for air-related public health emergencies,” noted Loren Raun, chief environmental science officer for the Houston Health Department, which is working with EDF test the theory by capturing data using innovative mobile sensors installed on Geotab-enabled health vehicles. “Using vehicles already driving on city roads to collect pollution data in real-time would be a game changer and could help to inform future policies.”

EDF and Geotab, a leading IoT and connected transportation company, conducted the analysis using data generated from over 1.25 million vehicles and evaluated aggregate drive histories to determine the percentage of an urban footprint covered over set periods. Top findings include:

  • In small and medium North American cities, a fleet could map 50% or more of the city with just 10 vehicles, and almost 80% of the city with just 20 vehicles.
  • Some cities could achieve 65% coverage in three months with just 20 vehicles. Even in just one month, 20 vehicles could attain 45% coverage.
  • In Washington, D.C., where there are only five ambient air pollution monitors in the city, the top 20 public vehicles covered almost 70% of the entire city in just 6 months.

“We’re in a time of transition for fleets, where technologies to make vehicles smarter and safer are rampant and cities are on the verge of transitioning to electric transportation systems,” said Mike Branch, VP of data and analytics at Geotab. “If air pollution sensors are factored into that transition, the amount of hyperlocal data at our fingertips would be unprecedented. Telematics also allow insights to be aggregated across multiple fleets while keeping the data anonymous.”

The analysis notes that hyperlocal insights could infuse urgency and inform actions to reduce congestion, support bike infrastructure, and electrify freight as well as shared transportation – not just in Houston, but in cities across the U.S.

“In Los Angeles, we are committed to improving air quality and protecting the health of our communities,” said Lauren Faber O’Connor, chief sustainability officer for the city of Los Angeles. “We are always open to innovative approaches to air monitoring that can offer us new insights into effective policies and initiatives to achieve our goals. With one of the largest electric vehicle fleets in the country, it is exciting to see that this important city asset can be part of the solution.”

The authors suggest that leading companies can also use hyperlocal insights to bridge the gap between their climate commitments and future-ready business models for mobility, decarbonized electricity, and safe, healthy communities.

# # #

Environmental Defense Fund, a leading international nonprofit organization, creates transformational solutions to the most serious environmental problems. EDF links science, economics, law, and innovative private-sector partnerships. Connect with us on Twitter and Facebook, and on our EDF Voices and EDF+Business blogs.

Geotab leverages data analytics and machine learning to help customers improve productivity, optimize fleets through the reduction of fuel consumption, enhance driver safety, and achieve strong compliance to regulatory changes. To learn more, please visit and follow us @GEOTAB and on LinkedIn.