From time-to-time I claw my way to the top of my soapbox to preach the virtues of technology in its capacity [among other things] for holding escalating costs in check. As if driven by some circadian twitch, I return again and again to what technology holds in store for the movement of waste…from curbsides to transfer stations or MRFs, and from there to the several points of disposition, whether through diversion or disposal.
I hold constant the belief that the waste side of the materials equation will come to emulate the highly scheduled, real-time-controlled, just-in-time models of efficiency found in the production regime. While admitting to being a little starry-eyed in my vision—and have endured some fairly substantial horselaughs in the process—I cling to this belief, bolstered by mounting evidence of cost-savings and productivity advances throughout the surface transportation world…and why should anyone be surprised?
For more than 70 years, air transportation has accepted the idea of traffic monitoring and, with some trepidation, control. While a pilot’s “big picture” is to traverse some airspace and arrive at an appropriate destination rapidly and intact, air traffic controllers view aviators as a bunch of mindless serpents in the midst of a three-dimensional sack of snakes. Their job is to see to it that all those Smilin’ Jacks with fangs get along together and hopefully get where they’re going with a minimum of delay while allowing for such things as weather, closed runways, out-of-service navigation aids, and (Lord forbid) in-flight emergencies. Grump as much as I want about this “invasion of my privacy,” the truth is I and those who share my sky are better off for the imposition, not only for the safety the system confers, but because it allows people with a better vantage point to facilitate our progress in ways we may never be aware.
Though obviously less proscriptive, a similar situation is becoming possible on our nation’s roads and highways through the magic of communications and GPS and as you’ve probably noticed, the marriage is a good one, supplanting the good old boy, “That’s a big ten-four buddy,” chatter with meaningful voice communications and silent but significant two-way data transfer. The technologies are in place, the systems debugged, applications refined to the point that they can be tailored to almost any situation, and the cost/benefit matrices honed to the point that buyers are able to assess payback potential without calling 911 for help.
The issue is control, and in truth operators of smaller fleets in less congested areas don’t have much need for real-time contact with vehicles plying their routes. Size and complexity are the critical elements. It’s where you find yourself pounding your desk and meeting a blank look from staff when you ask, “Where the heck’s number Sixty-Two?” and finding out three hours later Sixty-Two has suffered a breakdown, or been tied up in a traffic jam, or (ohmygosh) its driver has taken a leisurely coffee break. That’s when it’s time to ask yourself whether investing in what is by now off-the-shelf technology isn’t a better way to spend your money.