Lawrence and Douglas County

Lawrence and Douglas county

City of Lawrence begins using new automated trash truck

April 30, 2013


Even the adults may catch themselves peering out their windows to watch the trash truck arrive now.

Lawrence households on Tuesday started seeing a new sight pull up to their curbs: a fully automated trash truck, complete with a robotic arm that snatches the city’s new mandated trash carts.

“So far, it is working pretty well,” said Charles Barnes, the city sanitation worker who drives the truck and also operates its joystick that controls the high-tech arm.

Charles Barnes, operator of one of the city's automated trash trucks, uses a mechanical arm to lift city trash bins off the street in the Prairie Park Neighborhood. The vehicle requires only one crew member.

Charles Barnes, operator of one of the city's automated trash trucks, uses a mechanical arm to lift city trash bins off the street in the Prairie Park Neighborhood. The vehicle requires only one crew member.

City managers like what they’re seeing too. Craig Pruett, solid waste operations supervisor, said the new truck is expected to be able to service 850 households. The more traditional trucks that rely on crew members to bring the trash to the truck serve about 400 households.

“It is the way of the future for this industry,” Pruett said.

Many area communities already use the fully automated trucks, and Pruett said eventually most every neighborhood in Lawrence will be served by one. He estimated about 90 percent of the households in the city will be served by the automated trucks, once the city gets more of the trucks ordered.

He said tightly confined spaces, such as the alleys in the Oread Neighborhood, likely would be the only places that aren’t served by the high-tech vehicles.

“But it will be a several-year process to make the full conversion,” Pruett said.

The city currently has two of the automated side-loader trucks. Only one is in service currently, while the other is being used to train drivers.

Pruett is estimating the city will need eight of the fully automated trucks to handle the residential trash collection of the city. Currently, the city uses 14 of the standard trucks. The city’s new curbside recycling program, which will begin in October 2014, will use the automated trucks too. Three of the new trucks already have been ordered for that service.

The new trucks, which have about a seven-year lifespan, cost about $90,000 more than a traditional trash truck. The trucks also are equipped only to pick up trash from one side of the street at a time, meaning that residents may notice trash trucks driving on their streets twice in the same day.

“There is more drive time on the streets, but the efficiencies prove out in other places,” Pruett said.

The city is expecting a decline in workers' compensation claims as sanitation crews no longer have to do the heavy lifting of the trash or repeatedly climb on and off the back of trucks.

Each truck also has only one crew member: the driver/joystick operator. Traditional trash trucks usually have a crew of three. City officials, though, don’t anticipate layoffs as part of the new program. The city may reduce its workforce some through attrition, but that likely only would be a temporary reduction. The city will need additional drivers as it begins the curbside recycling program in late 2014.

Barnes, the driver, said he likes the change. The new trucks have the steering wheel on the right side of the cab, meaning when he has to get out of the truck, he’s not stepping into traffic.

Automated trash truck

A new trash truck with a robotic-like arm and designed to be staffed by only the driver, began service in Lawrence Tuesday, April 30, 2013. Enlarge video

As more of the trash trucks hit the streets, residents may notice the time of day trash crews arrive may be different from normal. The city is tweaking routes to accommodate the truck’s ability to service more households, but Pruett said the city isn’t changing the day of the week for any households.

City officials, though, are urging residents to be sure to have their trash out by 7 a.m., to fit all the trash they can into the city-issued trash carts, and to make sure the carts are at least three feet clear of any obstructions, such as parked cars or mailboxes.


Keith Richards 4 years, 5 months ago

What is the city doing with the trucks that are being replaced?

tweetysvoice 4 years, 5 months ago

Will they not be able to pick up any larger trash that doesn't fit in the can and has to be set beside the can? i.e. a large box that won't fold down to fit... I assume this will be an issue even if it's the recycling truck, as they will be the same thing. Is the driver going to have to run out and grab the bags set by the side of trash cans that I still see around town?

ThePilgrim 4 years, 5 months ago

Typically when cities switch to the truck with the arm, the answer to yourv question about extra stuff is "no".

buffalo63 4 years, 5 months ago

Or there will be an extra charge. One of the reasons we liked Lawrence trash service was the fact they would pick up most anything left on the curb, if you called a told them ahead of the pick-up. Better that than finding items in the county ditches.

Currahee 4 years, 5 months ago

So this is why they wanted everyone to use trash carts...

MarcoPogo 4 years, 5 months ago

This was part of the plan from the beginning.

buffalo63 4 years, 5 months ago

Also wonder what the life span is on the carts that are lifted by the arm. We have a spot with the neighbor that, because of traffic, is safer for the men to handle both carts, but probably won't have the three foot clearance though. Truck will have to stop in the heavy traffic part of the street corner to have a "clear spot".

otto 4 years, 5 months ago

There will be a lot of stuff getting smoked with that thing! Mailboxes, bicycles, fenders.

