The wheels really are coming off now... Emterra, the city's primary contractor for waste pickup, has had a rough ride since it started hauling our garbage two years ago, and that has little to do with our potholed roads.
Last year, its drivers and trucks missed 16,000 trash collections and another 15,000 recycling pickups, which reportedly cost the company hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines. Then there were the reports about inspectors pulling some Emterra trucks off the road for not passing safety standards, and 40 per cent of Emterra's compressed-natural-gas-driven fleet breaking down because of the extreme winter cold. That left its competitor, BFI, to do some of Emterra's routes.
All of which has left some city councillors -- namely Russ Wyatt (Transcona), Ross Eadie (Mynarski) and John Orlikow (River Heights-East Fort Garry) -- questioning the viability of the company and the advisability of continuing with Winnipeg's five-year garbage, recycling and yard-waste collection contract with Emterra.
And now comes more evidence the wheels really are falling off Emterra's program.
Last year, the city said Wednesday, 7,600 of Emterra's 335,000 trash and recycling carts required repairs to their wheels, lids or other parts. That doesn't include the more than 1,200 carts that needed replacing for a total of nearly 9,000 damaged carts in one year.
BFI has fewer carts (45,000) and fewer damaged carts (423), but it also has a lower overall percentage of replacements and repairs: less than one per cent compared with Emterra's 2.7.
I asked for the numbers because I had some personal experience with a damaged cart. The wheel broke off our recycling cart several weeks ago, but I didn't bother to report the problem because I wasn't sure who was responsible for fixing or paying for the repairs. Besides, I'm also a notorious procrastinator.
As it turns out, I didn't have to pay for the repairs, or even call.
One day, I noticed an Emterra driver stopped in front of our cart writing something. I assumed he was writing a report about our missing wheel.
That was before I learned the contractor is required to arrange and pay for the repairs or replacement and the response time is usually within one collection cycle.
It didn't happen that quickly.
On Tuesday, an Emterra employee left a note asking me to leave the damaged cart by the curb.
But instead of Emterra showing up Wednesday, a city worker knocked on my door with a new wheel.
The city worker went on to say there were a lot more damaged carts in my Linden Woods neighbourhood and wondered how long Emterra could go on paying for all the damage to the carts and still make a profit?
In a way, we're paying for the damage, because in addition to whatever portion of our property taxes that still goes into garbage collection, we're paying another $50 each year in what the city calls a "waste diversion fee," which it claims is meant "for new programs to increase diversion and reduce waste."
At the rate the damaged carts and parts are being carted off, I'm not sure the program is going exactly as planned. Anyway, I contacted the city in hopes of discovering what kind of cart carnage we're looking at across the city. How many other wheels have been falling off and carts trashed?
A city spokesman suggested the numbers weren't out of line with what was expected.
"The amount and type of damage is consistent with other municipalities," the spokesman stated in an email.
But, if Paul Barsby's Island Lakes neighbourhood is any indication, the damage isn't abating. Over the phone Wednesday, he told me in recent weeks five of his neighbours -- all within sight of his front step -- have had to have damaged carts repaired. And last summer, he had to have one of his replaced. Barsby said he happened to be outside and witnessed the damage being done when the driver, who was being trained on the job, made what he can only assume was a rookie mistake.
"Some of them are good," Barsby said, "and some of them don't care. They just bang them down, they don't place them."
With that, Barsby added this: "I don't know if they need better drivers or better carts."
Maybe we property-tax and waste-diversion fee payers could do with better carts, better truck drivers and a new contractor, too. Enough of all this recycled garbage.