The snow is mostly gone, but the accidents keep coming from Schenectady waste haulers.
Drivers of recycling and garbage trucks have hit four parked cars in the past two months alone. The most recent came Wednesday.
On Monday, Mayor Gary McCarthy said he was working on ways to reduce accidents. But after another car was struck Wednesday, City Councilman Vince Riggi said the answer was clear: Tell drivers they must work eight-hour days.
Currently, their contract lets them leave work as soon as they finish their routes. Usually, they start before daybreak and are done by noon.
“They’re rushing,” Riggi said. “There’s clearly a pattern here, without question.”
He said a former manager told him the department used to track productivity — tonnage per hour — and used it to intervene when workers suddenly finished their work in half the time.
“You can tell when they’re rushing,” Riggi said. “But he said they haven’t run productivity reports in a long time.”
Three city drivers have been in three accidents in the past 15 months, and many more have been in two accidents.
So far this year, one driver hit a fence in West Alley, near Glenwood Bouelvard, as he maneuvered through with his garbage truck. Four others hit parked cars.
Mayor McCarthy said the truck drivers have been in a total of seven accidents this year, but he blamed some on the weather or the difficulty of the job.
“We’re moving big pieces of equipment down streets,” he said. “Some of the streets, the way they’re configured, you have to back the equipment down.”
That’s because there’s not enough room to turn at the end some dead-end streets.
But McCarthy said he is now looking at other solutions, including training, discipline and the addition of equipment that would help drivers learn to drive better.
Con-Way, a national trucking company, has two-way cameras installed in all its trucks. The cameras save the seconds before and after every hard braking or hard turn, spokesman Gary Frantz said.
Usually, those incidents don’t lead to an accident. Con-Way calls them “near-misses” and uses them to train drivers.
A week after the incident, the driver reviews the film with a coach and works on defensive driving techniques that could have been used in the situation, Frantz said.
“It’s a real emphasis on coaching and training,” he said.
But drivers also face discipline. He said even minor accidents are recorded as points against them in their permanent records.
At UPS, officials said they start talking about termination in cases of severe or frequent accidents.
Neither policy is the case in Schenectady.
McCarthy said the waste haulers might just be inexperienced. After several retirements, new workers have been promoted to driving positions.
He said the drivers might improve after they get through a couple winters.
“It’s that element of experience,” he said.
But he’s also looking into cameras like the ones used by Con-Way.
“We’re looking at putting those sophisticated pieces of equipment on the trucks,” he said, adding that the equipment could help with maintenance by recording how long the vehicle is left idling, among other items.
But he doesn’t have the money to buy them yet.
“It all comes down to cost,” McCarthy said.
As for whether the drivers are causing accidents by rushing, he noted that the most recent contract was signed just last year. And he’s not convinced it would be worth it to renegotiate the provision allowing workers to go home when they finish their route.
“When that provision was put in the contract, it reduced our overtime and increased our efficiency,” he said. “I want the accidents to stop, but what’s the overall cost-benefit analysis?”
Riggi said the analysis is clear: The accidents must stop.
“I’m quite sure it’s because of that thing in their contract,” he said. “They run in and out between parked cars, they take a lot of chances. It’s a tragedy waiting to happen.”