SOUTH BEND – Beatrix Patla and James Gibbs live just across the alley from each other, but their views of the city’s plans to accelerate conversion of trash pick-up from alleys to curbside are a world apart.
Gibbs likes the efficiency the city will achieve by switching to automated trucks whose mechanical arms grab trash containers, requiring fewer workers, fewer back injuries and less time. He’s also had city trash trucks hit his garage twice while navigating his narrow alley.
But Patla, who lives in the 600 block of Riverside Drive, dreads having to maneuver her family’s trash container down the steep 5-foot slope from her front yard to the sidewalk. She said she already has nearly broken her ankle wheeling their yard waste and recycling containers down to the curb, and she said trash is typically heavier.
“This is ridiculous, this is awful, ” Patla said. “I will sue the city so hard, they won’t know what hit them, if I break my leg.”
Their neighborhood is slated for the changeover next week, along with everyone else living in an area bounded north and south by Angela and Jefferson boulevards, and east and west by Michigan and Eddy streets.
Public works director Eric Horvath said cities in Michiana and across the nation are increasingly moving to automated trash trucks. The city last year began changing some areas to curbside trash pick-up on a pilot basis.
It’s worked so well, Horvath said, that the city has decided to speed things up, with plans to convert about 1, 200 households a month. Last year about half of the city’s roughly 33, 000 single-family homes were curbside, a figure that’s now approaching 60 percent, Horvath said.
By March 2018, the city hopes to have more than 95 percent of households switched to curbside. Exemptions will be granted to the relatively small number of homes with alleys that are paved, especially ones wide and clear of obstructions from vegetation or power lines and poles.
“The alleys just aren’t big enough for our trucks to get down, and if they’re not paved, we get stuck in them on a regular occasion, especially with inclement weather, ” Horvath said.
Elderly and disabled residents who already receive pick-up at the door will continue to receive that service under curbside.
The city plans to give residents two weeks’ notice before they are changed.
“If it’s too difficult for us to get it curbside or the alley still works, then we’re OK staying in the alley, ” Horvath said. “The goal here is to make sure we’re preventing injuries and not having an extra guy on the back of the truck picking up trash, and being able to go 100-percent automated if we can get there by 2018.”
Horvath said the city has not yet projected how much money it will save. It already has 12 automated trucks and will be replacing older trucks as needed.
He added that the city does not plan to lay off any workers. As routes are changed over, workers will be offered transfers to other city departments, and as workers quit or retire, their positions won’t be filled.
When told of Patla’s complaint, Horvath said he doubted she would be granted an exemption because she is neither elderly nor disabled, and is already able to take her yard waste and recycling containers down her front-yard slope. Residents requesting an exemption can call 311 and solid waste officials will visit the home and determine whether to grant it, Horvath said.
If the city receives enough complaints from people like Patla, it could request common council approval of a tiered system, as St. Joseph County now does for recycling. People can pay more to receive recycling pick-up at the door rather than the curb.
Image by Sergei Tokmakov Terms.Law from Pixabay