Getting the best out of your refuse truck

Whole life cost considerations when purchasing refuse vehicles are essential, but many local authority fleet operators are missing a trick, says Norman Thoday

Councils are feeling the pinch as the effect of austerity measures hits home, with many having to make significant cuts to their annual budget in order to meet the Government’s proposed £1.165B savings in local authority spending. While the £29B formula grant for 2010-2011 offers some comfort, it still won’t be enough to guarantee protection for frontline services, so local authorities must find new and innovative ways of delivering more with less.

Effective waste management is one area where small changes can make a significant difference over the longer term. As the saying goes: ‘one man’s rubbish is another man’s treasure’, and increasing numbers of councils are finding that they can make substantial savings in the waste and recycling sector without having a detrimental effect on service levels or collection frequency.

Rising landfill costs mean that residual waste disposal is set to become an even greater drain on local government resources, and councils which have implemented efficient recycling programmes targeting a number of waste streams have already reported tangible benefits. As landfill becomes more prohibitive, such cases will provide a blueprint for change.

Refuse and recycling vehicles play an integral part in the implementation of any local authority collection scheme and without them, keeping cities, towns and villages free from waste would be almost impossible. Vehicle costs represent a significant outlay for councils so it is important for fleet managers to ensure that their RCVs are operating at peak performance to deliver the best value.

Fuel currently represents around 35-50% of vehicle operating costs and this is likely to rise further, so minimising consumption is one area where substantial savings can be made. Driving style also has a big impact on vehicle emissions and associated running costs.

Designed to equip drivers with the skills and knowledge to make significant savings, fuel saving technology solutions monitor a range of factors including over revving, excessive throttle use and aggressive acceleration or braking. Location-based technology can also assist with planning to provide more efficient collection routes. As well as reducing mileage, this delivers greater payload efficiency and can result in additional financial savings through reductions in operator overtime.

Once authorities have done all they can to ensure operators are running fleets as efficiently as possible to deliver maximum value for money, the rest is down to the vehicles themselves. Considering the bigger picture when purchasing RCVs is therefore essential, as what may initially seem like the most expensive option could prove the most cost-effective when the outlay is calculated throughout the lifetime of the vehicle.

Build quality, reliability and after sales service all play a vital role in determining the whole life cost of a refuse collection vehicle as time spent out of service can place a strain on resources, often resulting in a significant drain on finances. Keeping vehicles on the road and running efficiently for as long as possible is key, so local authorities should ensure that the equipment they choose is backed by an extensive service and after sales care provision.

At Dennis Eagle, for instance, we have a team of 38 mobile service engineers along with eight service centres and seven contract centres employing over 200 people, so our customers can be sure that we’re never far away. Many of our vehicles function far beyond the traditional five to seven year working life expectancy and we also offer a refurbishment programme to give used vehicles a new lease of life and enable them to re-enter the market.

Refurbishment can prolong the operational life of vehicles from between five and ten years. However, reconditioned vehicles are not widely used by major customers or local authorities in the UK and many tend to go into operation overseas in countries such as Malta and Cyprus. I do not expect this trend to change significantly despite the economic climate, but I do believe that we will instead see councils adopting new ways of working together and purchasing vehicles.

Around three years ago, local authorities in Nottinghamshire formed the UK’s first refuse collection vehicle consortium. Participating councils have experienced mutual benefits as a result and, as improved performance and value for money becomes even more of a priority, it is highly likely that more regions will follow suit by forming their own groups.

There is no doubt that local authorities will be required to make significant changes to the way in which they operate over the next few years. This represents a real opportunity for the industry to demonstrate the financial and environmental benefits of effective waste management and help councils deliver more for less.

Norman Thoday is managing director of Dennis Eagle

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