Collection Software for Vehicle Tracking, Maintenance, and Management

Using software to lower production costs and increase efficiency

Photos: GPS Insight

There’s an old saying in the solid waste industry that a waste management company does not make money by picking waste up, so much as it does by putting it back down again. That is to say, the labor-intensive act of collecting waste is not as profitable as capital-intensive disposal operations. This, of course, is an over simplification, and no solid waste operation can make any profit at all at a landfill until the waste is delivered in the first place. But a waste hauler needs to take advantage of any productivity tool that is available, because only thorough improved efficiency and production can this part of the operation stay profitable and competitive.

And the one tool that maximizes its own return on investment—providing the biggest productivity bang of the investment buck—is collection software that helps manage vehicle tracking, maintenance, and management. But before committing to a particular suite of software tools, waste haulers have to ask themselves: What should organizations be considering when putting together a package of collection software for vehicle tracking, maintenance, and management?

They then need to discuss the priorities that go into the decision-making process: What is the balance between safety and efficiency, and how will the software work to satisfy those needs? Finally, how effective is the technology when it comes to cost savings and safety?

Factors Affecting Waste Hauling Costs Productivity, and Efficiency
A typical waste collection truck racks up 20,000–30,000 miles annually at a fuel consumption rate of less than 3 miles per gallon of diesel, consuming up to 10,000 gallons each year. For 2016, the price of diesel fuel varied (depending on location) from $1.861, to $2.828 a gallon, with $2.34 as a planning average (Source: On-Highway Diesel Fuel Prices, Energy Information Administration).

Using average costs and mileage, the annual fuel costs alone of a single waste hauling truck would be approximately $19,500 (25,000 miles ÷ 3 miles per gallon = 8,333 gallons x $2.34 per gallon).

Total operating costs of a waste collection truck fleet can be staggering. A study performed for the City of Pittsburgh summarizes these costs as follows:

For fuel expense, we use a nationwide estimate of annual fuel use for garbage trucks that places consumption at 8,600 gallons per vehicle. Thus, with 50 trucks and $4 a gallon for fuel, garbage collection would require $1.7 million for fuel. Vehicle capital cost is somewhat more difficult to derive. Garbage trucks suffer a lot of wear and tear, creating the need for relatively frequent replacement. Assuming an average useful life of eight years and a cost of $170,000 per new truck, we put the capital costs of garbage trucks at around $1.6 million, very close to the estimate contained in the Mayor’s 2004 forecast. This estimate does not include maintenance expenses, which are estimated at $1.5 million per year using a budget note reference that maintenance will average about $30,000 per vehicle…. However, even without an assignment of these overhead costs to garbage collection, the total cost of collecting residential garbage in the City is placed at $23,257,000 for 2008. That amounts to $202 per household for the estimated 115,000 households being served (“The True Cost of Garbage Collection in Pittsburgh: Can the City Compete with Private Contractors?”, Allegheny Institute Report #08-02, July 2008).

Vehicle equipped with a GPS Insight tracking solution

Vehicle equipped with a GPS Insight tracking solution

The above total includes labor costs such as $2 million for workers fringe, and $7 million for workers compensation. These three costs (labor, fuel, and maintenance) determine the overall costs of collecting waste. The average annual waste collection cost per truck works out to approximately $465,000, with each of the 50 trucks in the fleet servicing an average of 2,300 households.

So, anything that can be done to minimize overall costs by minimizing the number of trucks and crews needed to perform the same amount of work will positively affect the operational bottom line. There are several factors that can affect this overall cost rate, but the key to achieving this is maximizing the operational efficiency of each truck. This, in turn, is achieved by eliminating—as much as possible—the movements made, distances travelled, and time spent on the collection routes. This allows more waste to be picked up per hour and more households serviced per shift, all the while using less fuel by travelling fewer miles. These savings lead to further savings in minimizing the need for maintenance and reducing the number of crews. (The size of individual crews is more a function of how automated the actual curbside waste pickup operation is.)

These estimates remain averages only. Actual operational parameters and costs can vary widely with: population density, road net availability, use of transfer stations and material recovery facilities, location of landfills, weather and seasons, the efficiency of landfill disposal operations and resultant truck queuing at the landfill entrance gate, waste compaction densities achieved by the collection trucks internal hydraulic compaction system, type of pickup (residential, commercial, or rolloff), etc. There is no such thing as a perfectly efficient hauling route, and some time and effort will always be wasted out on the road. What vehicle management and tracking software can do—when employed correctly—is minimize any inefficiency in waste collection and hauling operations as much as possible. The first step is knowing where the trucks are at any given moment.

