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Pointing haulers in the right direction

Latest telematics from providers such as Routeware continue to improve collection efficiencies

Pointing haulers in the  right direction

Whether for a private operator or local municipality, waste and recycling hauling operations invariably cover a lot of ground. Growing populations, greater numbers of businesses requiring contract haulers, and increased participation in recycling programs are all driving the need for more, and improved, hauling operations. 

Fleet managers trying to find the best bottom line possible are increasingly turning to the latest, sophisticated telematics and software solutions to reduce expenses, monitor vehicle performance and ensure their drivers and the routes they travel are managed as efficiently as possible. Route management software and tools continue to develop and improve the way by which trucks get to their clients and back to the yard.

The advent of telematics has meant a sea change in how route management can be implemented, both in the office and in the cab of the truck.

"Comprehensive route management tools lead to fewer trucks and lower labour costs because they increase driver productivity," said Tom Malone, CEO of Routeware, the Portland, Oregon-based provider of solutions for route management. "A driver that can safely do 1,000 pickups a day is more profitable than one that does 800. Operator productivity drives fleet expenses and truck count up or down, so it's sensible to measure and manage factors that affect productivity."

Route planning is a challenge for any pickup or delivery operation. In the past, the job has been done in the office by a manager with a map and list of customers. With a manual system, there is little opportunity to determine the most efficient way to get to and from a pickup beyond "eye-balling" distances and using guesswork. It's also very difficult to scale, when it comes to growth of the business and the associated addition of new vehicles to the fleet.

"Route management used to mean design, printing and distribution of routes to drivers," explained Malone. "It now implies the inclusion of onboard devices and analytics software that collect and compare route metrics to targets that are unique to that route. Such a system generates visual alerts, dashboards and reports that are triggered when performance to targets varies."

Changes for the better
How do route management products help reduce costs for fleets? There are a number of ways that efficiency can be improved - and some of them may be  surprising.
Fuel is of course the big cost, but one of the key causes for excessive fuel use - idling - can often be overlooked. The truth is that vehicle idling is a significant cost factor for many fleets. 

According to Sustainable America, a U.S.-based non-profit environmental organization, every two minutes of idling equals about a mile's worth of driving. In the United States, nearly $8 million USD per year is lost to idling due to an average of about eight minutes per day of vehicles sitting at idle in traffic, at drive-thrus and at stoplights. 

Route management systems allow supervisors to see when vehicles have been idle for some time. They can then connect with the driver to determine if there's a problem, so they can get that truck moving as soon as possible.

Traffic jams contribute to idling, along with late pickups and deliveries. Congestion actually costs the U.S. somewhere around $50 billion annually, according to a recent study reported on by Forbes. That's 728 million lost hours for commercial drivers stuck in traffic. 

Live traffic monitoring integrated into the latest telematics systems can help by providing alternative routes in real-time for drivers to get to and from their pickups without the stress and strain, and time lost, to gridlock.

Another time and fuel cost, that perhaps not many have considered, is left turns. Trucks that wind up waiting for oncoming traffic before they can make that left turn use fuel and lose time. 

For UPS, one of the largest delivery companies in the world, removing left turns has meant a huge change for the better.

UPS recently reported that it has virtually eliminated left turns by creating its own mapping and routing systems that rely on nearly all right turns. The company states that by doing so - only turning left when it's unavoidable - it can save around 10 million gallons of fuel a year, and reduce its CO2 emissions by about 100,000 metric tons.
These, and other benefits, are the reason that so many large firms in waste management and other industries have also embraced route management software for their operations. Once the decision is made, the next challenge can be finding the right system for the job.

Dedicated systems for dedicated industries
According to Tom Malone, there are plenty of telematics systems on the market that can provide vehicle tracking and monitoring, but for a solid waste collection company it's important that the system be specifically aimed at route management to be truly effective. "Good solutions for haulers are clearly designed for haulers - not plumbers, landscapers or generic fleet purposes," he said.

Routeware, for example, offers a premium solution that includes three key components. In the truck, an onboard computer running Routeware software gives drivers their route electronically, offers GPS guidance and collects data through both input from the driver and various other devices that may be present on the vehicle, such as cameras. In the office, a sophisticated software system provides various tools for dispatchers and supervisors and allows for the transmission of route information to drivers. There is also a billing interface included in the system.

This combination makes it easy to connect with drivers, view their progress and consider any issues that may be reducing the efficiency of that route. It also lets supervisors debrief drivers regarding their driving habits and performance, among other tasks.

"Managing with software and telematics is like placing a supervisor in every truck, at a fraction of the cost," Malone said. "Computerized route management leads to objective, evidence-based coaching that can safely cut 45 to 60 minutes of wasted time from a route."

Along with improved driver relations and communications, route management systems also provide an opportunity to improve relationships with customers. Because the vehicle's location and destination is always known to supervisors, if there is an issue, the customer can be contacted immediately and warned that their pickup may be late, for example. More efficient routing means quicker pickups when needed, making for happier clients.

Malone added that incorporating a route management system into the fleet is not as challenging as it might seem, as long as there's "buy-in," especially among a company's leadership.

"Automation usually isn't hard or complex," said Malone. "It just takes executive commitment of resources to the tedious work of automating a process that is already in place. An experienced vendor that understands the hauling business can convert an organized customer in four to eight weeks."

When to get started
So when should fleet managers turn to route management for their operations? Generally, when an organization is growing, it provides the best opportunity to get involved.
"The bigger the fleet, the harder it is to manage driver behaviour," Malone said. "It's time to computerize operations when you can't find drivers, or there's a rise in customer complaints, or overtime creeps up, or manual processing is producing mistakes, chaos and turnover."

Additionally, it's always a good idea to watch the competition closely as well - as the other guy's actions might provide a good idea as to how and when they intend to take those important steps.

"If competitors are automating their fleet, it may be time to automate yours, because their lower costs will soon show up in their pricing," Malone said, who adds that for committed fleet managers who take the plunge, those lower costs show up on the bottom line. "Return on investment may not be overnight, but it's definitely worthwhile.
"ROI is so high that few buyers trust their own calculations. A hauler can usually eliminate 45 to 60 minutes of wasted time per route, generate many more billable extras, reduce ‘go-backs' and cut customer service calls by 75 percent. Usually $1 spent on such systems generates at least $8 back - if the management is prepared to act on the data they collect. 

"A disappointed buyer is one that ignores the data, or isn't prepared to coach drivers in ways that improve results." RPN 

This article was originally published in Recycling Product News, October 2017, Volume 25, Number 7.