If your only exposure to residential curbside collection was in California, you might well conclude that there is little diversity among the trucks that routinely pick up the trash, recyclables, and yardwaste. These trucks, you might assume, are all automated sideloaders, such as Heil Rapid Rails, with powerful hydraulic arms that automatically pick up 90-gal. carts and empty the contents into the truck’s hopper. The same model can be and is used for collection of trash, yardwaste, and single-stream recyclables, further enhancing the illusion of one-truck-does-all.
What’s more, it might seem as if this were the only logical way to perform residential curbside collection. As the City of Los Angeles concluded in its landmark 1996 pilot study of refuse collection, automation in general and single-stream collection of recyclables in particular provided significant advantages. To quote from the study report, “The single stream method [with automated sideloaders] has proven to be the most customer friendly, requiring no separation of the recyclables. Operation and maintenance costs are minimized since existing [automated] trucks, technology, and training are employed [for collection of recyclables, yardwaste, and refuse].” As a result of this successful pilot program, Los Angeles converted the entire city to this approach and last year collected more than 785,000 tons of refuse, recyclables, and yardwaste with these trucks.
However, assuming that this scenario is a paradigm for the rest of the country would be a mistake. A recent survey of more than 20,000 communities nationwide by R.W. Beck for the American Forest & Paper Association revealed two startling facts. First, the number of communities offering curbside collection of recyclables actually dropped 6% from 1997 to 2000. Second, only about 7% of the 20,000-plus communities offered single-stream collection. In the remaining 93% of communities, collection trucks required separate compartments and presumably were not useful for picking up trash or yardwaste; therefore, the economies of a common fleet were not realized.
Although this study was oriented to the recycling of paper and paperboard, Jerry Wickett, vice president of purchasing for Republic in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, provided corroborative information for all MSW collection. “Automated MSW collection vehicles make up only a small percentage of our fleet nationwide. The decision to convert to automated collection is driven solely by the communities we serve. They have to want the carts and be willing to pay for them. What’s more, in many older neighborhoods, narrow streets and alleys and parked cars make automated collection by sideloaders a difficult and less productive option than it would be otherwise. Often, communities can’t see any advantage.”
John Culbertson of Orlando, FL-based R.W. Beck agrees. “Older communities may indeed have space problems with alleys and minimum frontages that might deter them from ever converting to automated collection vehicles. Moreover, if a city has a policy of no layoffs, it will be difficult to justify converting to more expensive single-operator, automated trucks while keeping displaced sanitation workers on the payroll. Having said that, though, I am convinced that converting to an automated collection system often has little to do with geographic, demographic, or technical issues. Rather, it has to do with customer expectations. If the customers–i.e., the residents–want it, cities will find a way to go automated. Almost any community with a well-managed fleet operation can phase-in automated collection with a minimum economic impact if the community wants it.”
While almost every fleet manager we spoke to hopes to convert to automated collection vehicles eventually, they all are operating a variety of semiautomated vehicles of different designs and features to satisfy current local conditions. A good example of such a fleet is that of Artistic Solid Waste of West Des Moines, IA. This private firm collects commercial as well as residential refuse and recyclables.
“For residential curbside pickup of recyclables, we mostly use Kann Trough Loaders,” says CEO Tony Colosimo. “These vehicles accommodate a five-sort system at the curb. The residents put out source-separated recyclables, and our operators put them in the appropriate trough on the curb side of the truck. We use one trough for paper, a split trough for aluminum cans and steel cans, one trough for glass bottles, and one trough with a built-in compactor for plastic.
“Each trough is individually lifted, and its contents are dumped into a container for that recyclable. The driver then presses a button in the cab, the trough is brought back into position, and the container lid is closed again. It’s a 29-yard truck with a total capacity of 12,300 pounds. Its lift capacity is 3 tons. All in all, it works just fine for us.”
For residential trash pickup, Artistic currently uses McNeilus semiautomatic frontloaders and rearloaders, but it is in the process of converting to Heil DuraPack 7000 automatic trucks. “This conversion to automated equipment is a major capital investment for us,” Colosimo concedes, “but we have to do it. It’s the only way we can help the cities we serve to control their collection costs.”
For its commercial trash pickup, Artistic uses conventional McNeilus frontloaders, but now Colosimo is thinking seriously of converting this portion of his fleet to the new Scranton Mammoth frontloaders. “They have one of the strongest steel frames in the industry,” he explains. “And our drivers rave about their ease of operation, their good compaction rates, and the easy cleanout with the truck’s 50-gallon sump.”
This upgrading of commercial collection vehicles might be of interest to municipalities too, for Culbertson sees an opportunity for municipalities already providing some Dumpster service to increase revenues by competing with private haulers to expand this Dumpster service. “It tends to be a situation where a municipality that has made an initial capital investment for this type of equipment can optimize this business by expanding. It’s already happening. In fact, this is one area of MSW operations that runs counter to the continuing trend of privatization.”
