Category Archives: Route Optimization

The “Wrong” of Route Optimization

Alright, I cannot help myself.  There has been so much news lately centered around the optimization of buses in Ottawa Canada (  It appears that the City initially intended to cut out several routes in an attempt to as they say “optimize routes” in order to save an estimated $22 million next year.  The City held 3 meetings and allowed the public to attend in addition to receiving  6,500 complaints.

Now, this is an example of the “wrong” way to do route optimization.  Simply removing routes does do anything but create a mess for the people that rely on them.  Would the City be allowed to remove several of their trash routes if it were to save the City money?  It would definitely save them money, but what of the garbage on the side of the street?  Is that the right way to “optimize routes” for the bus lines?  Are there not going to be people stuck standing on the side of the street for a bus that is not going to come there any more?

There are too many people that throw the phrase “route optimization” around that do not have a clue and frankly piss me off!  I make my living saving cities millions of dollars by “optimizing” routes not just removing them.  Shame on you Ottawa for doing this to your people and for using the phrase “route optimization” incorrectly!

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Posted by on April 19, 2011 in Route Optimization


Solid Waste Routing White Paper

I just added my “final” white paper on Solid Waste Routing to my “downloads” section on the right side column.  Feel free to download it and use it as you desire.  I would, however, appreciate referencing me if you do publish the paper.

Hope that this helps somebody out there….


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Posted by on March 25, 2011 in Route Optimization


Solid Waste Routing – Improving Efficiency in Solid Waste Collection Part 4

Right Turns

A common concept in solid waste collection is to minimize left turns and maximize right turns. Interestingly, these days it is done more for safety than efficiency — eliminating or minimizing the dangerous left hand turns results in fewer instances the solid waste collection vehicle will have to turn in front of traffic.

An excerpt from Businessweek article on March 5, 2007 called “How Technology Delivers for UPS” says it succinctly:

“Not so long ago, UPS drivers worked off maps, 3-x-5 note cards, and their own memory to figure out the best way to run their routes. That changed in 2005 when UPS began to implement a $600 million route optimization system–think MapQuest on steroids–that each evening maps out the next day’s schedule for the majority of its 56,000 drivers. So sophisticated is the software that it designs each route to minimize the number of left turns, thus reducing the time and gas that drivers waste idling at stoplights.

UPSs innovation is an example of how technology can help companies capture institutional knowledge about their customers. Before, when a truck loader or driver walked out the door, the package- loading techniques or route tips they’d developed over the years usually walked out with them. Now that knowledge is accessible in a central system. That eases the burden on substitute drivers and shortens the training time for new ones, lessening the chances of a lapse in customer service. There’s no question the new system has enabled UPS to run its routes more efficiently. In November alone the company’s drivers logged 3 million fewer miles than they did the year before.”


The television show “Mythbusters” tested the theory of right-hand turns on one of their “MiniMyths” episodes and confirmed that even with more miles driven (as was the case in their test) making right hand turns consumed less fuel.

Right turns not only increase efficiency by reducing fuel consumption, they also increase safety for the driver and other vehicles on the road, because the driver no longer has to face oncoming traffic.


On-board Computers

As modern technology meets solid waste collection, numerous new items are becoming implemented in everyday collection practices. One such valuable piece of equipment is the on-board computer. Picture it as a GPS device on steroids. Now, not only can the driver follow his route using the system, but the driver can also communicate with their offices for updates and notifications of route obstacles, or customers who do not have trash out.

Benefits to On-board Computers:

Track Routes real time

  • Provides accountability by being able to locate where the collection vehicle is at all times.
  • Eliminates doubt in driver efficiency.

Eliminate going back to pick up “Not Outs”

  • Provides a GPS time- and-date stamp in addition to messages from the driver that a customer did not have trash out.
  • Depending on contract/requirements, may be enough to not require going back to collect from a customer who did not have the trash out for the collection vehicle.

Turn-by-turn shows driver how to run the route properly

  • Ensures that the route is driven according to the sequence created for it.

Relief Driver can run route without any prior knowledge of it

  • Drivers simply follow the GPS directions.

Integration with Billing Systems

  • With the drivers’ ability to communicate with billing software, you can automatically charge the customer for extra bags or extra collection, thus not miss additional revenue.

All of these benefits increase driver efficiency


Optimize Dump Trips

Most drivers head to the landfill to dump only when the vehicle is completely full. Generally this is not the most efficient way to handle dump trips. The route optimization software has a function to optimize dump trips.

If a route requires two dumps, then these dumps should be scheduled for when the vehicle is closest to the transfer station/landfill. By optimizing the dump trips, a driver can generally eliminate a trip or two per week for most routes.

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Posted by on March 6, 2011 in Route Optimization


Solid Waste Routing – Improving Efficiency in Solid Waste Collection Part 3

Heuristic Routing

The U.S. Environment Protection Agency in 1974 released a publication (SW-113) entitled Heuristic Routing for Solid Waste Collection Vehicles. For many years, this was the definitive how-to manual for solid waste routing. The majority of the rules still apply today.

Heuristic routing defined macro-routing and micro-routing. Macro-routing “determines the assignment of daily collection routes to existing processing and disposal sites.”

However, we are interested in micro-routing, which “looks in detail at each daily collection service area to determine the path that the collection vehicle should follow as it collects from each service on its route. The objective is to minimize the driving time on the collection route through minimizing the dead (head) distance…”

Rules for Heuristic micro-routing:

  1. Routes should not be fragmented or overlapping. Each route should be compact, consisting of street segments clustered in the same geographical area.


  2. The collection route should start as close to the garage or motor pool as possible, taking into account heavily traveled and one-way streets (see rules 3 and 4).


