Before the deployed its five a few weeks ago, it advised residents to make sure they had their trash carts out on the curb by 7 a.m.
The system, with automated arms grabbing our carts, lifting and spilling their contents into the trucks' hoppers, would be so much faster, officials said, you might just be bypassed if you lingered too long over your morning coffee.
Hasn't happened. In fact, some routes have gone unfinished on their scheduled pickup day and had to be taken up again the following morning.
At least one Friday route had to be carried over into Saturday morning.
But the blame for that lies not with the trucks, nor with their drivers – it is on us. Our bad.
"The drivers have acclimated really well to the trucks," said operations supervisor Mike Kreiter. "They got plenty of training; all of them had two weeks of practice runs."
Representatives from the company that manufactures the automated-arm systems were on hand, Kreiter said, to troubleshoot. The trucks and their picker-uppers have worked flawlessly, and the operators practically fell in love with their new equipment.
Intransigent, or uninformed, citizens
"If you leave your cart against the garage wall, we can't pick it up," Kreiter said. "If you don't bring it to the curb, we can't pick it up. If you leave your trash cart side-by-side with your recycling cart, we can't pick it up. If you leave trash outside the carts, we can't pick that up."
People are doing all of that and more, and it's costing crews a lot of time and backing up pickup schedules, Kreiter said.
Under the old, familiar method of trash pickup, two operators were assigned to each truck. One would drive, the other would leap off and drag your cart to the back of the truck from wherever you happened to have left it.
Under the new system, there is only one operator, who drives the truck and, stopping in front of your properly positioned cart, toggles the arm controls to pick up and dump your cart without him or her ever leaving the comfort of the cab.
The one-operator system was expected to save the city about $150,000 in labor costs in its first year.
The problem is, if your cart isn't properly positioned, the driver does have to get out, manipulate your cart into position, then get back in and operate the controls.
Then, too – for the time being, at least – the operator has to take the additional time to fill out a polite form telling you just what you did wrong and affix it to your cart.
"We have a long list," Kreiter said. "We tried to think of everything. It's like a check-off."
So, at least the driver doesn't have to actually write you a personal note.
Put it out right, or it won't be picked up
Kreiter said that the Public Works Department's mercy was not yet strained, but it will have its limits. Eventually, drivers will just move on if your trash cart isn't positioned properly, leaving you with another week's worth of fermenting, odoriferous cart-mess.
Kreiter said there was no set date for bypassing those not in compliance, but he warned that eventually the operators would have to skip pickup rather than get out of the trucks.
There is no drop-dead date for that yet, Kreiter said.
"It's still a work in progress," he said. "But when we get a couple of months out, I think we'll have pretty much notified everyone."
No one really has much room to complain that they didn't know better.
Advance notices were mailed to every household, with a long list of do's and don'ts, with diagrams and pictures. Notice was posted on the city website. and WauwatosaNOW advised citizens of the new rules.
Yet some folks didn't get the message or have chosen to ignore it.
So, to review:
- You must place your cart at the edge of the curb or driveway apron, or, if applicable, at the edge of your alleyway.
- There must be at least 3 feet of clearance all around your cart – not only to the sides but behind it as well.
- You may not leave any trash outside the cart, either in piles or any kind of container. Citizens who feel they regularly need a second cart may purchase one, subject to review, and special pickups can be arranged for an additional fee.
Check out what's overhead
There's one more obstacle drivers are encountering that wasn't as well publicized, Kreiter said.
"There needs to be at least 14 feet of clearance overhead," he said. "That's how high the arm goes."
Kreiter said that if that wasn't made as clear to residents as the other guidelines, it is because there are already codes in place specifying that overhead lines must be at least 14 feet off the ground.
"We seem to have a lot of telephone and cable lines that aren't high enough," Kreiter said. "Fortunately, we have some very good connections to We Energies, Time Warner and AT&T, so we're working on getting that addressed."
On a final note, Kreiter said that his operators are also on the lookout for recycleable materials left in garbage carts. That is a forbidden practice.
For now, Kreiter said, recycling offenses will continue to draw only a note, but eventually, citations may follow.
Citizens who feel that recycling perhaps ought to still be a matter of choice should be aware that the city makes a profit on recycling, saving every taxpayer money.