Fleet Finders

THE OLD DAYS OF SENDING drivers out on collection routes with an off-the-shelf map, a handful of handwritten index cards and orders to return by 3 p.m. with a scrawled record of what they accomplished are over. To compete today, waste haulers are employing route management software tools and global positioning systems (GPS) to map the most efficient routes, print daily pickups, monitor truck operations and identify every customer on their hauling list with bar codes. But just as important, managers also are using their heads. Instead of blindly following where technology leads, they are using their seasoned judgment to tweak the decisions recommended by technology.

San Diego To Save Millions

Seven years ago, the Collections Division of the San Diego Environmental Services Department (ESD) was routing its fleet to 310,000 curbside, multi-family and small business customers with educated guesses and pencils.

Then in 1997, the division bought automated vehicles and software from RouteSmart Technologies, Columbia, Md. With the software, managers conducted a time-motion study of their manual routing efforts and discovered many drivers and equipment were being under- and over-used.

So, the company re-routed collections to fit the requirements of the new automated fleet. The software enabled route planners to navigate alleys efficiently and pickup from both sides of the street, says Nader Tirandazi, ESD manager who implemented the new technology. The results included fewer routes, more equal workloads and dramatic productivity gains.

“We estimate $18 million in savings during the first 10 years of this program, compared to the cost of the old system,” Tirandazi says.

ESD also has incorporated the technology into its enterprise application suite, which includes a service request/work order system, container inventory, personnel, vehicle management tools, and a real-time landfill transaction and accounting system. The system configuration allows ESD to monitor overall route efficiency and quickly adjust when something falls out of kilter.

The routing information also is tied to the customer service database so that customers can check on pickup schedules for their addresses.

Yet still not satisfied with the quality of its fleet management, San Diego will soon add GPS technology to its system. Chicago-based ESRI, a supplier of geographic information systems (GIS) has joined forces with the United Kingdom's Peak Communications Ltd., which manufactures satellite communications systems, to track and map the routes drivers actually take. ESD then will compare actual trips with software-generated routes to make judgments about which are most efficient.

Starting With GPS

The small city of Plano, Texas, looked at the problem of fleet management in a different light. Eight years ago, the city's Department of Environmental Waste Services purchased a GPS product called FleetDirector from Teletrac Inc., Garden Grove, Calif. Believing their routes to be reasonably efficient, Plano officials hoped that monitoring and tightening the operations of approximately 46 waste, recycling and yard waste trucks serving 67,500 customers offered the best opportunity to improve efficiency.

The technology operates as an application service-provider (ASP) system. Plano pays about $40 per month per truck to subscribe to the system. Black boxes and antennas installed in the 46 vehicles communicate with a Teletrac-managed station via satellite.

The system tracks the trucks and loads this information to a Web site. Supervisors in Plano use the software to log onto the site and monitor operations. Each supervisor can pull a city map grid up on a computer to check the location of vehicles, according to David Goodson, one of Plano's five Environmental Waste supervisors. The maps display vehicle icons with unit numbers. By clicking on an icon, a supervisor can learn where a particular unit is.

“If a resident calls in about a large truck speeding through the neighborhood, I can use the system to find out which of our vehicles was in the area at that time and how fast it was going,” Goodson says. “If a driver was speeding, we'll have a prayer meeting.”

When residents call to report that drivers have missed pickups, supervisors also can find out why. “Maybe a driver is running the area before 7 a.m. and the trash containers haven't all been put out,” Goodson says. “Or maybe the resident simply forgot to put the trash out in time. Either way, I can take care of it with this system.”

Plano supervisors also pull monthly reports from the system. For example, a stationary report tells supervisors where, when and how long trucks sit in one place. “Maybe the driver has to deal with obstacles,” Goodson says. “Maybe a truck is sitting still for 30 minutes outside of a route.” By evaluating clues provided by the system, Goodson can solve problems that keep trucks from completing their routes on time.

The technology has helped Plano accommodate rapid growth. Two years after the system installation, Plano, a Dallas suburb, began to attract residents in droves, creating a new waste management problem. Since 1998, Plano has averaged about 2,000 new home building permits per year. The skyrocketing residential growth quickly unbalanced the waste hauling routes, which for years had been managed manually. But with technology, “we were able to balance our routes without adding equipment or hiring new people,” Goodson says.

The city set up 15 routes, three for each of the supervisors. Now that the basic routes have been balanced, the system provides Plano's supervisors with the ability to adjust routes on the fly — if a driver goes on vacation or calls in sick.

Of course, nothing is perfect. While Plano's routes have been balanced, Goodson says training issues in the city's GIS department have delayed implementation of a key feature that maps the most efficient ways of running individual routes. While the routes are balanced, drivers continue to run the routes the way they think best. Industry observers say that optimized routes usually need some help from drivers, but drivers also need help from software that can optimize the routes they drive.

Needed: Technical Expertise

While routing technology can increase productivity and cut costs, it takes an experienced technological hand to make it work. Keith Tubbs, operations specialist with Waste Industries, Raleigh, N.C., has been using RouteSmart technology for eight years. Today, Tubbs can eyeball an operation's routes and estimate the effects of rerouting on productivity.

