TAMPA — Charleston Corners resident Rosemary McGuire wasn't so impressed with the rollout of new residential garbage collection last month in unincorporated Hillsborough County.
Much of her street went without a pickup by hauler Republic Services of Florida for the first week, which just happened to overlap with a community-wide yard sale in Westchase, where her neighborhood is located.
But in the weeks since, things have gotten much better, she reports.
"They've ironed out the kinks, I think," McGuire said. "I knew they'd get it, but it was getting a little gamey there for a bit."
Complaints have slowed to a relative trickle as the county nears two months of the new garbage service.
If you're one of the people who continues to experience missed service for household garbage, recyclables or yard waste, you no doubt think the switch-over has been a disaster. But in the bigger-picture scheme of things, county solid waste officials are all but pinching themselves over the relatively smooth transition.
"We feel like it's gotten a lot better," said Kim Byer, the transition manager for Hillsborough County's Public Utilities Department. "After a few weeks, they've gotten the routine down."
She's speaking of the three residential haulers and residents.
County commissioners decided more than a year ago to seek bids for new garbage collection service for the first time in 16 years, hoping greater competition in the industry would save money. It did.
At the same time, they opted to require trucks with automated arms that pick up and empty standardized, county-issued containers. They also changed services zones but ultimately picked the same three companies that served the county previously, Republic, Progressive and Waste Management of Tampa, though their territories changed substantially in some instances.
In the first week of service, the county and providers logged just more than 4,000 complaints, largely from people reporting they had missed a part of or all of their pickups. Several hundred residents also had not gotten their county-issued garbage cans in time for the Oct. 1 launch, and some elderly and disabled customers complained cans were too large or that their back-door service was missed.
Even with those challenges, county officials considered the launch a relative success given that they have more than a quarter-million customers who get served four times a week.
By the sixth week of service, the number of complaints was down to 886, or about a third of 1 percent of all customers.
"Regular garbage pickup has been fine," said Jeff Harris, who lives on a short, seven-home street near Plant City that is served by Republic, which he has had to call weekly. "The major problem has been the recyclables and yard waste."
Harris said this past week was the first without a hitch. But to confirm that, he walked to the curb while speaking on the phone to make sure his yard waste was gone Friday. It was.
"They're better, not perfect," said Rod Clark, who lives near Bearss and Florida avenues and is served by Progressive Waste Solutions. "I can live with this."
In the rollout, haulers experienced numerous challenges. Many are using taller and sometimes longer trucks powered by compressed natural gas that had trouble negotiating narrow streets with low-hanging limbs. There were several reports of mailboxes taken out by trucks, and a few breakdowns.
The new service came with new routes the drivers had to learn, as well as new pickup dates for many residents, who had to remember them. Some people complained of missed service but had the wrong day or were used to drivers arriving at a different time.
Devices embedded within the cans allow the haulers and the county to check if trucks hit a particular street and address. Sometimes, they've found that streets were indeed served but trucks arrived before some cans were placed at the street.
Of the three haulers, Republic consistently has fielded the most complaints. It serves two split zones, one covering the northwest part of the county, the other the northeast, with another territory in between.
Republic saw some of the biggest changes in its service territories, according to the county, as well as substantial changes to pickup dates, requiring new routes for drivers to learn. As of week six, the company and the county combined logged 498 complaints from Republic customers, twice as many as Progressive, which had the second most.
Waste Management has just one zone, or about half the customers as the other two companies.
A Republic spokesman said the company had just 100 missed pickups out of 400,000 service visits, adding up to a small fraction of 1 percent. Others may have called because they thought they were missed but had the wrong day or time.
"From our perspective, any miss is one miss too many, whether it's perceived or actual," spokesman Russ Knocke said. "But the numbers are moving in the right direction."
Many residents continue to complain about the size of their county-issued cans, with many seeking smaller ones because they feel the standard 95-gallon containers are too bulky or unwieldy. After allowing trade-ins early, the county is waiting until the new year to deal with new can requests.
McGuire, from Charleston Corners, managed to secure a smaller size before then.
"At first they sent me a trash can that you could have filled with three bodies," she joked. "Now, at least, I can only fit one body in there."