Waste collection in Exeter - some good operational research

There is a Youtube video of how the city of Exeter (here in Devon) is using data collection as part of a suite of tools to monitor and manage the collection of waste in Exeter.  Waste collection is a classic example of a problem of stochastic vehicle routing and scheduling, and there are numerous papers in the O.R. literature about how to solve some of those problems.  (Not all the models are realistic; some are simply theoretical, adding new twists to earlier theoretical models!) The video does not go into great detail (shame!) but shows how there is technology in the vehicles to record information relating to each collection that has been missed or refused.  This is coupled with a display in the council office showing progress of the vehicle around the streets.  The commentary reports cost savings due to doing things better ("science of better" anyone?) and suggests how the GPS technology is being extended to other matters for which accurate spatial location is very important.

The video is obviously a promotional video to encourage the use of GPS for data collection and recording in local authorities and service industries, but behind the scenes is some very good O.R. work (probably not called that) relating to the routing and scheduling of a fleet, and some serious questions about quality of data and whether some data are really needed. 

There were a number of times during my academic career when I listened to a research paper at a conference, and really wanted to ask the presenter what "real" data they had used in their models.  Next time you are tempted to write a theoretical paper about vehicle routing, have a look at this to get a feel for some practical features of everyday life in the world of refuse collection.


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