GPS Positioning and Navigation: How Does it Work?
A GPS is part of a larger system, the Global Navigation Satellite System, developed during the Cold War by the Pentagon for military applications that pinpoint the location of ships, tanks, and aircraft equipped with a dedicated GPS receiver antennae. With this technology, locations of vehicles and equipment can be determined with an accuracy of less than 30 centimeters (1 ft.). The heart of the system is a series of 24 satellites in geosynchronous orbit (one each for every 1-hour time zone, or 15 degrees of longitude) that cover their individual band of the Earth’s surface from pole to pole while orbiting twice daily, making one orbit every 12 hours. As they orbit, they continuously emit a unique time signal to the ground surface.

A geosynchronous orbit is defined as: “A geostationary equatorial orbit [GEO] is a circular geosynchronous orbit in the plane of the Earth’s equator with a radius of approximately 42,164 kilometers [26,199 mi., measured from the center of the Earth]. A satellite in such an orbit is at an altitude of approximately 35,786 kilometers [22,236 mi.] above mean sea level.”

At the speed of light (299,792 km/sec.) the signals reach the Earth’s surface, straight down along the shortest path in approximately 0.12 seconds. Signals from adjacent satellites take slightly longer to reach the same point on the Earth’s surface. This time lag allows for a precise measurement of the distance between the emitting satellites and the ground-receiving antennae. Triangulation between the ground receiver and signals from four or more satellites gives the precise location (northing, easting, and elevation above sea level) of the vehicle or equipment being located.

Picking the Right System
What should organizations be considering when putting together a package of collection software for vehicle tracking, maintenance, and management? This would seem to be a no-brainer, since nearly every public works process can be enhanced by using geographic information. These obvious advantages explain why more and more municipalities are looking to route optimization to visualize their data to improve the effectiveness of field operations.

The real question isn’t whether or not to use GPS tracking, but which system is the best for the operation. So, when issuing a request for proposal (RFP) for procurement of a GPS routing and tracking system, the buyer needs to know what to look for. This requires the buyer to do a little research and compare the available option prior to final selection. The more advanced fleets have moved beyond simply connecting their vehicles, to focusing on camera/vision technologies integrated with telematics, as well as optimizing routes and schedules and mobile worker enablement. They have moved beyond basic telematics, to integrated routing, navigation, and mobile workforce management solutions on one Mobile Resource Management platform. The benefit of an integrated single-cloud software solution to run the mobile business is more important than ever.

The ability to interact with back office and front office software solutions with an open telematics API platform is critical as well. Connecting telematics data with applications such as order/dispatch systems, HR systems, CRM systems, and ERP systems allow for the optimization and automation of key business processes that drive efficiency, utilization, and profitability. Advanced fleets are also embracing open mobile devices, such as Apple and Android, versus closed proprietary telematics appliances that do not provide for the flexibility and innovation demanded by today’s rapidly changing competitive environment.

But, before the buyer examines the potential system offerings, the operator needs to examine their own operation. What types of routing tasks does the fleet need to manage? Does the operator need residential and commercial waste collection? Does the operator plan to optimize bulky waste collection or other work orders? What are the most pressing issues (creating better balanced routes in large residential areas, balancing commercial service of varying frequencies and patterns, cost reduction factors such as minimizing travel distance and keeping on top of vehicle maintenance needs, reducing over time and other labor costs, or improving safety, etc.)?

Once the desired capabilities are known, they can be prioritized and weighted in an evaluation matrix to optimize the purchasing decision. Armed with this self-knowledge, the operator can then examine the status of current commercially available technology. Lastly, the operator should examine the general repudiations and capabilities of potential suppliers. This last bit of research requires some legwork since everyone looks good on the paper. The operator should speak to references if any are available, find out how long they have been in business, and determine if the supplier is the creator of the software or a partner/reseller.

These steps will allow the buyer to frame a set of possible solutions. Now the operator is prepared to write a tightly focused RFP that will meet specific needs. It can take six months to a year for a response to be received and properly evaluated. After proposals are received from potential suppliers, the operator has to rate how well the proposals match the requirements. Concerning the purchase itself, will the software acquisition be sole source (choosing a software package from only one vendor), or involve piggy-backing (riding on another agency’s contract—assuming all deliverables are equal and compatible)?

Of even greater concern than cost considerations is safety. Nothing should be done to compromise safety. Like avoiding maintenance, maximizing efficiency at the expense of safety is a false economy, especially since human injury—even human lives—may be put at risk. Keys to maximizing safety involve minimizing the need for U-turns, driving in reverse, keeping collection on the safe side of the truck, and reducing the manually hauling distance of waste cans to the collection truck. Most accidents take place when employees are walking in the path of the truck or crossing traffic. Sometimes these cannot be avoided, but every effort must be made—even at the expense of immediate efficiency.