Density and days of service are the keys to improving productivity, Tubbs says. “If you don't have enough density in your routes to borrow from one and add to another or to move routes from one day to another, rerouting results will generally fall below 2 percent,” he says. “At that point, you may need to consider shutting down a branch or making an acquisition.”

By focusing on both days of service and density, Tubbs generates an average productivity improvement of 8 percent in branches he chooses to reroute. For example, Waste Industries' Atlanta branch recently made a tuck-in acquisition in the northern suburbs. After the acquisition, the combined routes in the branch will be reduced by 3, for a total reduction of 17.3 percent in trucks. By modifying the days of service and then rerouting each day, Tubbs managed to squeeze three routes out of the branch while improving service.

The 14 new routes provide customers with pickups for curbside trash, recycling and yard waste. “The other company put everything into one truck,” says Mike Meuse, Waste Industries' Atlanta Branch manager. “The important thing about an acquisition is keeping the customers you get. So you would like to be able to give them a service beyond what they have had.”

Tubbs begins every assignment with what he calls a day-change analysis. He might group single pickup customers into Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday runs. Then he will group customers requiring two pickups per week into, say Tuesdays and Fridays. This is a manual process, according to Tubbs, because routing software focuses on building the best routes for a particular day.

“You might shuffle as much as 50 percent of the customer base,” Tubbs says. “This tightens the system and in some cases reduces mileage by 20 percent to 30 percent. Then you use routing software to get another 2 percent to 3 percent.”

There is a caveat: the higher the percentage of customers requiring three or more pickups per week, the lower the productivity increases from a rerouting project. “When you are less able to shuffle days, you must depend entirely on the sequencing capabilities of a routing software,” Tubbs explains.

So while the technology toolbox has grown more sophisticated over the years, it still takes the knowledge and judgment of a human being to make technology produce the most fleet results for waste hauling fleets.

Michael Fickes is Waste Age's business editor.


Global positioning systems (GPS) are not new to the waste industry, nor are they exclusive to waste collection trucks. For example, Caterpillar Inc., Peoria, Ill., uses the technology with its Computer-Aided Earthmoving System (CAES) to help landfill operators better compact trash, reduce soil cover needs and preserve site capacity. And before venturing into waste trucks, Federal Signal's FleetMinder system has been helping sweeper operations schedule maintenance better, minimize wear and tear and monitor driver reliability.

GPS is a worldwide radio-navigation system formed from 24 satellites and their ground stations. These “constellations” are used as reference points to calculate accurate positions better than a centimeter, in some cases. While GPS makes it way into industries to help track cars, boats and even fish, the bottom line is that it can help the waste industry reduce expenses.

“Downtime for trucks costs a lot of money,” says Greg Fielder, parts marketing specialist with the Federal Signal Environmental Products Group, Elgin, Ill. So although waste managers may not need constant access to every bit and byte about a vehicle's operations that GPS can provide, manufacturers who continue to serve the waste industry are betting that at the end of the day, the reports generated from such technology will be good enough to control costs and more efficiently manage the way drivers drive.
Michael Fickes


After installing a global positioning system (GPS) in its commercial waste hauling fleet, Western Disposal of Boulder, Colo., wanted to see if it could push productivity higher among trucks servicing its residential routes. So, the company installed Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Trimble Navigation's Telvisant Fleet Management System as part of a pilot program to see if it could multiply the benefits offered by GPS and routing technology.

A mid-sized independent hauler, Western collects trash and recycling materials for 35,000 commercial and residential customers in Boulder and the surrounding communities. The company fleet consists of approximately 80 trucks supplied by Oshkosh Truck Corp.'s subsidiary McNeilus Companies, Dodge Center, Minn.

The technology uses a mobile GPS communications unit to send information from the truck to a data center. The data includes geo-coded truck locations, speeds, times, numbers of lifts and the time of day for each data point. As with many GPS systems, Western's operational staff can log onto a Web site, map where trucks are in real time, check on problems related to individual trucks and generate reports on the overall fleet operation.

Additionally, the technology allows Western to import GPS location data into the company's RouteSmart routing management software, then display real-time locations of Western's trucks. “We use this to check for overlapping routes, manage container problems and address other routing issues,” says John Sowl, Western's GIS Supervisor. “For example, we can compare how the trucks run their actual routes with the routes we created [with the software].”

Although Western officials won't release details about productivity, Sowl believes that combining data from GPS and routing software is a relatively new technological capability that will add to the productivity gains he has garnered from the technology. He notes that the company's commercial trucks already are making more pickups per day or drivers are completing routes sooner.

Sowl also says that the system has improved employee morale. “When you use tools like these, you can avoid over-extending routes,” he says. “You can make sure that people finish at the same time and that no one has to work harder than anyone else. The technology levels the playing field for employees.”

Currently, the GPS/routing system is operating on 9 rear loaders, 5 front loaders and 5 roll-offs that handle commercial collections. If the residential pilot proves successful, Western hopes to leverage the benefits of combined GPS and route optimization that is operating on one truck and extend it to all 55 residential collection trucks.

“It looks like it is moving in that direction,” Sowl says.
Michael Fickes