Should Refuse Drivers Compute?

If you've decided to implement a computerized collection system (CCS), the next challenge is to determine the level of involvement truck operators will have with the system. Most private haulers and municipalities have based their decisions on management style and philosophy rather than logistics and equipment.

A CCS includes on-board equipment that automatically identifies the customer and weighs residential and commercial waste. Office-based computer equipment charges customers based on the weight of the trash, which can result in a more fair distribution of fees and provide an incentive to recycle. A weight-based system can also provide managers with more data for making decisions.

One way to identify the customer is to attach a radio frequency tag to the collection container and to mount an antenna and reading device in the truck. As the cart is dumped, the radio frequency identification (RFID) method reads the serial number, which is later matched to the customer for billing.

To avoid slowing down the collection process, scales must be able to weigh the waste while the truck is in motion. While scales have been available for several years, the weight is not considered accurate for billing unless it is NIST-approved, or certified "legal for trade" (for additional information see "Approving In-Motion Scales: Dream or Reality," World Wastes, August 1994.)

A device mounted in the cab of the truck records the serial numbers from the radio frequency identification reader, the weight data from the scales and the container record information entered by the operator. This valuable information is collected in a transportable memory module or it is held in memory until it can be radio-linked to the host computer in the solid waste management office.

The host computer then sorts and tabulates the data to bill customers according to weight. It also can recognize or credit customers for recycling program participation, generate driver performance reports, provide route statistics and note damaged containers.

Logging On Determining the extent of driver involvement may differ for residential and commercial routes and can vary from zero to full interaction. The weighing and radio frequency identification processes require almost no involvement from the truck operators, and the host computer can be operated by in-house employees ranging from office clerks to the hauling company's owner or operator.

Electronic equipment and scales can be mounted out of sight and data can be transferred from the truck to the office automatically through the airwaves. This system does not require additional operator training or the expense and inconvenience of equipment repair. However, the zero-involvement system usually can't gather as much information and neglects the operator's full potential.

To further involve the driver, the operator can record specific information. For example, truck operators can note damaged carts by pushing the "damaged" button, which is wired to the electronic system in the cab that sends the information to the host computer.

The container often can be replaced before the customer complains. A "misplaced" button records inaccessible containers, and the "extra" button records extra pickups of bagged refuse or recyclable material. A "recycle" button allows the operator to tag the pickup as recyclables. Some cities have suggested a "dirty can" button to signify that the container needs cleaning and disinfecting.

The buttons can be modified according to the information you want to track. Some managers find this level of involvement to be a cost-effective tracking system, while others feel that it slows down the collection process.

In a fully interactive system, the host computer sends route addresses and notes to the truck operator every morning. The display replaces the route sheet and, particularly for new or substitute operators, acts as the route guide. Route notes can include special pickup instructions, unique container locations, canceled or slow-paying accounts or the complaint history of each residential account.

Some managers request that the electronic system in the cab be tied to a city-wide radio system to transfer information to and from the truck while it is en route. This way, the home office can send updates, even while a complaining customer is on the phone.

In addition, the cab system can be equipped with a printer to invoice customers on the spot. While this system can impede the waste collection process, it makes billing easier. On-the-spot invoicing appeals to commercial and specialty haulers whose operators are already involved in customer interaction.

The fully interactive system diversifies the role of operators, opening the door for them to participate in customer satisfaction and route data collection.

Some managers view computerized collection systems as impractical; others feel that operating the controls on the truck dash is as simple as programming a VCR or cooking microwave popcorn. The only right answer is the one that makes you the most competitive and responsive while matching your management philosophy.

The data collected from a computerized collection system (CCS) can become a powerful management tool. A CCS can help improve work environments as follows:

Safety. To ensure the safest work environment possible and comply with the ever-increasing OSHA standards, a CCS is available when management is not. A manager can compare the number of hours worked with the number of stops to determine if the trucks are traveling within safe speed limits and avoiding potential accidents.

Training. A CCS helps to identify areas for additional training by monitoring a program's effectiveness immediately following the session and again 90 days or six months later. Data can validate how quickly procedures become part of a driver's everyday routine.

Performance. Managers with employees working off-site know how challenging it can be to measure, reward or address employee performance. Managers can't monitor individual employee activities, but a CCS can compare optimum levels of performance with actual performance. Hard data allows for objective discussions during employee reviews and can document problems for future disciplinary action.

Communication. A system that allows two-way communication between management and operators reportedly leads to improved performance, a reduction in lost time and a lower turnover rate. Although managers spend a lot of time planning routes, they can't predict congestion and other traffic concerns. Good drivers often modify their routes accordingly and, since a CCS tracks a route exactly, drivers and managers can discuss such modifications and deliver better, faster service.

With a CCS's "third-eye" perspective, managers can meet the needs of their most important asset, their employees.