UPDATED: New plan aims to improve trash service; collection schedules could change

Momentum is building for a city employee to monitor and improve trash collection service. (News-Sentinel.com file photo)
Tom Didier

A change in strategy could help improve much-maligned trash and recycling service for Fort Wayne residents. City and Red River Waste officials hope so, at least.

Under a plan to be announced Tuesday, Red River will concentrate collections in one sector of the city at time instead of spreading its resources over larger areas, City Councilman Tom Didier, R-3rd, said. “One-fifth of the city will be done on Monday, one-fifth on Tuesday, and so forth,” said Didier, who said some residents and businesses will see their collection schedules change once the plan is implemented the week of Nov. 5.

Red River has been affected by a shortage of drivers, Didier said, and concentrating its efforts on a more-limited area at any one time should help compensate for that that.

Although Didier said changing collection days could be confusing, at least in the short term, “all people really care about is getting their garbage picked up.” And that has been a problem. In July the city fined Red River $84,000 after receiving 2,063 verified calls for missed trash collections and another $38,750 in fines for 784 missed recycling pickups. No fines have yet been announced for August, but even more problems were reported, with 4,840 missed trash pickups and 1,100 missed recycling calls.

The changes follow Mayor Tom Henry’s creation in August of a Working Group on Garbage and Recycling that looked at issues and sought solutions. “As we looked for ways to improve, it was important to include neighborhood leaders. They are there every day and know the frustrations some residents have experienced with missed collections,” Henry said in a statement.

The group consisted of leaders from nine neighborhoods representing all quadrants of the City, Fort Wayne City Council members Didier and Jason Arp, R-4th, members of the Solid Waste Department and representatives from Red River Waste Solutions Inc. Group members looked at a variety of issues including missed pick-ups, driver shortages, 311 wait times, improving neighborhood service, and collection route inefficiencies.

The group’s findings led members to the realization that the current day schedule is inefficient, requiring trucks to crisscross the city multiple times a day and that these route inefficiencies are a significant contributing factor to the number of misses occurring each week. Additionally, all supervisors would be located in a geographic area to improve quality control for neighborhoods.

This new plan means a different day for garbage and recycling collection for about 47 percent of the city. Within the next two weeks, residents will receive an “It’s a New Day” postcard in their mailbox that will have the specific information for their pick-up day along with a recycling map inset to verify their recycling collection. All residents will receive a postcard, even if their day is not changing.

Service problems have been an issue for Red River from the start. Verified missed calls by Red River in January were 3,279 for trash and 1,843 for recycling. Those numbers were 1,050 and 661 in February, 918 and 817 in March, 917 and 484 in April, 2,054 and 766 in May, 2,214 and 852 in June and 1,833 and 748 in July. The contract allows the city to impose fines for anything more than one miss per 1,000 households, and $171,450 in fines were levied between April and June. In July, 82,248 homes received trash service and 74,165 recycling service.

Red River Waste Solutions began providing services on Jan. 2 after the city received bids from five companies for the latest garbage and recycling collection contract. The highest bid was $9.61 million, with Red River’s the lowest at $6.96 million. The new contract increased the average homeowner’s monthly fee from about $9.95 to $12.

“We are very appreciative of the efforts put forth by the working group on identifying the challenges we are facing, and working toward solving them. Everyone knows that change is not easy, but these new routes will make a huge impact on the quality of service we can provide. The routes will be much more efficient and organized and will lead to better service for the citizens of Fort Wayne,” Red River President Weldon Smith said in a statement.

Beginning Oct. 13, the city will add half-day Saturday service in the 311 call center. In addition, Red River is recruiting drivers at job fair events and has hired a recruiting firm to assist in the hiring process. A new driver training program is in place that will train drivers locally on the actual trucks they will use on the job, which will ensure new hires are properly trained and on the job quicker.

Residents can get more information about their new collection schedule by going to MyNewTrashDay.com. The page has an interactive search map and other maps showing specific geographic areas.

“If this doesn’t work, we’ll have to get a different company,” Didier said.