The City of Houston also has three different types of vehicles in its 200-collection-truck fleet. The largest fleet segment, used for curbside pickup of trash as well as recyclables, consists of “conventional” automated sideloaders. “Originally I only wanted to use Ohio Rapid Rail bodies because they had the fastest operating arm and we have to pick up from over 1,000 homes a day,” says Thomas Buchanan, deputy director of the Houston Solid Waste Management Department. “Now all of our sideloader bodies are Heil bodies made to our specifications. That customization is just for the bodies, though. It doesn’t make much sense for us to design trucks.
“Now, though, we go out to bid for the automated trucks we need to replace our aging trucks, usually in their sixth year of operation. We use the informal bid contract the Council of Government puts out, and we also invite several companies to do a three- to eight-week demo of their trucks on our routes. This year Labrie and McNeilus did demos for us and both performed very well. If we do switch some of our fleet to one or both of these companies, we know that we may have some spare-parts headaches, but we’re not concerned about extra training. After all, a limit switch is a limit switch, and a hydraulic cylinder is a hydraulic cylinder.”
Houston uses semiautomatic rearloaders for its yardwaste and a combination of rearloaders and Petersen Rear Steer Loaders mounted on International chassis for picking up heavy trash. “That Rear Steer Loader is quite a machine,” Buchanan says. “It has a grapple on a lateral motion arm to pick up brush, logs, and other oversize materials. And it has two cabs, one in the usual position, and another one above and behind the first and backward. The operator drives the truck in the usual way until he reaches the route. Then he gets into the upper cab, which is air-conditioned, has all the necessary controls, and has excellent visibility. With this orientation, he backs the Rear Steer Loader down the route, following the rearloader or a trailer. When he comes to oversized trash, he picks it up with the grapple and deposits it in the rearloader or trailer.
“It’s slick. He doesn’t have to climb up and down a cherry picker 75 times a day, and since the hydraulic cylinder locks down when he hits a switch, he doesn’t have to put any outriggers out. Because of this design, our one-operator Rear Steer Loaders save us $30,000 a year over the cherry pickers the city used for picking up oversize trash.”
Every fleet manager we spoke to cited special local conditions that influenced their selection of the trucks or at least their optional features. Chief among these special conditions were heat, topography, alleys, culs-de-sac, and operator comfort needs.
Heat is certainly a major consideration in the hot summers of Plano, TX. According to Fleet Maintenance Supervisor Darrell Cokely, the temperature gets up to 140° F in enclosed alleys where there is no breeze. “Crane Carrier solved that problem for us when they moved the radiator out from in front of the truck and mounted it behind the cab. Of course, we air condition the cab too.”
The City of Phoenix addressed the same three-digit temperatures with a multipronged attack, says Deputy Public Works Director Mike Lopker. “We relocated the condenser as high as possible up off its low position because the street temperatures can reach 145° . We don’t want anything in front of the grille though. Also, because heat has such an effect on a collection truck’s hydraulic system, we spec’d an 80-gallon return tank for the oil reserve as opposed to the usual 40-gallon tank. And we not only order the factory option for the full insulation package on the air-conditioned cab, we also foam-insulate the engine compartment ourselves after delivery.”
Some fleet managers have been able to solve the heat problem just by ordering top-of-the-line equipment. Buchanan, for example, specifies oversize hydraulic systems and the largest radiator coolant capacity on all his collection trucks. This, in conjunction with just a 275-hp engine, seems to keep the fleet’s overheating problem under control.
Buchanan can get away with 275-hp engines and medium-duty rather than heavy-duty transmissions because of Houston’s flat terrain. (Buchanan doubts that the Houston-area terrain “changes more than 10 feet in 200 miles.”) Other communities are not so fortunate. Roanoke County, VA, for example, has such a hilly terrain that summertime operations generated a high-enough heat to actually blow out tires, according to MSW Department Supervisor Charles Paitsel. This forced him to upgrade his collection vehicles with 350-hp engines and New World Allison transmissions with built-in retarders. That solved the problem, he confirms.
The City of Phoenix specifies two unusual configurations based upon its experience with automatic collection vehicles. Fleet Control Manager Andy Andrews says, “We use dump rather than ejection vehicles because that eliminates a large, multistage hydraulic cylinder. We found over the years that if the driver didn’t retract the eject pan, and that long multistage cylinder was extended during the truck’s travel back to its route, the road vibration tended to disturb and damage the cylinder. Therefore, we reject any truck that won’t dump when we are evaluating vehicles for our fleet. Also, we don’t use disc brakes any more; our collection trucks only have drum brakes. We found collection trucks with disc brakes required more frequent brake jobs, and the parts cost was significantly higher.”
Several fleet managers pointed to alleys and culs-de-sac in their jurisdictions as having a strong influence on equipment design and selection. Cokely told of Plano’s alleys that might have T-sections, curves, lengths of up to half a mile, overhanging trees, and lots of pedestrians, many of them children. This situation required several measures. First, the collection vehicles had to have a turning radius of 23 ft. and a maximum height of 12 ft. (The city passed an ordinance requiring that tree overhangs be maintained at a minimum height of 13 ft.) Second, to deal with the pedestrian risk, Plano’s automated trucks were equipped with a three-camera system, providing the driver with a view of the arm action, a view of the dump action, and a 127° view of the back of the truck.
