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MUSKOKA - If you had a delay in garbage pick up recently it's due to a driver shortage.
At a recent Engineering and Public Works Committee meeting Stephanie Mack, director of Waste Management and Environmental Services for the district, gave an update on the curb side waste collection contract with Waste Connections of Canada.
"Based on discussions with Waste Connections there is a nation wide driver shortage which has started to impact Muskoka," she said.
Waste Connections is responsible for collecting garbage, blue box recycling, and green bin organics (in some areas) throughout the district on their scheduled days. The contract was procured in 2017 and is valued at approximately $4.5 million annually servicing 33,806 households.
Mack's report states that typically 21 to 24 routes are collected throughout Muskoka depending on the day of the week. Open routes have most often been completed by drivers after they have finished their assigned routes. This practice has had very little impact on residents other than collections occurring later in the day than usual. Over the past few weeks, however, staff have received reports from WCC indicating that 1 or 2 open routes has resulted in numerous missed collections affecting not only the day’s collection but producing a “domino effect” and impacting the following days and multiple communities.
Impacts have most often been on Thursdays due to the large number of service events in Huntsville and trucks making multiple trips back to the landfill in Bracebridge to drop - off material. Further, impacts are being compounded by a requirement in the current contract that specifies that any missed collections must be returned to and collected within 24 hours. This requirement is causing missed collections to occur on Friday routes as well.
Mack noted that Simcoe County is also experiencing similar waste collection issues with the same contractor.
On Oct. 23 a New Tecumseth Free Press Online article outlines issues with waste collection in Simcoe County; indicating that in a recent municipal council report staff note that WCC is "significantly understaffed" for mechanics and drivers, and while they continue to hire their turnover remains high.
According to the article on Oct. 3 WCC senior management informed Simcoe County that they were not likely to have staffing levels up for at last six months or more, suggesting a move to bi-weekly recycling could alleviate its issues.
Muskoka district staff being aware of Simcoe County's collection woes met with Waste Connections in the fall to discuss and protect the region.
"They have assured us that they are working hard on recruiting drivers, we are looking at some efficiencies on Thursdays where we are feeling a little bit of impact. Over the last few weeks Huntsville has posed some challenges. But they have assured us that they have drivers and our routes are fully serviced," Mack said.
District staff said their priority is communication with residents when and if they will be impacted by a missed collection day.
Committee member Coun. Brain Thompson was curious why there is such a driver shortage.
Mack said based on staff's understanding garbage pick up is "hard work, getting out there in all this type of weather and collecting garbage is really a service to this community and to communities across this country ... I do know that this a concern to the waste management business," she said.
Coun. Rick Maloney was curious as to the communication plan and message to residents from the district should a collection day be missed.
Mack said the district is working on a clear message to residents which will be delivered via social media channels as well as notices will be sent to each municipality.
"That is exactly the problem that we were seeing with Thursday's and Friday's scenario ... drivers were going back to finish Huntsville routes impacting Bracebridge on Friday's. We are looking to pilot a standard message that if you are missed during the week drivers will return on Saturday," she said.
"Waste Connections will let us know immediately if there are missed routes, we will be able then to utilize social media and we will also be able to advise area municipalities once we know that there will be a follow up on Saturdays."
Maloney also noted that he would like to see more communication with residents via press releases to local media outlets.
The contract between Waste Connections and the District of Muskoka does have monetary penalties to the company for things like missed collection.
"We are working toward a consistent approach to assessing and charging them back a fine or penalty for things like missing routes and not returning back within a certain time to pick up," Mack said.
District Chair John Klinck didn't mince words and said that "quite frankly it's unacceptable."
"This is not a contract of insignificance ... this is an inside issue, there is a basic expectation from the public what their collection day is on. There is a whole list of what happens when the garbage is at the curb, especially when it's warm and when it's cold so that pretty well covers it all in Muskoka," he said.
Klinck noted that anyone who invested in the waste collection sector within the last few decades has not lost on their investment.
"This is a sector which is exceptionally profitable whether it is a public company or private, we are talking about some of the most successful corporations that you could invest in. There is an obligation there and they have to live up to that obligation," said Klinck.
He concluded his comments with requesting a meeting with the chair of the committee and staff to further discuss the disruption in service. He added that he will not "accept the fact that they can't get a driver ... we might find ourselves in a position where we have to look for alternatives."
"We can't have this on a contract of this magnitude," he said.
Several councillor noted that this is the first time such garbage collection disruption has occurred and lamented over big corporations taking over the industry with larger trucks with much less personalized customer service.
Are you feeling the impact of garbage collection in your municipality? Write in and tell us if you are.