Jeremiah Jefferson 4 years, 5 months ago

What about the guys who used to manually pick up the trash? Let me guess, you parked them on the curb and loaded them up with your fancy truck and hauled them away..

bad_dog 4 years, 5 months ago

Rather than speculate about their fate, you could just read the article...

Jayhawker07 4 years, 5 months ago

Interesting! Are these trucks green and energy efficient? Seems like they will be doing alot of backtracking if they can only do one side at a time. Twice the amount of fuel + maintenance +++. I like the idea, but I am not sold as a taxpayer(not that I had a choice. I know, go vote. Which I do but that is not my point. And you know as well as I do how the vote thing works). How many folks are they laying of to cover the additonal expense? Chad, could you give us some specifics on all of this? I like the idea but not sure I like it unless I have more info. I know it is a done deal, but it does not seem like a good Lawrence greentown deal.

Jayhawker07 4 years, 5 months ago

I don't want to believe that about Chad, but you could be a little right on some stuff maybe. I like Chads work and if I was in his line of work, you want the truth. Keep up the good work Chad.

Chad Lawhorn 4 years, 5 months ago

As noted in the article: "City officials, though, don’t anticipate layoffs as part of the new program. The city may reduce its workforce some through attrition, but that likely only would be a temporary reduction. The city will need additional drivers as it begins the curbside recycling program in late 2014." Also noted in the article, the city concedes trucks have to go up and down the same street to get trash from both sides of the street. It will be up to you to decide whether that makes these bad for the environment.

jafs 4 years, 5 months ago

Well, running very inefficient (about 5 mpg) trucks around town twice as much can't be anything other than bad for the environment - it will double the use of gas and emissions from the trucks.

parrothead8 4 years, 5 months ago

I thought Chad answered your questions in the article. (The new trucks serve more than twice as many households as the old trucks, and they expect no layoffs.) Additionally, this went through several rounds of discussion at City Commission meetings (and here on the LJW message boards.) If you're just now trying to get info, you're a bit late to the party, because it's happening whether you like it or not.

Reid Hollander 4 years, 5 months ago

The number of alarmist over a trash truck is astounding. I have lived in Colorado for 3 years where they use these. Mailboxes aren't being taken out, they pick up whatever you put out even if it doesn't fit, and the carts last forever. Apparently Lawrence thinks this is some sort of experimental technology and not what most every other community in America uses.

gphawk89 4 years, 5 months ago

Yep. Five years and counting here. No broken carts. No trashed mailbox. If there's extra stuff, the guys get out and pick it up. And the arm puts the cards back down exactly where it was picked up (instead of where it usually ended up - blocking my driveway - when the guys picked it up manually. And my kid actually waits outside on the morning of trash day so he can watch the "robot truck" come by and do it's thing.

Mike Hoffmann 4 years, 5 months ago

I live in Eudora where we have this type of service and it's great. You put big items out at the first of the month. Plus, I don't come home to find my trash can in the middle of my driveway or strewn about somewhere else like I did when I lived in Overland Park.

jpinkman 4 years, 5 months ago

Agreed. I lived in CA for quite a while and they've been using these for at least 20 years out there. Welcome to 1993 Lawrence!

Phoghorn 4 years, 5 months ago

Sweet! I am heading to the Riverfront Mall to watch the flooding!

bearded_gnome 4 years, 5 months ago

robotic arm?

beware of the coming resistentialism, when the electronic servants all turn against their masters! [sci/fi theory, somewhat treated as a joke, but who knows.]

be afraid, be very afraid.

notorious_agenda 4 years, 5 months ago

They pick up the majority of trash with the automated truck and a separate truck spots and grabs extra bags. One traditional crew can then cover a much larger space with only a fraction of the trash due to the use of carts and fees. If you want to leave an extra bag in the Johnson county area you have to buy some awesome stickers that do not stick to plastic and when the trash guys don't find your sticker they leave the bag.

workinghard 4 years, 5 months ago

They say they are using it in the Prairie Park area. I drive that area in the mornings, along E25th Terrace. A lot of city trash cans are overfilled and have extra bags of trash setting around it. Some have extra store bought trash cans in addition to the city ones. When I come by later I never see them tagged for having too much trash like they did in older East Lawrence.

Kyle Miller 4 years, 5 months ago

I know what you mean! I live on E25th Terrace and it astonishes me the amount of trash some people have, yet they never get cited for it. I know if it were me in that situation I'd be the first one to get nailed with "Too Much"

tomatogrower 4 years, 5 months ago

Maybe they should try and recycle, then they wouldn't have that much trash.

