Collection Route Optimization Through Technology and Data

Running efficient collection routes saves money, time, and emissions,  but it requires impeccable planning. Conor Riffle at Rubicon emphasizes the importance of efficient collection routes in saving money, time, and reducing emissions.

December 4, 2023

5 Min Read
Courtesy of Rubicon

Running efficient collection routes saves money, time, and emissions,  but it requires impeccable planning. There could be near countless ways to get from one service point to the next along even one route. The plot thickens when operators orchestrate a whole web of routes. How do you chase your ultimate goal—route optimization—in the face of  these complexities while fielding curve balls from traffic jams, holidays, and bad weather, to customers forgetting to put out their full bins?

Conor Riffle, senior vice president of Smart Cities, Rubicon, offers advice to fleet operators, including how technology can help.

Rubicon is a technology platform for waste generators, fleets, and material processors that’s designed to streamline tasks such as procurement and management of waste and recycling services, while providing data and analytics for sustainability reporting purposes.

Waste360: What are each of Rubicon’s products and how do they support which sectors?

Riffle: For waste haulers, including both municipal and private fleets, our platform provides fleet management and route optimization tools to help our customers improve service delivery, streamline internal operations and processes, and save time and money.

RUBICONConnect helps our commercial customers achieve their sustainability goals by maximizing diversion from landfills, driving transparency through technology and data visibility, and managing costs more effectively by improving process efficiencies.

RUBICONSmartCity helps cities and other local governments to run more efficient, effective, and sustainable operations.

RUBICONPro supports waste and recycling haulers. It can be deployed across any type of private fleet.

The key components of RUBICONPro include billing for both commercial and residential accounts, route optimization, route digitization, and work order management. The product also includes a real-time operations dashboard, route progress tracking, service verification, dispatching, and more.

Waste360: When fleets lose money on their collection routes, what are some of the most common reasons? How can they avoid these pitfalls?

Riffle: For both private and municipal clients, unnecessary repeat visits (go-backs) cause significant financial loss. Garbage trucks should ideally follow an optimized route just once per day. However, go-backs happen, often not due to driver error, but because of late setouts or blocked bins. These repeat trips cost money and increase carbon emissions and vehicle wear.

Rubicon’s technology addresses this by enabling drivers, dispatchers, and city representatives to explain non-collection to customers, often using timestamped photos as evidence. A good example of this in action is the City of Houston, Texas. Prior to using RUBICONSmartCity, missed services and inefficient routes led to frustrated residents and high fuel costs, with go-back trips up to 75 miles. Now, with Rubicon’s technology, Houston plans and assigns routes easily, enabling its Solid Waste Department to monitor exceptions, ensure timely route completion, and significantly reduce go-backs, which previously cost an average of $50 per trip.

Waste360: How can haulers reduce miles driven while capturing as much material as possible? Can you highlight a specific case and show savings?

Riffle: One of the critical features of this type of technology is the optimization of the day-to-day collection of waste. This keeps vehicles on the road for the minimum amount of time, which reduces wear and tear, emissions, and it saves money. By acquiring CIVIX and its FleetRoute software in 2021, Rubicon vastly enhanced our RUBICONSmartCity and RUBICONPro products, improving their routing capabilities through the use of advanced network algorithms developed specifically for the municipal services, utility, and street surveying industries.

One example of our fleet optimization work is with the City of Glendale, Arizona, where three collection days were optimized using our new, advanced routing capabilities that made it easy for city leaders to use the technology to develop new routes that reduced instances of overlap (driving down a street more than once). This reduced mileage by 155 miles per day. Further reductions are expected once all routes are optimized.

Waste360: What are common problems specific to waste collections and how have you adapted your technology to address them?

Riffle: A great example is the common problem of alleyway collection of waste. We would hear of associated challenges from our customers. Our products address alleyway collections by incorporating precise collection point location data into our route sequencing. They also offer turn-by-turn directions for drivers, easing navigation in dense areas and assisting new or backup drivers.

Waste360: How can analytics and data improve fleet’s operational efficiency? What bottom line outcomes have come from leveraging data? 

Riffle: This type of technology can collect data, including serviced customers, issues, miles driven, and vehicle health.

When such tools are combined with camera technology, fleets also gather information on surroundings, like potholes, overflowing bins, and illegal dumping. For example, in the City of Denton, Texas, Rubicon digitized 240 weekly routes and 120,000 stops, saving 75,000 paper sheets yearly. The city experienced a 70% reduction in unnecessary go-backs and over $150,000 in cost savings, avoiding an estimated 131 tons of CO2e emissions annually.

Waste360: Hauling operations deal with a shortage of drivers and quick turnover. What are resulting problems and how can fleet operators mitigate them?

Riffle: There’s no doubt about it, there is a shortage of drivers in the hauling space across much of the country.

Rubicon’s technology products were designed working side-by-side with our customers—yet they are also extremely intuitive.

For example, the City of Kansas City, Missouri works with Rubicon for waste, recycling, and snow operations. Facing staffing challenges, especially for snowplow drivers, Rubicon’s technology enables non-specialist personnel to navigate routes and tasks, allowing flexible scaling of the workforce. With this approach, even the city manager can assist during winter storms.

Waste360: How do you restructure and better balance routes?

Riffle: If they use our technology, cities can do this easily in the online portal. It takes just a few clicks to drag and drop large numbers of stops from an overbalanced route to an underbalanced route. We’ve found that this is a convenient feature as cities experience growth that affects the balance of their current routes, and it saves them from doing a full fleet optimization which we typically recommend they do every five years.

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