“I’ve been in this business a long time, and it takes a lot to make me freak, but I freaked,” he said. “I mean, I’m looking at not being able to get the job done without doing something drastic.”
The three Lodal garbage trucks — models built in 1999, 2003 and 2006 — were all at or beyond the end of the seven-year lifespan Elliott said is common for solid waste vehicles. His department had not yet replaced them due to a lack of funds brought on by the down economy. The ’99 model needed new brake pads, the ’03 model had a broken front axel and the ’06 model had a broken steering cylinder.
Lodal trucks, Elliott explained, are built on military-grade chassis and parts for them are not as common as those for other trucks, such as Mack or Freightliner. The steering cylinder was to be overnighted but “their overnight turned into a week,” Elliot said.
Public works was then left facing a part of a normal week of service and additional pickups on the days after Thanksgiving — as city employees had two days off for the holiday — without an appropriate backup.
“The issue that we have in providing the service we provide is everything is done on a daily route. Now if we have one truck go down, it’s going to be down for a week, we have two other trucks. We’re OK if they both stay up,” Elliott said. “But if we have another one break down we have to take a conventional, old model truck we use daily for yard waste.”
The problem with that truck, Elliott said, is it requires three employees to operate rather than two.
“But that eats up another of my employees that normally does my yard waste. So here I am, if I do anything other than a two-man operation then I’m gouging into my work force. That’s going to affect me in other areas. So I didn’t really have a choice,” he said.
CPW uses a particular type of garbage truck for the best efficiency possible short of using automated equipment. Their trucks are equipped with side loading and dumping arms for the trash cans and a two-man, standing-drive cab that allows employees to quickly exit the truck to do their job.
Such a specific style of vehicle is part of Elliott’s larger plan to maximize efficiency in his department. It is a case of doing more with less, said City Manager Sam Grove.
“We look at reductions across the board outside of police and fire — obviously we’re beefing that up — but we’ve looked at reductions across the board since 2008 and always strive to do more with less, particularly in public works,” he said. “Bobby kind of led the charge, if you will, in terms of building in efficiencies in the operations down there.”
However, requiring the two-man, standing-drive cab made it much more difficult for Elliott to quickly find a replacement vehicle. New models would not be available until approximately August 2013 and purchasing a Lodal was ruled out due to the difficulty in getting parts.
He ultimately found a single vehicle, based on a Freightliner chassis, that matched the department’s requirements. It was the only truck available in the United States, Elliott said.
It was a truck the department had previously demoed when it was considering a future purchase. Before all three residential garbage trucks broke down, the department was planning on purchasing an additional commercial garbage truck this year and a residential one in 2013. Now they switched those plans.
GSP Marketing, Elliott said, allowed CPW to use the demo truck free of charge through the end of Thanksgiving so the department could get through the emergency.
“‘If it will help you, we will ship this truck to you to help you through the holidays, regardless of whether you buy it or not,’” said Elliott as he recalled the conversation with GSP. “And I said, ‘Quote me a price on it, because I can’t find anything else anywhere else.’”
“The truck really was a godsend, I guess, in the fact that it was available and we were able to acquire it,” he added.
The purchase came to $201,779.04, which is approximately $30,000 less than a new truck as it was a demo unit. Since the purchase of a commercial truck was originally written into the budget, Grove believed the emergency purchase would not affect rates.
“I think it works out that we can keep it in budget and make sure we supply services to both our residential and commercial users. … It shouldn’t create any pressure on rates to go up, everything else being equal,” he said.
An additional benefit is the new truck’s increased cargo capacity, which allows CPD to make only one trip a day to the dump, rather than the previous two trips. That, and the engine’s ability to operate at lower rpm while servicing customers, will cut back on the department’s fuel costs.
“That should help manpower and operating expense,” Grove said. “That’s the silver lining to the truck breaking down, I guess.”