How to plan refuse collections when there’s a truck driver shortage

Driver of blue truck and a shirt in a cell brought goods

Resource planning is a challenge for local authorities at the best of times. And when world events conspire against you, it can become even more difficult to manage. Council waste management teams are currently experiencing this first-hand, as an international shortage of qualified heavy goods vehicles (HGV) drivers is impacting regional refuse rounds.

So how can you plan efficient kerbside collection services when there’s a truck driver shortage? The answer lies in careful workflow management and making the most of the resources available to you…

Major HGV driver shortfall impacts waste collection services

Lorry drivers have been in short supply for a number of years now. But in 2021, a combination of factors, including COVID-19 and Brexit, have increased the severity of this issue. The Road Haulage Association now estimates that there is a shortfall of more than 100,000 drivers in the UK alone – and other countries are experiencing similar problems.

The impact of driver shortages on supermarket and restaurant deliveries has been well documented in the media, but it’s not just the retail and hospitality industries that are struggling.

Local authorities are also finding it difficult to source enough qualified drivers to keep local infrastructures running. For example:

  • 18 councils have admitted they’re experiencing delays to weekly collections as a result of HGV driver shortages, according to Local Government Association data. Among the regions trying to fill multiple driver vacancies at present are North Devon, Teignbridge and Torbay – and officials have called for the DVLA to fast-track new driver applications to help ease the problem.
  • Bedfordshire County Council is among several local authorities that have temporarily suspended garden waste collections to focus on household refuse services. The council has directly attributed this cutback to driver shortages, saying “We are also doing everything we can to recruit drivers and upskill existing staff where possible.”
  • Several councils are even experiencing a decline in driver numbers, as large businesses poach their staff, offering them pay rises of up to 10% to alleviate their own supply chain issues. North Somerset Environment Company lost five members of staff just in the first two weeks of September, which has led to them suspending garden waste collections while they try and recruit new staff.

Even with a push to bring more HGV drivers on board, the shortage cannot be solved immediately. Given the level of headhunting going on, driver availability may even get worse before it gets better. Which means local authorities must focus on using waste management software to optimise available drivers, rather than letting refuse collections fall behind.

How can waste management software solve HGV driver shortages?

While onboarding waste management technology won’t help councils to find new driver talent any quicker, it will provide valuable data insight and communication tools to make sure that current drivers are being utilised to full capacity.

How? By making every vehicle and team member work as effectively as possible – whether you’re responding to pandemic-related resourcing shortages or a team member calling in sick.

With waste management software in place, your workforce will be able to:

  • Automatically optimise routes for each collection crew to cover the most ground possible, even with minimal staffing.
  • Compare round times to make sure that workload is distributed evenly and identifying if some collection crews could take on additional responsibilities – reassigning rounds in bulk if needed.
  • Send digital round sheets directly to crews via in-cab devices, so everyone is clear about exactly what’s expected of them each shift, to reduce the rate of incomplete rounds and missed bin collections. Watch the video: How Whitespace’s in-cab mobile waste management app works
  • Enable collection crews to report problems and additional clear-up operations in real-time, so they have the flexibility to tackle problems during their shift; rather than trucks having to be dispatched separately at a later date.
  • Share route data with drivers during the course of each round, to help them navigate roads and premises as easily as possible and getting newer drivers up-to-speed with the local area quickly.
  • Analyse performance on a weekly, monthly, quarterly or annual basis, to identify where improvement is needed and exactly how many extra drivers should be recruited to ensure waste collections are run consistently on schedule.

Plan for today AND tomorrow with Whitespace waste management software

The benefits we’ve covered here won’t just help council waste management teams in the short-term; they put an infrastructure in place to support your long-term resourcing as well.

If the pandemic has taught us anything it’s that an unexpected turn of events can put essential services under pressure. And having the digital tools in place to respond to external events allows local authorities to keep up with refuse collection requirements, even in times of difficulty.

Municipal waste management systems like Whitespace provide a valuable opportunity to optimise resources day-in, day-out, and to understand how market changes affect your resources. So you can take rapid steps to mitigate their impact on your region’s performance

Book your free Whitespace demo to discover how our software can enhance your waste collection strategies.


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