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Although GIS technology has been deployed previously in the Middle East it is often not used for route planning and route optimisation. Within the last two years however the technology has increasingly been applied to route optimisation in the environmental services sector, more specifically, the collection of household and business waste & recycling. This is especially so in Bahrain, Oman and the UAE (though interestingly not the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia).
What is the link between GIS and Route Optimisation?
A geographic information system holds layer upon layer of different data one on top of the other, the base layer of which is a map. The key function of a GIS is the ability to manipulate the data layers creating a relationship between the various data sets. An example being the location of a waste container on a map with the key attributes being latitude / longitude, type, size, physical condition, owner, due date of next collection. All these attributes can be altered and displayed on a graphical map interface. Creating the optimal route for a vehicle to collect the container is a result of analysing this data combining the GIS with the appropriate routing algorithms.
The Success of Route Optimisation Software in the Environmental Services Sector
In the USA and Western Europe GIS based Route Optimisation software is a proven tool for cost reduction and enhanced efficiency in the waste & recycling collection sector. Municipal government led the way adopting GIS technology for route planning & route optimisation in the late 1990s with their contractors following suit soon after. One of the key drivers enabling the early adoption of route optimisation technology is the availability of accurate mapping data. In the UK this mapping data is made available freely to the public sector by the Ordnance Survey under the PSMA (Public Service Mapping Agreement). Even contractors in the UK who service a number of municipalities qualify for a significant discount on the map data costs. In European and Middle East countries Here (formerly Navteq) data can be purchased. Other mapping providers are available.
Municipalities have saved significant cost savings through the reduction in fleet size as a result of GIS based route optimisation. The high operational cost of a waste collection vehicle means that by taking just one off the road makes a significant impact… not to mention a high level of return on investment (ROI). Cost reduction is also achieved through using less fuel as a result of less mileage. Less well known is the fact that through a more evenly balanced workload across vehicles and across a working week, municipalities reduce the amount of overtime paid to employees.
ROI can be enhanced further when the route planning software is applied to multiple services. Although best well known for waste & recycling collection operations, route optimisation has made significant inroads into services such as gully emptying, street sweeping and winter maintenance (snow ploughing and gritting).
The Rise of Route Optimisation in the Middle East
With a number of European waste and environmental professionals increasingly taking up positions in Middle Eastern governments and municipalities, the working knowledge & appreciation of GIS route optimisation software is becoming more widespread. Recent route optimisation projects in Oman, Bahrain and the UAE are examples of the maturing waste & recycling sector.
Mapping data for the Middle East has improved greatly in recent years but there are still notable data gaps. GPS enabled smartphone and tablets Apps are now being deployed to not only track waste & recycling collection vehicles (the breadcrumbs trail of which is used to fill in the gaps in the mapping data) but the same Apps are used to get a GPS fix of the container as well additional information such as condition, type and size.
The Smart Cities initiatives has also helped bring route optimisation to the fore in the Middle East. As well as cost reduction, GIS based route optimisation software helps reduce CO2 output from those diesel guzzling trucks!