Garbage truck driver John Hall has seen it all: from almost-naked women running to the curb, toting the heavy, brown city-issued trash cans behind them, to the various items — cinder blocks, tires and engine parts — folks illegally dump in those receptacles.
The one thing Hall doesn’t see anymore is long delays on his routes because of the age and mechanical condition of the truck he drives. Hall was one of nine drivers given a new truck — purchased with BP settlement money — about five months ago.
With roughly $4.7 million in settlement money, the city of Mobile purchased nine new trucks and helped relieve the stress on some of the drivers, including Hall. The 40-year-old father of four and grandfather of six now has more time to spend with the family.
He said he’d get a “good week” or so out of his old truck before it’d be in the shop. Once there, Hall said it could be three to four weeks before he got it back. The problems caused him to miss his routes and have to make them up on Wednesdays and Saturdays. He gleefully pointed to the old truck as he rode by what is called the “graveyard” at one of the city’s garage sites.
“We didn’t have anything to work with,” Hall said. “Everything was broken down. It was frustrating.
“It made it rough,” he added. “When you did get home you were exhausted. You’d have one day off and Sunday morning you had to pay respect to the Lord.”
Since he got his new truck, he’s been off every Saturday and virtually every Wednesday, occasionally having to come in on Wednesday to drive the truck for maintenance reasons, he said.
“I get to take care of business now and I’m not as tired,” Hall said.
Hall remembered one stretch where he was basically without a truck of his own for a year because the old truck kept breaking down. He said driving the truck could be difficult in the summer, especially if the air conditioning stopped working.
Although he got a new truck based on his 19 years of service and the frequency with which his old truck broke down, he said he and other drivers are cognizant of the fact that many of their breathren are still dealing with several issues he was plagued with before. Drivers of new trucks, he said, will either let other drivers borrow their wheels or will help out on unfinished routes.
The trucks are leading to fewer complaints among residents, as well, Public Works supervisor Eddie Armstead said.
“All we needed was some new trucks,” he said, while waiting for employees to clock in at the city’s consolidated garage at about 6 a.m. Monday. “That cut down on a lot of problems.”
Hall said even the residents along his route were happy to see the new truck. He said he told them some of the problems he faced with the old truck.
Drivers and other crew members spend a lot less time waiting on available trucks now and instead can focus on work, Armstead said. Crews now work four 10-hour shifts per week, taking Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays off.
“It’s a whole lot better from where we were,” he said.
Ron Mabins, a former driver who moved to the office, called the new vehicles the “Cadillac of garbage trucks.”
“It rides good,” he said. “It makes you want to work. It’s one of the best trucks they could’ve bought.”
In addition to buying the new trucks, the city is working to make routes more efficient. Previously, some drivers would have as many as 1,300 homes on a route, but the Public Works department is trying to get all drivers down to an average of 800 or so homes per day.
Mabins said the route changes would allow the drivers to get back in enough time to clean their trucks and do other post-route work before clocking out at 4 p.m. This would cut down on driver overtime, he said.
The route changes might result in earlier pickups, city spokeswoman Laura Byrne wrote in an email. It is suggested that residents place garbage carts to the curb no later than 6 a.m. Residents in the Loop area will see their pickup day change from Tuesdays to Mondays, she wrote. The changes will take effect starting Monday, April 18.
“The adjusted garbage pickup schedule will allow city crews to reduce mileage driven by the garbage fleet each week therefore reducing costs.,” Byrne wrote. “The adjusted trash pickup schedule will decrease the number of workdays from 6 to 5 days also reducing costs. These altered routes will also ensure that all citizens will have their garbage and trash picked up on time on a regular basis.