COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- Ken Park's trash cans continue to sit in front of his McPherson Avenue home. The bins have been outside for days, and Park expects them to stay there while he waits for his trash company to pick them up.
He's a Waste Connections customer and has had continuous issues with his trash being picked up. Leaving his trash out has caused issues with rodents and raccoons. Park told KRDO he's "over it."
When KRDO reached out to Waste Connections about the problem, we learned it's a multi-faceted issue -- but it's one they're actively working to fix.
"We're seeing the light at the end of the tunnel," Waste Connections District Manager Paul Breiterman said.
Waste Connections acquired Springs Waste back in December of 2020. Due to several issues with merging the two companies, they just changed the routes for all their customers on September 20. They say it's the largest reroute in Colorado Springs history. Nearly all of their roughly 75,000 customers now have a new pickup day.
Breiterman said safety is a top priority at Waste Connections and that's forced them to make a lot of changes from how Springs Waste used to operate.
"We would have a truck from the former Springs Waste yard go down a street and a truck from the Waste Connections yard go down the same street picking up neighbors. That's not safe for communities. I mean, we want to limit the amount of 50-ton trucks going through the neighborhoods with kids playing, cars, dog walkers, or anything like that. We just don't want to be in neighborhoods more than we need to, right? It's not very efficient either," Breiterman said, adding that the new routes also limit wear and tear on the roads and carbon emissions.
To address those safety issues, they had to take damaged trucks off the streets. They had to implement a random drug screening policy for their drivers. They also changed the pay structure for their drivers to incentivize safety.
"They were getting paid a day rate, meaning a flat dollar amount for however much time they worked. The incentive when people are paid on a day rate is to hurry up and do the job as quick as you can, because if you get it done in six hours, or 10 hours, you're making the same amount of money. That compromises safety. We don't want them to rush, we want to take their time to do the job, right? Do it mindfully and safely. So, one of the first things we did I think it was a month into it, we changed all those date rate drivers into hourly with overtime pay," Breiterman said.
Their drivers are also required to pass full background checks, as their drivers operate in school districts, military bases, and neighborhoods too.
He also claimed the company's "incidence rate", or "I-Rate", which refers to the number of safety incidents happening per every 100 drivers, is one of the lowest in the industry.
"We have one of the lowest if not the lowest I-Rates in the industry. Springs Waste had an I-Rate of over 80 -- and what that means is in any given year, they'll have 80% of their drivers involved in some sort of incident, hitting a mailbox, a wall, a child, another car, all of that is an incident," he said. "Waste Connections in this market, we operate around 15 or 16. So, we had to get safety taken care of first and foremost."
Breiterman also said the entire trash disposal industry is facing pandemic-related issues right now -- and Waste Connections is not immune.
"There's a labor shortage. I see it in all different industries across the board, and definitely, it's not hidden in the fact of licensed CDL drivers. We see gas prices hiking just because of the lack of drivers, but with our stringent hiring credentials, right? Background checks, safe history of driving, drug and alcohol tests, and so forth, we really, unfortunately, limit the pool that we can employ from, but for the benefit of safety, right? We want good quality people that will be safe on the road, and we can trust," Breiterman said.
He said his competitors are experiencing the same thing.
"Other companies in town are facing the same challenges. I know there's a competitor in town that has reduced their their trash collection for residential service temporarily to every other week. There's other companies that routinely have a few routes on the ground every day the same way we do. You know, it's something we're all going to get through. We're seeing the job market change," he said.
COVID-19 is also setting back Waste Connections, with some drivers being out due to either having the virus or having to care for family members who have contracted it.
Waste Connections operates in much of North America, but the entire Colorado Springs operation is local -- down to their call center.
"If someone calls because it's snowing out there, a person who answers the phone can look out the window know exactly what they're talking about. If they say, 'I'm on the corner of so and so and such and such,' they know exactly where that is. This is our community," Breiterman said.
The flipside of this being a local operation is that they have limited capacity. Their call center has experienced issues with volume and people have complained about struggling to get through. To solve that, Breiterman suggests either using their App or their website to get through to someone. The website also has a virtual assistant that can help answer some basic questions.