There are St. Paul residents who have welcomed the city’s new system of organized trash collection for reducing garbage truck traffic down their streets and alleys. And there are others who continue to be vexed by the program’s limited choices, including the ability to choose their own hauler.
But, six months after the turbulent rollout of the program, residents, haulers and city officials are gradually getting used to organized trash collection, the City Council was told Wednesday.
Complaints about trash service have dwindled since organized trash collection began in October, according to Christopher Swanson, solid waste program supervisor in the city’s Public Works department.
On the other hand, the proportion of customers who aren’t paying their bills has barely moved — from 11.5% in the first three months of the program to 11% in the second three months.
Wednesday’s council meeting was informational, and the council’s leeway to make changes is limited by the five-year contract the city signed with a consortium of haulers last year.
Still, some council members expressed concern with a service that has sparked a small-scale uprising among certain residents who say they got along fine with the old, privately arranged trash hauling.
Council Member Jane Prince said the service is especially difficult for people on fixed incomes. And she bemoaned the loss of personal customer service that people enjoyed with small local haulers after several large haulers bought out the routes of smaller businesses. She talked about a resident of her ward who had to leave the state for a month after a death in the family. The hauler wouldn’t provide a temporary hold on her garbage bill because the resident didn’t provide two weeks’ notice.
“What I’ve asked the consortium for is some simple common sense,” Prince said.
Council Member Rebecca Noecker asked, “How are we measuring success?”
She and others on the council decided to go with organized trash collection, in part, because of stated benefits that include less wear and tear on alleys and roads and less pollution from garbage trucks.
“What metrics are we tracking?” she asked Swanson.
He said officials wouldn’t know the effects of the wear and tear and pollution for years. Public works officials will consider a number of ways to evaluate the program, he said, including looking at illegal dumping before and after the plan went into effect.
The 1,395 complaints about the service have largely concerned billing, late fees, service problems and confusion over payment, according to the city. The trash service has also been a challenge for some haulers. Buyouts and mergers have resulted in the original consortium of 11 haulers shrinking to seven, and further consolidation is likely.
The city also reported a relatively tiny number of missed pickups — 1,676, or 0.7% of all collections — though that number doesn’t include weather-related disruptions.
Council President Amy Brendmoen asked Public Works officials to return to the council with another update in September.