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Why garbage trucks hustle in Gulfport, other cities

Sanitation workers in Gulfport make a pickup on 54th Street S. “If it’s done in 6 1/2 hours, we tell them, ‘You can go home,’ ” the mayor says.

PATTI EWALD | Times Correspondent

Sanitation workers in Gulfport make a pickup on 54th Street S. “If it’s done in 6 1/2 hours, we tell them, ‘You can go home,’ ” the mayor says.

GULFPORT — Garbage trucks seem to fly down city streets.

There's no dilly-dallying by the workers on the city's two manual and one automated residential garbage pickup trucks.

That's because when they're done with their routes, they're done for the day.

"We know the routes and we know how much time it takes to perform the routes," Mayor Mike Yakes said.

If they can perform the task in less time, more power to them.

"We gave the incentive to get those routes finished. If it's done in 6 1/2 hours, we tell them, 'You can go home,' " Yakes said.

"When you work that hard in this Florida environment, you deserve to be able to go home when your work is done," the mayor said.

But this pay-for-task perk only applies to workers on the trucks that do regular garbage pickup. The special trash collectors — the ones who pick up things like refrigerators and palm tree clippings — work a standard eight hours.

"If they complete their task, they do other things like trim trees," Don Sopak, Gulfport's public works director, said.

While some cities use some tax money to pay for garbage collection, Gulfport pays its workers with the fees paid by residents.

The city has no plans to bid out its garbage collection to a private contractor.

"We use our own people and are able to keep it at a low price," Sopak said. "We hope to expand our automated routes to reduce employment, and costs."

Automated trucks pick up containers with a robotic arm, eliminating the need for people to physically throw the trash into the truck bed. That reduces the number of back injuries and consequently the number of workers' compensation claims.

The much larger city of St. Petersburg, which is almost wholly automated, also pays its workers — who work four 10-hour days — by the task.

"Our average route is 1,200 homes," Benjamin Shirley, sanitation department director, said.

"The incentive is that you give them 1,200 homes, which is a little much. That should take 10 hours but if you do it in eight, you get those two hours," Shirley said.

The garbage collectors on the beaches are paid in a similar manner.

Waste Services Inc., a private hauler that services eight municipalities in Pinellas County, including Tarpon Springs, Palm Harbor and Tierra Verde, pays its workers a day rate.

"And that pretty much is the way the whole industry pays," Bill Krimmel, district manager in Pinellas County, said.

County Recycling Inc., which services the Lealman area, also pays by the task.

"We think it puts a little more hop in their step," owner James Roberto said.

"And it's a positive thing when the guys get the job done and get those trucks off the road.

"Everybody is worried about the carbon footprints … well, those trucks use a lot of fuel," Roberto said.

Dunedin is the exception to the rule. There, the workers are paid on an hourly basis.

"They do their assignment and then if they are done, they do other things," Joe Hurley, interim supervisor of Dunedin Solid Waste, said.

St. Petersburg, like Gulfport, would like to collect the entire city's garbage with automated trucks but it's just not possible.

So far, Gulfport has automated pickup in Pasadena Yacht and Country Club and in the Marina District. But it is working on converting as much of the city as possible.

Gulfport has some alleys that are too narrow for the trucks to navigate. St. Petersburg has some neighborhoods — Jungle Prada, for example — where there are too many big trees for the trucks to navigate.

"In most cities, you are going to have unique areas that have to be picked up manually because you just can't get there," Shirley said.

Why garbage trucks hustle in Gulfport, other cities 08/18/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 18, 2009 3:51pm]
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