Navigating Routing Woes
When it comes to hauling waste and recyclables, a myriad of factors can affect safety and efficiency. From routing and analyzing traffic patterns to tracking accidents and near misses, it can be a challenge to oversee the seemingly endless variables that can come into play.
To better manage routing and logistics, fleet managers across the county have implemented software and technology designed to simplify this process. Recycling Today Media Group recently spoke with professionals in this space—Brendan Ford, an information technology specialist for the Washington, D.C., Department of Public Works; Tim Bath, director of hauling for Rumpke Waste & Recycling, Cincinnati; and Steve Rosa, the program development manager for Marin Sanitary Service in San Rafael, California—who use route optimization technologies in their daily operations. During these conversations, they discussed and the benefits of route optimization tools and what to consider when implementing this technology.
Q: What tools do you use to optimize routing?
Brendan Ford (BF): Primarily, we use [routing software from Columbia, Maryland-based RouteSmart Technologies] for the purpose of route optimization.
The other technology we use is more about tracking what’s going on in the field. That’s a technology called Rubicon, where the drivers all log onto their phones while driving their routes, and it tracks them in real time. We also have some vehicle tracking systems from [Canda-based] Geotab, so anytime there’s an accident or an inquiry into where one of our trucks was … you have an AVL (automatic vehicle location) tracking system, so we can see where a truck was [and] how fast it was going.
Tim: Bath (TB): We use RouteSmart as our primary route optimization tool. However, we also use Microsoft Excel and IBM Cognos (a web-based data suite) to help us understand our analytics data and understand where we have the need for reroutes. We also use Geotab to look out for route anomalies, like accidents and heavy traffic pattern flows.
So, we may look at our IBM Cognos data and put it into RouteSmart to see which routes are having challenges. Then we will use Microsoft Excel to combine it with our route optimization to create mail lists for our communications department to be able to give accurate customer communication and customer service.
Q: What issues were you trying to address by implementing route optimization technology?
Steve Rosa (SR): Prior to route optimization, I had always made the routes by hand. However, we were getting more and more customers woven into our system, including multifamily and commercial. On top of that, California was starting to implement new laws and regulations, [including one that requires us to provide organic waste collection]. There were just too many variable factors in constructing routes.
Also, about 60 percent of our service area is hills. [There are] really narrow streets, winding roads all the way up into the mountains and [only] about 40 percent of it is flat. Because tipping time is certainly far different in the hills on a dirt road or a small winding trail than it is on a wide boulevard, constructing routes could [take] a whole day. To properly account for all those factors, you couldn’t do it by hand anymore.
BF: Prior to having any route optimization tools, it was about as painful a paper process as you could imagine; they printed out every 311 request, and then they would start putting them in piles based on knowledge. You’d have these files, and then there was no map associated with them. So, drivers would then go out looking for these places and mapping them out on their own. If somebody was new, they were constantly on the phone, lost, not sure where they were going. It was a lot of paper, a lot of people doing routing in their heads and a lot of wasted time.
Q: What are some of the obstacles you had to overcome when implementing/operating these tools?
TB: The biggest obstacle is being able to communicate with your employees to implement it properly. These tools can give you the best directions, but if the employee doesn’t really believe in it or if you haven’t communicated with them, you’ll have challenges. By letting them be part of the implementation process, the route optimization tool gets exponentially better.
SR: The big barrier for us is, because our service area is so bizarre, the capacity of the trucks makes a difference. Some of our trucks are smaller to get up the hills. We run a lot of 18-yard trucks and then, up in the big, suburban areas, we’re using much bigger trucks, but it’s hard to balance routes. So, our service area is always the sort of the guiding parameter for us; you just can’t move things around easily.
Q: What should a company look for when considering route optimization tools?
SR: We looked for a product that would be able to handle all the potential issues that we could face. The second thing we looked for was a product with [the] ability to integrate with our customer service program.
TB: I wanted something that has easy compatibility with billing systems and our service systems. I also wanted something that had multiple options and variables that we could use. Most importantly, though, I wanted [a provider] that could truly be a business partner, meaning it understood our operations and how they functioned.
Q: What advice can you give other companies considering route optimization technology?
TB: You’ve got to find the program or the route optimization technology that is flexible to your needs. On top of that, you have to be willing to communicate with your employees to really make it work. Open lines of communication are critical.
BF: Do your research and be specific about what your needs are. Narrow it down even more: We’re routing for solid waste collections, commercial versus residential. Really understand what your problem is that you’re trying to solve. Then you’ll be able to ask a lot better questions and discuss those things with the different vendors.
SR: So, I would say that you’re really going to want to make sure that your data is in a good format. You’re only as good as the addresses that you have in the system, because they wouldn’t geocode if they’re not accurate. So, the data integrity is going to be a huge issue to this initial success in rolling out the solutions that operators hope to.
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