  3. Collection from heavily traveled streets should not be carried out during rush hours.


  4. In the case of one-way streets, it is best to start the route near the upstream end of the street, working down it through the looping process.


  5. Services on dead-end streets can be considered as services on the street segment that they intersect, since they can only be collected by passing down that street segment. To keep left turns to a minimum, collect the dead-end streets when they are to the right of the truck. Collections from dead-end streets must be made by walking down, backing down or making a U-turn at the dead-end.


  6. When practical, solid waste on a steep hill should be collected on both sides of the street while the vehicle is moving downhill. This facilitates safety, ease and speed of collection. It also lessens wear on the vehicle and conserves gas and oil.


  7. Higher elevations should be at the start of the route.


  8. For collection from one side of the street at a time, it is generally best to route with many clockwise turns around blocks. Note: Heuristic rules 8 and 9 emphasize the development of a series of clockwise loops in order to minimize right turns, which generally are more difficult and time-consuming than left turns. Particularly for right-hand-drive vehicles, right turns are safer.


  9. For collection from both sides of the street at the same time, it is generally best to route with long, straight paths across the street before looping clockwise.


  10. For certain block configurations within the route, specific routing patterns should be applied that best fit the layout.


As you can see, since the implementation of these changes in 1974, only a couple of the Heuristic rules have become outdated, but in general still today make up the rules of routing.

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Posted by on February 20, 2011 in Route Optimization


Solid Waste Routing – Improving Efficiency in Solid Waste Collection Part 2

Analyzing Current Operations

It is safe to assume that if you are reading this then you already believe you have room for improvement in your collection operations. There are a couple of ways that can test the efficiency of solid waste routes.

For a troublesome route, try putting one of your better drivers on that route for a couple of weeks. If the better driver takes just as long as the regular driver then the problem is likely the route and not the driver. Bear in mind that your “better” driver will most likely always get done faster.

There are some industry “thumb rule” counts for stops per route. As “thumb rules” they will not pertain to every area. For example, very rural areas will require more driving and therefore collect at fewer stops. For automated collection, the maximum number of stops per route is 1,000 stops per 8-hour day, and 1,200 and for Semi-Automated (with one helper) it is 800 stops per 8-hour day and 1,000 per 10-hour day. So, in a dense city area where automated routes collect 600 stops in an 8-hour day, there is room for improvement.


A Driver’s View:

“When I started driving a garbage truck, I was trained by the driver that was running the route. He was taught by the driver before him and I taught my replacement. That is probably the start of the problem. I ran my route like the driver before me and my replacement ran my route just like I did. That didn’t mean that the route was being run in the most efficient manner.

There were plenty of times that I wondered if there were a faster or better way to run the route but we were always just trying to finish the route on time. With overtime being taboo and already working a five day per week schedule, there just wasn’t any time to try a different approach.

I think what really hurt us was when a driver was out sick. We all knew our routes but very few knew the other routes. When I started, there were no maps or route books to speak of. I myself created one when I was learning my route by going home every day and printing out the route area that I ran. I would then highlight the streets that were in my route. Most drivers didn’t do this and so it was chaos when a driver was absent.”


Route Optimization Strategies

Regardless of whether you are a Private or Public organization, many of the following techniques or strategies can assist to improve efficiency with your solid waste collection:

Heuristic Routing

Heuristic Definition: Logical, commonsense thought-process learned through experience that helps organize ideas, concepts, and information into a useful form or solution. In 1974, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released an outline for solid waste routing strategies.

Right Turns

The use of right turns and turnarounds saves time and fuel.

On-board Computers

On-board computers provide accountability and increase driver efficiency.

Optimize Dump Trips

Selecting the optimized location to leave route and head to transfer station/landfill.

Automated Collection

If your area is suitable for automation, it is the preferable way to go.

Optimize Customers

It may sound counter-intuitive, but sometimes canceling customers can save you money.

Routing Software

From point-to-point commercial collection to high-density residential collection there are many software solutions available.

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Posted by on February 13, 2011 in Route Optimization


Solid Waste Routing – Improving Efficiency in Solid Waste Collection Part 1

Here is the first excerpt of my paper on Solid Waste Routing.  I will have several parts to this…

In today’s struggling economy we are all forced to look at ways to reduce expenses. This applies to Private and Public operations equally. For the Private operation, it is all about making a profit and not losing money. This is difficult due to the competitiveness of the industry. Raising rates can often open the door for a competitor to move in as well as being met with high resistance from customers. For the Public operation, it is all about staying within the dwindling budget. It is quite difficult to get approval for a rate increase on even more difficult to get an increase in budget.

Basic business rules state that to increase profit margin, one must either increase revenue or decrease expenses.

Many strategies or techniques exist for improving solid waste collection. Any of these, if applied, stands to cut expenses and improve efficiency. These strategies can range from simple operational changes to more extreme collection day changes. Many of these strategies are common sense and can be used for most types of routing. With advancements in technologies there are now many options to choose from for computerized routing.

As collection costs make up between 40 and 60 percent of the total solid waste management system costs, this area is generally where the biggest savings can occur.

This article will be broke down into two separate areas for improving efficiency:

  • Route Optimization
  • Operational Changes
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Posted by on February 8, 2011 in Route Optimization


Solid Waste Routing tip of the week

UPDATE Today was Part 2 of Solid Waste Routing Tip of the Week.

I will soon be posting a solid waste routing tip of the week.  These will be ideas or strategies for improving efficiency in solid waste collection.  I will also be offering my new paper “Solid Waste Routing” as a download.

Feel free to contact me if you would like more information or to comment on my Route Optimization blog articles.


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Posted by on February 6, 2011 in Route Optimization