(Star Advertiser) Editorial: New bulky item pickup plan iffy

(Source: Star Advertiser)

Bulky item pickup has always been a big, bulky mess. The city’s planned conversion to a more appointment-based system offers some potential for greater efficiency, but the pilot project starting June 3 will test whether that theory plays out in practice. Oahu residents have good reason to feel doubtful about its prospects, based on past observations the city auditor has made about trash-service inefficiencies.

There are also myriad ways things can go south over the course of the test, running through January next year — unintended consequences nobody anticipated. And the pilot zone is large, extending from Foster Village to Hawaii Kai and including Waikiki, so there could be sizable knots to untangle.

One such problem already was raised by multifamily-building representatives, who argued that the pilot project setup would compel resident managers unreasonably to manage the assorted requests for bulky-item pickup in their apartment complexes.

They were right, of course, and now the city Department of Environmental Services is working to enable appointments for pickups requested by individual apartment residents; appointments are being made online or by phone (768-3200).

There is no set date for completing the revisions to the online reservations website (accessible through a link at opala.org), said department spokesman Markus Owens, who added that the city is working with its vendor to make the software changes.

The City Council recently rejected an administration proposal to charge a fee for regular trash collection, but clearly, both branches are contemplating ways to monetize bulky item pickup as an add-on city service. Bill 13, still sitting within Council committee, would bill residents for the service.

However, Owens said, the bill is on hold — as it should be, until it’s clear that the appointment system can deliver the service in a timely fashion.

Timeliness, and overall effectiveness, were attributes found lacking in the bulky item service by the city auditor. In his report issued in August 2017, fulfillment of the existing bulky item program, in which items are set out according to a neighborhood’s fixed schedule of monthly bulky pickups, was spotty. Most of the auditor’s data came from the two-year period starting July 2015.

Over those two years, there were 115 complaints of missed or late pickups. Part of the problem appears to be staffing levels, according to the audit.

Sick leave and leave without pay were excessive, the auditor said. Between July 2015 and April 2017, 102 employees took 17,815 hours of sick leave, and 21 employees took over 3,900 hours of leave without pay. And the auditor counted 153 employees who took in $1.7 million in overtime for bulky and white-goods collection over the period July 2015 to July 2016.

Part of the problem owes to the residents either lacking information about the rules or ignoring them. There were many complaints of improperly placing the bulky items or setting them out on the wrong day.

The point is that these same employees are going to be tasked with operating a more complicated system. There must be much greater public outreach and education as the project unfolds to make it work at all.

Some of those raising concerns say the new system could improve on the current model. Trash pickup by appointment should result in trash being set out curbside for a shorter period, with fewer neighbors able to add their own random piles of rubbish. Legitimate items should be cleared more quickly.

Until it’s been proven to work, though, there should be no fee — tempting as that would be for the city, hungry for new revenue, to impose.

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