Even the adults may catch themselves peering out their windows to watch the trash truck arrive now.
Lawrence households on Tuesday started seeing a new sight pull up to their curbs: a fully automated trash truck, complete with a robotic arm that snatches the city’s new mandated trash carts.
“So far, it is working pretty well,” said Charles Barnes, the city sanitation worker who drives the truck and also operates its joystick that controls the high-tech arm.
City managers like what they’re seeing too. Craig Pruett, solid waste operations supervisor, said the new truck is expected to be able to service 850 households. The more traditional trucks that rely on crew members to bring the trash to the truck serve about 400 households.
“It is the way of the future for this industry,” Pruett said.
Many area communities already use the fully automated trucks, and Pruett said eventually most every neighborhood in Lawrence will be served by one. He estimated about 90 percent of the households in the city will be served by the automated trucks, once the city gets more of the trucks ordered.
He said tightly confined spaces, such as the alleys in the Oread Neighborhood, likely would be the only places that aren’t served by the high-tech vehicles.
“But it will be a several-year process to make the full conversion,” Pruett said.
The city currently has two of the automated side-loader trucks. Only one is in service currently, while the other is being used to train drivers.
Pruett is estimating the city will need eight of the fully automated trucks to handle the residential trash collection of the city. Currently, the city uses 14 of the standard trucks. The city’s new curbside recycling program, which will begin in October 2014, will use the automated trucks too. Three of the new trucks already have been ordered for that service.
The new trucks, which have about a seven-year lifespan, cost about $90,000 more than a traditional trash truck. The trucks also are equipped only to pick up trash from one side of the street at a time, meaning that residents may notice trash trucks driving on their streets twice in the same day.
“There is more drive time on the streets, but the efficiencies prove out in other places,” Pruett said.
The city is expecting a decline in workers' compensation claims as sanitation crews no longer have to do the heavy lifting of the trash or repeatedly climb on and off the back of trucks.
Each truck also has only one crew member: the driver/joystick operator. Traditional trash trucks usually have a crew of three. City officials, though, don’t anticipate layoffs as part of the new program. The city may reduce its workforce some through attrition, but that likely only would be a temporary reduction. The city will need additional drivers as it begins the curbside recycling program in late 2014.
Barnes, the driver, said he likes the change. The new trucks have the steering wheel on the right side of the cab, meaning when he has to get out of the truck, he’s not stepping into traffic.
As more of the trash trucks hit the streets, residents may notice the time of day trash crews arrive may be different from normal. The city is tweaking routes to accommodate the truck’s ability to service more households, but Pruett said the city isn’t changing the day of the week for any households.
City officials, though, are urging residents to be sure to have their trash out by 7 a.m., to fit all the trash they can into the city-issued trash carts, and to make sure the carts are at least three feet clear of any obstructions, such as parked cars or mailboxes.