So, an operator must strike a proper balance between safety and efficiency. Though safety remains paramount, both aspects are critical to successfully running a truck fleet. As Ryan Driscoll, marketing director of GPS Insight, explains:

As for safety, one of the most dangerous maneuvers a driver can make in a big waste truck is to go in reverse. Many fleets have no reversing policies with almost no way to enforce them. Vehicle tracking software can actually detect when a vehicle is in reverse and alert the driver that he is in violation, and also alert management which driver is in violation, when, and where. This way, drivers can be held accountable for dangerous driving behaviors such as reversing. GPS tracking data also monitors driver behaviors like speeding, hard braking, and rapid acceleration to determine who the most at-risk drivers are.

As for efficiency, the lowest-hanging fruit is to improve routing efficiency. Many waste management fleets have drivers that overlap routes regularly, which is putting unnecessary mileage on the trucks, wasting time, and wasting fuel as well. Management can use vehicle-tracking software to examine routes and determine where improvements can be made. Another way vehicle tracking improves efficiency is that dispatch no longer has to guess where a truck is located and doesn’t need to call drivers for status updates, route changes, or one-off pickups. Dispatchers can dispatch and communicate all from within the software. Waste management fleets can also share their routes with the public/customers if they wish. This will reduce the number of phone calls, making the office team much more efficient. Integration with fuel cards, maintenance software, accounting software, and many others improves efficiency as well. Sharing data between platforms makes managing a fleet much more efficient.

Operationally, matching the right system to the needs of the hauling company requires answering five key questions:

  1. Does the software system actually do its job? Does it meet the business needs of its user, in that it provides a fleet manager with the information and data he needs to effectively manage truck maintenance and repair, improve route efficiency by reducing overall travel times, while improving safety and reducing accidents?
  2. Is the software system user friendly? Can it be learned quickly? Is it easy to use?
  3. Does it utilize a fine-tuned GPS installation that allows for superior accuracy?
  4. Is customer service provided, and is it of superior quality that it actually provides help with problem solving? Is it readily available at all times, and is there a dedicated US-based account manager, specifically for adressing problems and needs?
  5. Does the software come with a pilot program where the owner can do a dry run (a 30-day trial is typical) and test the capabilities of the software prior to purchasing it?

In other words, the main priority in making a GPS software purchase decision is what the anticipated customer experience will be using the software once it is installed. In short, is the GPS tracking software worth it, and how effective is it? The cost of a GPS tracking system pays for itself usually in less than a year. Its data allow individual drivers and fleet managers to minimize fleet operating costs for fuel, labor, maintenance, insurance, etc.. Indirectly, the system protects both the driver and manager from customer complaints by providing hard data concerning the vehicles movements and whereabouts in real time. For example, GPS data can exonerate a truck when a customer complains that his vehicle ran over a mailbox or missed his appointed waste pickup. This ensures superior customer service while minimizing the occurrences of complaints and the amount of time needed to deal with upset customers when they occur.

Major Suppliers
Cro Software provides asset management system software specialized for the waste, recycling, logistics, and service-based industries. This Cloud-based interactive system links customers, drivers, dispatchers, and management via a simple user interface designed according to research performed on user/software interactions. Administrators and fleet management are provided live overviews of vehicle locations in real time, as well as historical data (truck data, driver data, interactive graphs, etc.), that allow them to effectively manage locations and mobile assets. Dispatches are given a tool that provides route building, as well as route optimization functions. Real-time GPS tracking allows for efficient dispatching, yard management, mapping, and scheduling.

Out on the road, drivers can access this system easily on a smartphone via an app that provides destination planning, images, directions, and live data updates. The drivers perhaps benefit the most from the flexible planning capabilities of this app. The easy-to-understand format provides straightforward data displays with up-to-the-minute communications, instructions, and data. Included is a list of all the trucks currently assigned to the fleet, with each driver seeing a list of their pickup requests, including relevant information (addresses, images, notes, material types, calculated weight loads, etc.). Destinations are shown via route maps that visualize location and most efficient travel directions.

GPS Insight provides flexible vehicle and asset tracking solutions for commercial and government fleets. The company helps waste collection fleets reduce costs and risk, and increase revenue. These solutions are tailored based on fleet sizes, depending on the number of trucks being operated.

