Santa Fe Uses Technology to Bring Garbage Collection up to Speed

Not so long ago, the city of Santa Fe laid out its garbage collection and recycling routes on a hand-drawn map.

“Let that sink in,” Shirlene Sitton, the city’s environmental services director, said this week.

In other words, the city’s trash and recycling operation was, to put in mildly, behind the times.

Those days are over. The Environmental Services Division is using new technology with an array of features, from monitoring each truck’s exact location in real time to automatically recording every time a trash or recycling bin is picked up or missed. The technology even tracks whether drivers are speeding or if their trucks are overheating.

“The city of Santa Fe is really committed to sustainability, and we want to be a smart city and use smart technology,” Sitton said during a press event to tout the new technology.

“We want to make our operations more transparent and, of course, create more accountability within our department and to our customers,” she said. “So this new technology … is going to help us achieve those goals.”

RUBICONSmartCity technology includes a mobile app that is used by city workers, as well as a plug-in device that interfaces with the engines on the trash and recycling trucks. The technology has been installed in the more than 60 vehicles that make up the city’s fleet.

“The technology allows the city of Santa Fe’s Environmental Services Division to track key metrics, including service confirmations, missed pickups and issues at the curb, as well as vehicle usage and maintenance information, leading to more efficient operations and ultimately improved service for its customers and citizens,” the city said in a news release.

Driver Abran Sanchez said the technology is easy to use and helps resolve customer complaints more quickly. In the past, he said, he would communicate problems by radio to his supervisors, who would then pass along the information to the customer.

“Now you actually have a photograph showing what’s wrong with the bin,” he said. “They can go from there to get it settled.”

Sanchez said the app adds a little bit of time to his workload, but it’s worth the effort.

“The routes still get done on a daily basis no matter what,” he said. “It’s efficient, and it works great, actually. It works for all the drivers.”

Though the technology tracks drivers’ every move, Sitton said city workers appreciate the accountability it creates.

“When we first started talking about this, we wanted to make sure it would be accepted, and it has been,” she said.

Sitton said “there’s nothing that irritates a driver more than” having to go back to pick up a trash or recycling bin when they’re certain the cart wasn’t out when they were on their route.

“Sometimes people don’t maybe have their cart out on time, and the truck already went by and they call and they say, ‘You missed me,’ ” she said. “Then someone has to go back at the end of their route the next day, go across town. The drivers really appreciate that they can take pictures of exceptions, and they won’t be blamed, and they won’t be asked to do something they didn’t need to do.”

Sitton said the division plans to conduct a “route optimization study” using the new technology in the future.

“Maybe the routes looked even when drawn on a map, but one route might actually have 100 more stops, she said. “Now that all that information is going into the system … we’ll be working with Rubicon [Global] to do a route optimization study, and we can redraw our routes to make them the most efficient possible.”

In January, the app will include a graffiti section, Sitton said.

“It’ll track the amount of time it takes to clean up graffiti,” she said. “They’ll take an after picture, and we’ll have all kinds of metrics so that we can know really what kind of resources we need to fight graffiti in the town.”

A “great addition” tracks warranties on garbage and recycling carts, Sitton said.

“We spent over a million dollars on recycling carts to roll out our single-stream program,” she said, referring to a system in which residents place several types of recyclable materials in the same cart at curbside. “They’re warrantied for 10 years, so the app now allows us to track any kind of warranty repairs. That is absolutely increasing our efficiency and saving money.”

The technology didn’t come cheap. The cost under a four-year contract with Rubicon totals nearly $600,000.

“Each of our trucks is about $350,000, and we have millions of dollars in assets and an $18 million annual budget,” Sitton said. “This system is improving our efficiency for about less than one percent of our budget per year.”

The city tested the technology for free under a pilot project last year.

“We were looking for technology. They were looking for cities interested in doing a free pilot program,” Sitton said, referring to Rubicon.

“I want to be very clear that at the end the free pilot program, we pulled everything out, and it was out for months,” she added. “We did an RFP [request for proposals]. You’re welcome to see the RFP. We had only two bidders and Rubicon did win. They were the lowest cost bidder.”

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