Tackling rising fuel costs: new approach to curbside debris removal yields big savings for municipalities

Reed Bolton Byrum
Chair, The Byrum Innovation Group
Greenville, South Carolina

Public works departments across America are facing a series of conflicting issues that fight for top priority on their already full agendas—and giving public works staffs constant headaches along the way. If not remedied, these issues could disrupt the already difficult task of serving the mandated needs of the citizens.

These daunting issues are:

  • Skyrocketing fuel costs
  • Socio-political demands to decrease greenhouse emissions
  • Calls for improved customer satisfaction
  • Rising insurance costs and risk documentation requirements, and
  • Consistent demands for efficient and effective management.

With the already overstretched budgets, these issues require creative problem-solving to tackle them head-on. The advent of new technologies provides potential solutions for public works staffs who are dedicated to making positive progress on these issues.

Five municipal public works departments in South Carolina have dealt with all of these problems by implementing a powerful, yet simple, technology system that is saving one city up to 40 percent for fuel usage for curbside debris pickup.

As the City of Clemson looked for ways to reduce miles driven and fight the rising tide of gas prices, they looked for new ways to solve their problem. City officials looked hard enough to realize that a solution was not available. So, they put their heads together and came up with an idea....

That idea, with the help of a local technology consultant, became a working prototype, and eventually a solution was born. PinPoint-Public Works, a part of the PinPoint-GeoWorks Government Solutions Suite, was the very product they had envisioned. The technology, which was developed directly from their vision, is now targeted specifically for governments who address curbside debris pickup, risk documentation, codes enforcement, and geo-coding operations.

"The current economic pressures facing the country are mirrored in public works departments across America," City Administrator Rick Cotton of Clemson, SC, said. "Citizens still demand the best from their cities, and their public works departments must navigate the rough waters of today's economy with simple and affordable solutions. We found a way to partner a city and a private business to create a useful product, all while satisfying the citizens, and eventually sparking the start of a brand new business. We are proud to claim PinPoint GeoTech as a new business that was born of our public works vision. Today, citizens also have concerns about greenhouse gas emissions, and since this system reduces miles driven, it also reduces risk, enhances the environment, and saves money. Now that makes sense!"

PinPoint-Public Works is a patent-pending data collection and dispatching tool for city public works departments. It enables sanitation truck drivers to proactively mark and categorize curbside debris piles that await pickup by simply pressing a screen button on a small computer device in their truck. Data is then transmitted wirelessly to a dispatcher, who then outputs the data in the form of daily maps and route lists for debris crews to follow while collecting curbside debris.

At Clemson, SC, Public Works drivers have been transformed into data collectors.

David Conner, Public Works Administrator for Clemson, echoes Cotton's sentiments. Conner's Public Works Department has experienced reductions in fuel usage for debris crew and has noticed man-hours for debris operations drop between 35 percent and 50 percent since implementation of PinPoint-Public Works.

"Our debris pickup crews are done much earlier in the day and are now able to be re-tasked to address other issues that were tough to get to in the past. We have also seen less wear-and-tear on our equipment," Conner said. "But, there also have been noticeable improvements in citizens' attitudes.

"We have had a strong increase in customer satisfaction since we put this technology in the trucks. Residents routinely tell us they have seen marked improvement in the time it takes to get their debris off the street. We are getting it all done more efficiently and making the city a cleaner place, quicker."

Union, SC, Director of Public Works, Perry Harmon, has seen his department experience as much as a 42 percent decrease in fuel usage for debris pickup with the use of the technology on Union's sanitation trucks.

PinPoint-Public Works has visual data from five SC cities to prove the track record of reducing fuel costs, decreasing miles driven, cutting wear-and-tear on vehicles, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

In many cities, GPS vehicle tracking systems have been deployed by dozens of other companies to watch over their employees and vehicle assets. PinPoint GeoTech emphasizes its system is not intended to be used only as a tracking device. Although it can indeed provide tracking information, it is specifically built to provide drivers the opportunity to enhance their value to their departments.

The PinPoint Public Works systems consist of three main components:

  • A simple remote Data Collection Device, which consists of a touchscreen, a GPS receiver, wireless transmitters, and (optionally) a GPRS transmitter for real-time data upload.

  • PinPoint Server is a Microsoft Windows-based application that silently sits on a MS Windows Desktop Computer or Enterprise Server and processes incoming data from the Remote Units.

  • Desktop Mapping Application is a MS Windows application that runs on with the Windows XP or Windows Vista operating systems. The user can call up icons on the map that indicate various locations and categories marked by remote units. The user can then sort and filter the maps on a variety of fields such as date range, category and remote unit ID.

PinPoint-Public Works generates a map from driver data that shows the type of debris and its location, enabling dispatchers to optimize travel routes.

"With only a couple of hours of training, our drivers were transformed into data collectors and our office clerk into a high-tech route manager and dispatcher," Mike Teague, Director of Public Works in Gaffney, SC, said. "Now, our debris crews only go where the data collected tells them, and the maps optimize the routes to collect debris. We have been able to park several municipal vehicles during non-peak seasons to further our savings."

Typical savings in fuel alone from existing installations indicate a city will receive a return on their investment well within one year of deployment, Jim Oswald, CEO of PinPoint GeoTech, LLC, said. PinPoint GeoTech was successfully spun off from 20-year-old OA Technology Group, which delivers innovations to multiple levels of government and business entities in a meaningful way.

"PinPoint GeoTech creates products that are simple and effective solutions—products that allow organizations to reduce costs, improve service, reduce the impact of their services on the environment, and to empower the employees who deploy them," Oswald said.

Because the genesis of this product was from the vision of municipal employees in Clemson, PinPoint GeoTech maintains an important dialog with its clients through its OnLine Advisory Discussion Board. Users suggest and discuss features, modifications, uses, issues, and ideas directly with the development team. This methodology has become the main force behind the continuous improvement of the end product.

While rising gas prices will likely remain a hot topic for public works officials, some recognize that a little technology can go a long way in creating savings.

For more information, visit www.pinpointgeotech.com or call (877) 477-9494.

Reed Bolton Byrum can be reached at (864) 242-1102 or reedbyrum@byruminnovation.com.