Fleet vehicles with GPS Insight tracking software

Fleet vehicles with GPS Insight tracking software

For fleets of 1 to 25 trucks, there’s the Standard system. This system is designed for small businesses looking for a simple, yet cost-effective GPS tracking solution. The Pro system—designed for moderately large fleets of 25 to 500 trucks—is intended for businesses that need a more sophisticated GPS tracking software personalized for each user with more at-a-glance metrics. For large fleets of more than 500 trucks, the Enterprise system is for fleets with a complex business structure requiring highly customized data to efficiently manage. The hardware used to run this system includes vehicle tracking devices and asset tracking devices. Alerts and reports are provided on flexible dashboard displays.

Another company, RouteSmart Technologies Inc., provides route planning and optimization solutions for high-density residential workload balancing, commercial service routing, and rolloff pickup for the waste and recycling industry. Used by more than 200 major municipal and private waste haulers worldwide, the RouteSmart for ArcGIS routing software meets truck management goals by decreasing miles, maximizing stops and lifts per hour, balancing workloads across the week, reducing overtime, improving safety, speeding route planning time, and modeling new service areas.

RouteSmart software solutions provide controls for balancing residential waste and recycling collection days for a fleet of rear- and side-loaders. The software efficiently performs the time-consuming process of residential routing, allowing the user to balance weekly workloads and optimize hauling routes. RouteSmart Multi-Day routing tools manage commercial routing operations by optimizing varying frequencies of service, while rolloff route optimization manages everchanging rolloff pickup routes. By providing same side service routing, U-turn minimization, and street barrier/construction information, RouteSmart improves safety performance.

These abilities have been confirmed by customers of RouteSmart. “By following the routes, the drivers know exactly where they need to pick up,” says Gaye Belles, GIS specialist for the City of Richardson, TX. “They don’t need to guess which street they need to hit, or where they need to go. And, it increases their efficiency—it saves them a lot of time—so they really like the routes.”

John Sowl, of Western Disposal, also states, “By using the tool to organize ourselves and our data, it trickles down to a more consistent, reliable service for the customer.”

In addition to time savings, money is also saved, according to Bill Schroeder, Woodbridge, NJ, who used the tool to reduce his daily routes from 20 to 14. “We are doing more with less,” he says. “Our savings in sanitation is approximately $4 million a year, which is astronomical.”

Clients effectively implementing RouteSmart have seen an average of 8–10% cost savings. Cost savings is realized through a reduction in travel distance (mileage), total work time, and overtime. A number of vehicles can be reduced, and the vehicles and personnel become more productive by improving average service per hour.

The Telogis Route Planning Suite is a planning tool for effective route planning. This suite includes Telogis Territory, Telogis Schedule, Telogis Appointment, and Telogis Plan. Together, they provide a range of planning tools that not only allow an operator to build smarter routes, but also show the operator the impact of each route option and modification in real dollars. In other words, it allows the operator to visualize the cost of proposed changes before they are implemented. Current plans and operations can be continually optimized with information provided by tight feedback loops from drivers mobile operations. Telogis Route is a Web-based and scalable to meet the needs of truck fleets of varying sizes. Being Web-based, it is easy to deploy, which saves time, reduces hardware needs, and minimizing startup costs. It can be used to create new routes while analyzing, modifying, and optimizing existing routes. Groups of routes can be organized temporally by pickup schedules, or spatially within predetermined geographic boundaries. Together, these capabilities allow for efficient workload leveling.

More vehicle manufacturers, such as Mack (Telogis is the built-in telematics partner), are choosing to build telematics into the dash as a standard feature protected by the vehicle warranty and typically provide advanced diagnostic capabilities not provided by aftermarket telematics solutions. Manufacturers, such as Hino Motors, already provide built-in telematics (called Hino Insight) that provides advanced engine diagnostics and maintenance alerts, along with a fleet management portal and mobile app. Several other manufacturers—such as Ford (Ford Telematics, powered by Telogis), GM, Volvo, Mack, and Isuzu—offer built-in telematics, and there will be more in the very near future. Telematics providers, such as Telogis, will continue to invest heavily in broader platform capabilities, such as route and schedule optimization, commercial navigation, and mobile applications that are tightly integrated with back office capabilities, workflow optimization, and automation.

Over the next five years, we will start to see more developments around IoT connections leveraging in-vehicle Wi-Fi hotspot capabilities. We will see a lot of advancements with ADAS systems to assist the driver with safety and performance related to efficiency and fuel economy. There will be significant movement towards Vehicle to Vehicle and Vehicle to Infrastructure communication. Ultimately, autonomous vehicles capabilities built into vehicles that telematics providers will leverage to continue to improve efficiency, safety, and productivity. MSW_bug_web


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