COLLECTION: Fort Lauderdale Pilots New Collection System

A city known for its sea and surf, Fort Lauderdale, Fla. also is becoming noted for its customer satisfaction and efficient operational costs for solid waste services. To meet the challenge, the City of Fort Lauderdale Public Services Department, which serves more than 40,000 customers, recently implemented a citywide change in its collection service based on the results of the Clean City Pilot Program, a unique project started in 1995.

Facing more than $4.5 million per year spent on waste disposal costs, and an overall annual benefit of $800,000 from recycling incentives, the Public Services Department's Clean City division sought to bring these numbers closer together.

Working with the city and neighborhood associations, the pilot program coordinators experimented with various service levels in four distinct neighborhoods, rep- resenting 4,200 customers, to determine how to reduce disposal costs, increase recycling rates, determine cost-effective service levels and ensure customer satisfaction.

Starting in 1995, the city approached the Sailboat Bend community to be its first project participants. This neighborhood of 500 customers had an active civic association and included single- and multi-family pro- perties located within a relatively small and compact boundary.

Needing additional cross-sections of housing and population, the Clean City Services staff added three neighborhoods to the pilot. Riverside Park, Dorsey Riverbend and Coral Ridge, representing 3,700 customers, were phased into the project over 12 months.

As an incentive to participate, the city offered to return any savings in disposal costs and recycling revenues in the first six months of the project to the communities. During the test period, the four neighborhoods received more than $50,000, which was used for improvement and beautification projects. Sailboat Bend received $10,648; Coral Ridge, $30,049; Riverside Park, $3,416 and Dorsey Riverbend, $8,012.

"The participation of the neighborhoods was vital to the process and success of the project," says Ed Udvardy, program manager. "We knew some service changes would work, while others would need adjustment. The cooperation and flexibility of residents in the pilot areas eventually allowed us to arrive at the best service level for all city customers."

Initially, the city changed garbage pickups from twice a week to once a week and it continued to pick up bulk items monthly. However, an additional pickup for yard waste was added to the program. Based on neighborhood reaction and cost and weight comparisons, these service levels changed as the city found the most acceptable, cost-effective schedule.

Eventually, the Clean City Pilot Program recommended:

* Twice a week garbage collection using a new, smaller 65-gallon cart;

* Weekly yard waste collection using the existing 90-gallon cart;

* Weekly recyclables collection; and

* Monthly bulk pickup service.

Public information and education was essential in keeping the neighborhoods aware of service changes. Consequently, the city distributed information in phases using several communication tools, such as stickers on carts; notices and door hangers customized by neighborhood and delivered by work crews; articles in community newsletters; and informational pamphlets on recycling, which also were customized by neighborhood.

Throughout the project, customer comments were encouraged through homeowner group meetings, publicized customer service phone numbers and two separate customer satisfaction surveys, which were conducted within the pilot project neighborhoods.

The first survey provided information that caused mid-project service level changes. The second survey, which was conducted toward the end of the pilot, yielded a 33 percent response rate and noted that customers were highly satisfied with their revised services and new carts. Thus, the Clean City staff could justify citywide changes, which were implemented in December 1998.

While the pilot cost approximately $170,000 - $140,000 to purchase 4,000 new 65-gallon carts, $5,000 for public information and educational materials and $25,000 in labor for cart distribution - the program proved to be a model of partnership and cooperation among city staff, residents and private contractors.

The program disposes of yard waste at $20 per ton and garbage at $80 per ton. No additional operating costs were incurred for yard waste collection because the city transferred trucks and personnel from the bulk program to the yard waste program. In addition, the city purchased 33,000 65-gallon carts for $1,097,910, including assembly and delivery.

Assuming the pilot's savings of $76,723 (which represented 10 percent of the population), Ft. Lauderdale's disposal savings are projected to be $750,000 annually - savings which are intended to benefit customers by offsetting future rate increases and allowing for possible rate reductions.