Kyle Miller 4 years, 5 months ago

Just another prime example of making something that much easier for someone to do. This is also another prime example of how LAZY this society is becoming anymore. Just another prime example of people having to do less and less MANUAL labor! In this day and age if it can't be done by computer, cellphone, etc people don't want a thing to do with it. Its quite sad actually, but it will only get worse as years go on with the way today's youth is brought up with video games, etc.

Kyle Miller 4 years, 5 months ago

No, its far from being a grouch! Its plain and simple that society is getting extremely LAZY! Its nothing like it was 10-15 years ago. People spend more and more time trying to think of ways to get out of work/making it easier. Kinda goes along with why the obesity rate is so high! More and more of sitting on their butts, rather than actually working!

gccs14r 4 years, 5 months ago

Yeah, whatever happened to hitching up the wagon and driving your own stuff out to the dump? Having someone come by to pick it up is lazy, I tell you.

tomatogrower 4 years, 5 months ago

Just another prime example of keeping people from being crippled in their old age, and the city paying workman's comp.

Eugehne Normandin 4 years, 5 months ago

The new system is great they did not pick up my trash or my neighbors.

bad_dog 4 years, 5 months ago

I'll bet your neighbors are grateful...

btsflk 4 years, 5 months ago

The wonders of technology! Soon the truck won't need a driver. There are already driverless cars in existence. More jobs eliminated.

There are already too few jobs for those who want and need them.

And to think I used to scoff at the idea of Singularity.

It's real, it's here, get used to it.

jafs 4 years, 5 months ago

I'd very much like to the see the "efficiencies that prove out" the effect of using the trucks twice as much.

These vehicles are tremendously inefficient, getting about 5 mpg. Running them twice around town will double the use of gas and emissions from them. What environmental savings does this program have that will cancel that out?

jafs 4 years, 5 months ago

Thanks - I missed that part. If true, it is an added efficiency.

woodscolt 4 years, 5 months ago

So the hidden cost of the carts is the trucks we have to buy. The carts and the truck make perfect sense for automating the trash pick up but I hope we don't wind up with the most expensive trash pick up around.

The trade off of jobs for trucks. How much good did that really do. Pink slips, unemployment, more pollution and new trucks. Pretty much sums it up.

gccs14r 4 years, 5 months ago

Work Comp insurance is expensive and goes up if you use it. Having fewer chances for the guys to get injured will lead to cheaper insurance. And the new trucks may be more fuel efficient than the old ones were, and almost certainly burn cleaner.

Austin Bergstrom 4 years, 5 months ago are way too intelligent for this post!

melott 4 years, 5 months ago

And, this will further reduce the number of jobs available for people with no skills. It's much better for them to be on welfare, or stealing to survive.

notwhatyourthink 4 years, 5 months ago

The one's I have seen have a camera system so that the driver has the point of view of the arm. I don't know if ours have that. It is just like a back up camera.

bearded_gnome 4 years, 5 months ago

with the decrease of sanitation workers on the trucks I'd just like to point out that the lawrence sanitation workers have been really cool dudes. very good attitude and always cheerful, especially given what they're doing!

thanks for what yo've been doing.

bearded_gnome 4 years, 5 months ago

so when those robotic arms rebel, just imagine the mess they can make! oh, it's coming, resistentialism, they're going to rebel. joy stick? riiight.

jafs 4 years, 5 months ago

A couple of other thoughts about environmental issues. If the new trucks are even less fuel efficient than the current ones, that's another variable (and they may be, if they're more automated).

And, when the city implements the recycling program, and sends the trucks around more times for that, that will undoubtedly use more gas and produce more emissions.

gatekeeper 4 years, 5 months ago

Hmmm, curious what they will do in N. Lawrence. Some areas have alleys and the article says these trucks can't handle narrow alleys. Other areas have no alley and they put their carts out front. Will they just use the old trucks in N. Lawrence or make us put our carts in front of the house? I've liked having my trash cart in the alley, away from the house and not in plain view.

Matt Schwartz 4 years, 5 months ago

This just in. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome among sanitation workers on the year lifespan?...what is the lifespan of the trucks now.? thanks

Janet Lowther 4 years, 5 months ago

If the pickup arm is controled by a joystick, how is that automated?

The headline suggested (to computer geek me, anyway) that the pick up arm would be equipted with vision and ranging devices to autonomously pick up the trash bins and the driver would only have to get close enough for the mechanism to reach.

What we have here is not automation, but mechanization, with machinery reducing the head-count of workers, not automatically doing the work.

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