GPS snow plow tracking possible, but not available in RI

EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — All New Englanders know winter can get messy in a hurry.

When a big storm hits, knowing when the next plow will come down your street could be very helpful. Eyewitness News has learned that information is now available to residents in many cities and states thanks to GPS technology, but not in Rhode Island.

Both the city of Providence and the R.I. Department of Transportation have GPS systems in their snow plows to track their locations, but neither has considered sharing that information with the public.

“It’s something we may consider,” RIDOT Director Peter Alviti said in an interview.

Boston is one of many places that has made GPS snow plow tracking public, allowing residents to go online and track when their streets were last plowed or when another plow is expected to arrive.

“There’s a lot of people who want to be able to see where plows are, how many plows are on the street,” explained Chris Osgood, Boston’s chief of the streets.

Osgood argued transparency is important when wintry weather strikes.

“We have no need to sort of hide our actual performance,” Osgood told Eyewitness News. “We have an interest in actually presenting to the best we possibly can information around the operation we have going on in our city.”

Last winter, Boston launched a website to track snow plows in real time. Eyewitness News learned many other cities and states also offer live GPS snow plow tracking through a website or smartphone app, including New York City, Vermont, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia.

This year, however, Boston’s snow-plow tracking system was pulled down while the city works to fix some technical issues and improve transparency. Currently the system only tracks a plow’s location every 90 seconds, which means a quick trip down a side street could go unnoticed. Also, the GPS system only reveals the truck’s location, and not what the truck is doing.

“We think we can actually do a better job of understanding where the plows are, where they’re spreading salt, when the plow blades are down,” Osgood explained.

In the meantime, Boston is using social media updates to keep citizens informed until a new public tracking system is ready.

Eyewitness News has also learned Providence is moving to a new GPS tracking system this winter. A spokesperson said the new system is a work in progress and that there is currently no plan to make the tracking public.

Locally, New Bedford also has GPS technology in its snow plows but does not make the information available to the public. Other cities like Warwick, Cranston, Pawtucket, and Fall River do not have GPS in their trucks.