Smart trucks: Improving operations with well-equipped collection vehicles

Much of the technology municipalities and haulers tap to help meet solid waste and recycling challenges center on the collection vehicle itself.

Enter the smart truck.

A smart recycling or garbage truck is equipped with sensors, cameras, and other technology that allows it to receive and gather information as it travels through the city. Smart trucks help drivers deliver routes more efficiently and effectively with onboard computers that provide turn-by-turn directions and enable operators to mark skips and make notes with the touch of a button. In turn, communication between the smart truck and the office is enhanced: Office staff can see where trucks are located in real time, see images and videos captured along routes to help answer questions when they call, and dispatch helper vehicles on the fly, saving time and money while increasing safety. In turn, waste leaders use telemetry data collected from trucks to better understand what’s happening on routes, to coach drivers who need help, and to reward high performing, highly valuable drivers.

In the municipal space, smart trucks allow solid waste leaders to optimize the waste collection process, many times as part of larger smart city goals.

Smart waste collection as part of a broader smart-city strategy

While smart city initiatives are most commonly aligned with traffic, transportation, power and utilities, sanitation fits within the framework. Likewise, smart trucks that collect data and send it back to public works for analysis fit neatly within parameters of the integrated, smart city model.

A writer for Forbes painted the picture this way: A traditional city is like a series of silos. Housing, transportation, streets and sanitation are stand-alone departments united under one mayor and city council. A smart city, by contrast, is a system of systems, wherein each city function or department is tied to the others. This creates a single web of information and an integrated view on things.

Most smart cities employ interactive technology via the Internet of Things (IoT) — including sensors, meters and other autonomous electronics — to gather data and transmit it to city centers where it gets analyzed to help optimize operations. Clearly, smart trucks have a role to play here.

While the term “smart city” is now older than many of the technologies used in its service — the term turns 23 this year — employing technology alone does not make a city smart. For example, cities that tap into technology but do not use it to transmit or collect information are not smart cities; they are simply cities that use technology. The same goes for cities that use technologies managed by other organizations or entities. To be deemed a smart city, it is understood that municipalities or government entities must be part of the data collection and transmission process.

Smart haulers tap technology to solve problems, improve the bottom line

When it comes to streamlining operations and capturing lost revenue, haulers generally report that strategic technology pays for itself in 12 to 18 months, and dividends continue to add value to the bottom line in the months beyond.

Technology helps  haulers identify and fix some of the most expensive mistakes they’re likely to make while growing their businesses, and turn those issues into opportunities:

Track go-backs: Avoid or recoup the cost of returning to a location to make a collection

Without seeing what’s happening at the curb, haulers can’t reduce go-backs — or charge for extras.

Haulers like Gaeta Green Environmental Services in Staten Island, New York, rely on truck cameras that gather photos and video at every stop — in tandem with onboard computers that keep drivers and office staff in constant communication. This empowers drivers to skip non-compliant collections and gives customer service representatives the irrefutable evidence they need to push back on expensive go-backs (or charge for them).

Plus, photos from the curb allow managers to see what’s happening there so they can properly address problems before they escalate.

Understand where you’re losing on extra collections — and start charging for them

An extra bag of yard debris here, a Christmas tree there, and an oversized item down the street. When haulers feel the pinch of increased collections but see diminishing returns, it’s often because logging extras on paper is a tedious and unreliable method that leads to providing additional services for free.

Haulers that leverage in-cab computers make it easy for drivers to log extras by tapping a button and selecting the type of “extra” from a customized list. Direct integration with their billing systems allows these charges to be automatically added to a customer’s invoice. When used in conjunction with smart truck features like photo and video functionality, haulers have proof of services rendered, which eliminates potential customer disputes, too.

Use reliable data to support running as few trucks as possible

Fleet costs are always on the rise. Trucks aren’t cheap – not to buy, lease, insure, or maintain — and increasing a fleet’s size without increasing overall workload or efficiency creates waste. By one estimate, the cost to operate a collection vehicle for one hour in 2023 is $180, or $3 per minute.

Haulers like American Refuse in Wasco, California that rely on an integrated system that includes smart truck features, onboard devices and back-office software are able to track data that reveals how routes can be made more efficient.

In one case, data showed that each driver could take on 10% more stops without increasing hours worked, thereby allowing the hauler to reduce 10% of its fleet without reducing services.

Invoice customers for all of the services they receive — and skip non-paying accounts

Without real-time account information visible inside the truck, drivers don’t know which customers to serve and which to skip. And so, in the spirit of providing excellent service, many times those whose bills haven’t been paid receive collection when a suspension would be in order.

In-cab computers let drivers know, in real time, which collections to skip and why. Skipped collection often begets prompt payment.

Retain highly valuable driving talent

Without information about drivers’ individual performance behind the wheel, it’s impossible to coach struggling drivers or reward successful ones. This lack of information leads to employee churn and subsequent increased recruitment and training costs.

Forward-thinking haulers like Pride Disposal in Beaverton, Oregon are using fleet automation tools and insights to quickly train new drivers, help those who need it, and reward those who are doing an excellent job.

Without proven tools that help identify challenges, many haulers struggle to maintain profitability and grow their business.

Whether they’re managing public or private waste and recycling collection operations, solid waste leaders who rely on modern technologies to identify efficiencies and plug revenue leaks provide better value to the communities they serve. For municipalities, smart truck technology means making the most of tight budgets and providing the best value to people. For haulers, technology creates opportunities to build a brand and scale business while staying ahead of the competition.

Learn more. It’s time to upgrade your collection vehicles with smart technology that’s built for municipalities and haulers. Let’s talk!


More Posts

Let’s learn more about your challenges.