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Could alleyway garbage collection be scrapped in Dallas? Some elected officials aren't sure

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The sanitation department collects trash from about 160,000 curbside locations. According to the staff’s presentation, those areas are predominately serviced by “automated side load trucks” — which make up about 45% of the city’s fleet.

City officials say it’s time to rethink how garbage gets collected in Dallas. During Tuesday’s city council meeting, sanitation staff said that allies are usually too narrow — and trying to drive a garbage truck down them often can be hazardous.

Clifton Gillespie, director of the Department of Sanitation Services, showed a compilation of garbage truck dashcam footage.

In one scene, a truck hits low-hanging electrical lines creating sparks. The two workers riding on the back of the truck jump off and scream for the driver to get out of the vehicle.

In another, a truck can be seen ripping out gas meters in a narrow alley. And another shows a sanitation worker smashing into a pole sticking out, as the driver tries to navigate through yet another narrow alley.

“The most efficient and equitable service model would involve no allies, with very limited exceptions,” Gillespie said during the meeting. “But that said, there are many…allies that can be serviced with automated trucks.”

Gillespie says although the goal would be to stop alleyway trash collection, he says in some situations, that’s just not possible. For instance, if a house has a long steep driveway — or no driveway at all.

The majority of Dallas already receives curbside garbage pickup. Around 38% of residents receive alley collection, according to city staff’s presentation.

The sanitation department services around 160,000 curbside collection locations. According to the staff’s presentation, those areas are predominately serviced by “automated side load trucks” — which make up about 45% of the city’s fleet.

Those vehicles only need one driver or operator and make around 233 collections per hour in most areas.

On the other hand, the department services around 98,000 alleyway collection spots. Those pickups are usually made by “rear-load trucks” which make up around 55% of the city’s fleet.

Those vehicles have one driver and two “helpers” — or “contracted temporary laborers.” Those teams make around 125 collections per hour in most areas.

Gillespie told the council that one possible solution would be to change the type of vehicles that specific pick up.

“Most areas currently serviced via alleyway can be serviced more safely and efficiently with automated side-load trucks,” Gillespie said.

Some council members seemed on the fence — or outright against — changing to only curbside collection.

“I am not all in on this, I’ll just start with that,” District 12 Council Member Cara Mendelsohn said.

Mendelsohn asked if neighborhoods could opt out of the city collecting their trash – and instead hire a separate contractor.

“No…sanitation is the exclusive solid waste service provider for single family homes and duplexes in Dallas,” Gillespie said.

Mendelsohn also asked if the city could create two different levels of payments for curbside and alleyway collections.

“Since it clearly is costing more for alley pickup,” Mendelsohn said.

Gillespie said that requires certain allies to be free of overgrown shrubs and plants — and enough room for the trucks to make it through. And he also said a “block by block” assessment of the city’s alleyways to see which would fit the criteria to be possibly included in a new sanitation plan.

Gillespie says there are approximately 8,000 alleys that the sanitation department services.

“Are we going to walk all 8,000 alleys?” Mayor Pro Tem Tennell Atkins asked Gillespie during the meeting.

Gillespie said if the city wanted to bring in some of those alleys that could be serviced with automated trucks — then yes, the department would have to assess those areas.

“And no, we haven’t done that yet because that is a large…time and resource investment to do so,” Gillespie responded to Atkins. “[We wanted] to get the sense of the body before we undertake that.”

District 13 Council Member Gay Donnell Willis pointed to other questions surrounding a possible collection change.

“Some people don’t have a front driveway,” Willis said. “This means they would be dragging…two bins through there yard and that’s not easy…what are we proposing they do?”

Gillespie said he knew that this could be an inconvenience for some residents. But he also said this is already a reality with some curbside collection locations.

“Most customers that receive curbside service keep their cart at the side of their home,” Gillespie said. “And if they don’t have a driveway to roll it through, they do wheel it through their yard.”

There are also services for residents with disabilities for help to get the carts out to the street.

The conversation during Tuesday’s meeting was only the start. The council did not take any action or vote on any changes. It is slated to discuss the issue again in the coming months.

Got a tip? Email Nathan Collins at ncollins@kera.org. You can follow Nathan on Twitter @nathannotforyou.

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Nathan Collins is the Dallas Accountability Reporter for KERA. Collins joined the station after receiving his master’s degree in Investigative Journalism from Arizona State University. Prior to becoming a journalist, he was a professional musician.