Berkeley could spend more than $3 million on new trucks for waste pickup

In order to close the city’s $1.2 million refuse fund deficit for this fiscal year, the city of Berkeley may allocate approximately $3.6 million toward the purchase of 10 automated side-loader garbage trucks as part of an effort to reduce operating costs.

If Berkeley City Council approves the plan at its meeting Tuesday, approximately $2.9 million will come from the city’s Equipment Replacement Fund, while more than $690,000 will be taken from the city’s refuse fund, which contains revenue from waste pickup fees.

These new trucks are intended to save money in the long-run because they only require one employee to operate them, while the current trucks require two.

According to city spokesperson Mary Kay Clunies-Ross, no workers will be laid off this year, but their numbers could decrease due to natural vacancies, such as retirement or resignation. However, she said position eliminations are planned for the 2013 fiscal year.

Of the 18 trucks the city currently operates, the oldest nine will be auctioned off, and the rest will remain in service.

“The old trucks had exceeded their useful life,” Clunies-Ross said. “They’re over 15 years old. They get an awful lot of use and wear, and what you don’t want is trucks breaking down.”

The new trucks will run on either ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel or compressed natural gas, making them more environmentally friendly than the old trucks, according to the report.

She added that trash and recycling services will not be impacted.

Ricky Jackson, a solid waste shop steward for the city and a member of the Service Employees International Union Local 1021, is currently the only employee testing the new trucks — one was purchased in July to begin employee training — and is not convinced they will be an improvement.

According to Jackson, the truck’s large arm does not work well with Berkeley’s tight street parking.

“Once you start sticking that arm between cars, you’ll have some problems with vehicles being damaged or people actually being hit with the arm,” he said.

During testing, the truck will be operated by two employees, but eventually most trucks will only have one operator. This may prove problematic if the arm cannot reach a trash bin and requires manual processing, which would create traffic, Jackson said.

“We do understand that the solid waste industry has changed to automated vehicles, and in some places they work great,” Jackson said. “We haven’t drawn any permanent conclusions.”

City officials have been observing how the truck operates, and Jackson will submit recommendations to the council in the future.

The $3.6 million price includes factory training, California tire fees, sales tax and delivery charges. Western Truck Center, which manufactures the trucks, was the only company to bid on the contract but according to the plan summary, is also the only one that meets all the city’s specifications.

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  • Anonymous

    Don’t worry, the union will find a way to make two garbage men per truck mandatory even if one of them simply sits in the truck and tweets. 

  • Guest

    We can be assured that any deficit in the refuse fund is due to the city transferring cash  out of the fund and into some other fund and not due to costs associated with refuse collection, not at 20 cents a gallon. Yes, that is correct!  Every gallon of trash in Berkeley costs 20 cents to dispose of.  Actually more,  because  that rate  assumes each gallon of space in a trash can  is full of trash. Berkeley charges the  highest price for trash collection of any community in the United States, and probably the world.
    Spending 3.6 million to close a 1.2 million dollar deficit that is due to the city raiding the refuse fund makes just about zero sense. Another point is that labor costs are much higher in refuse due to the workers being paid for an eight hour work day when it only takes workers  four hours to collect a route. The City  needs to renegotiate the contract so that workers are actually working eight hours. They don’t need to spend millions on new one man trucks that will not work well  in Berkeley for the reasons  stated in the article.