Plano is also one of the cities with a concern for operator comfort in what is their workspace the entire day. Cokely says his department uses a team approach, involving the drivers in improving operations and working conditions. Some of the improvements that resulted from this program are installing air-ride seats, tinting side windows, and–most notably–substituting an aftermarket air conditioning system. “Factory air conditioning in collection vehicles tends to direct the air on the driver’s feet or against the windshield,” Cokely explains. “We found an aftermarket evaporator core and blower we could mount on the underside of the cab roof, so air blows straight down on the driver and doesn’t have to compete with the heater core. We have the factory furnish just its compressor hooked up to the engine, and our local dealer installs the balance of the system with the aftermarket parts.”
The City of Phoenix is taking operator comfort a step further by ordering the first six of the new Sterling Condor automated sideloaders. “The low-cab-forward Condor was ergonomically engineered to reduce fatigue and maximize driver convenience and comfort,” Andrews says. “Room inside the cabs of automated sideloaders is quite limited, and drivers have to keep looking over their shoulders. The amount of room the Condor provides the driver is substantially more; the seat adjustment is greater than with other low-entry cab vehicles; the pedals are suspended, rather than on the floor; and the steering column is routed through the dash instead of the floor–all of which provides even more room and comfort for the driver. It appears to be very well engineered too, with ready accessibility to key parts and the wiring. We’re taking delivery on the first one this month, and we’re looking forward to seeing if it lives up to its significant promise.”
The Condor is not the first new truck design that Phoenix has acquired. The Public Works Department also owns eight of Heil’s automated STARR systems, which the manufacturer claims is the most maneuverable collection system in the industry. “It’s true,” Lopker says. “Because of its unique design, it has half the turning radius of any straight-body truck with comparable capacity. The loader is attached to a tractor on which is mounted the lift arm, so it can make very tight turns. It will go into even a small cul-de-sac and pick up the carts without having to back up. What’s more, it can carry larger loads than a conventional automated packer, yet the fuel consumption is the same. We had heard that the STARR might be the truck of the future. After using it, we think it may be the truck of today.”
While Lopker is certainly enthusiastic about the STARR, Micheal Woodruff is ecstatic. The public works manager for the City of Longmont, CO, states flatly, “Our STARR system has given Longmont a mobile transfer station that is saving the city as much as $550,000 per year, and that doesn’t include fleet-replacement savings.”
Four years ago, Longmont’s landfill was closed, so the city was faced with a 75-minute, 40-mi. drive to the nearest landfill. Since each route truck would have to take two trips to the landfill, this meant two and a half hours of lost productivity each day and, at 3 mpg, a huge fuel bill. The alternative, building a close-in transfer station, was strongly opposed by Longmont residents. The STARR resolved this seemingly irresolvable dilemma.
“By going to automated collection, we were able to compress our 11 routes into six,” Woodruff explains. “Therefore, we bought six tractors and 12 trailers plus two shuttle trucks for our operations. Each day the STARR tractor-trailer combination picks up trash from its route. The lift mechanism on the tractor picks up the 90-gallon carts and dumps the contents into the trailer. When the trailer is full, the tractor tows it to our maintenance facility. There the loaded trailer is detached and an empty trailer is attached to the tractor, which then returns to complete its route. A shuttle tractor then pulls two loaded trailers to the landfill.
“This arrangement keeps the route trucks on their routes all day. If they had to spend that two and a half hours going to and from the landfill, we would have had to add two more routes and route trucks. By using the shuttle tractor pulling two loaded trailers, we cut the number of trips in half, thereby saving driver costs, fuel costs, and wear and tear on the route trucks. We figure that this scheme will add two years to the life expectancy of our route trucks.”
With improvements such as this, one might think Woodruff would rest on his laurels. But today, just two years after the first STARR vehicles were delivered to Longmont, he is exploring ways to make the system even more productive for the city. First, he is examining the retrofit of his STARR vehicles with Heil’s Operate-in-Gear Denison pump system. This system allows the driver to operate the lift while in gear and at idle. Thus, the driver will not have to keep shifting in and out of gear at each stop and will not have to rev the engine to make the lift. This promises to save fuel and emissions and reduce wear and tear because of the lower rpm needed. Equally important, it should dramatically reduce the noise level of each lift. Woodruff is adding one new STARR truck as a backup, and since it will have the new pump system on it, he will have the opportunity to fully test it and determine if full fleet implementation can be cost-justified.
At the same time, he is thinking of converting the collection from multifamily units to the STARR system. Currently the city does this collection using Heil 5000 rearloaders to pick up from 3-yd. Dumpsters. Woodruff is looking at replacing the Dumpsters with plastic units and using the STARR vehicles to perform this collection too.
Perhaps that’s where the collection-truck industry is going–anticipating and responding to the ideas and needs of fleet managers throughout the world and then offering the resultant improvements to the entire MSW industry via new options or new models. Why not? It seems to work.