Veteran city solid-waste driver Paul Blake keeps close watch on the lift mechanism along 116th Street in Point Place.
Toledo's first official one-armed bandit - the automated garbage truck - rolled past Ralph Crabtree's house in Point Place yesterday, snatched his trash, and moved on without a problem.
"The only problem I saw was garbage fell on the street from one of my neighbor's containers," Mr. Crabtree said.
"The instructions said all rubbish was to be bagged, and he had a bunch of stuff just piled in there without a bag."
Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, who addressed reporters just down from the Crabtree home on 116th Street, said the 7,500-home pilot program for automated refuse collection "in all probability" eventually would be expanded to nearly citywide and save Toledo $3 million annually.
"This change is long overdue," Mr. Finkbeiner said.
He acknowledged it would be "darn difficult" to send the automated trucks down some streets, which are either too narrow or have tight parking.
The mayor's news conference was interrupted briefly when an older man pulled over in a red Cadillac and used an expletive to describe the difficulty he has had in maneuvering the required 96-gallon containers.
Julian Highsmith, the city's commissioner of solid waste, addressed the common concern by saying: "just give them a chance."
Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, left, and Julian Highsmith, commissioner of solid waste, hold a press conference marking the first day of the city's automated trash pickup program.
He said residents in other cities like Columbus, which uses automation, initially thought 96-gallon containers would be too large.
"Now, you could not take the large containers back. People love them," he said.
Toledo's plan is to provide each household by 2010 with at least one 96, 64, 48, or 32-gallon container that can be lifted by the refuse truck.
Only the 96-gallon containers are being used in the pilot program.
Mr. Highsmith said containers still were being delivered yesterday.
"There were some addresses that were supposed to be a single residency, but turned out to be multiple occupancies," Mr. Highsmith said.
Each household gets two containers - a black one for refuse and a blue one for all recyclable material.
There will be three automated trucks working five days a week in 10 areas of the city.
The number of routes picked up by the three-man refuse crew on a traditional garbage truck was cut yesterday from 33 to 27 - extending the shift and cutting the need for some temporary workers, the mayor said.
The city's trash routes have not been reconfigured since the early 1990s and have not been adjusted to meet the demands of shifting population, Mr. Finkbeiner said.
Mr. Highsmith said pickup yesterday took a little longer for some neighborhoods. "It's a change, so some of the routes are longer, and they are getting used to it."
Mr. Finkbeiner said the automated program would mean less litter, fewer rodents, increased recycling, and would prolong the life of the city's Hoffman Road landfill.
The mayor said none of the regular city refuse workers would lose their jobs because of the route reduction.
He said they would be transferred to other city departments.
But the staff of temporary refuse collectors would not be guaranteed permanent work with the city, he added.
Last week, the city was forced to hire private trash haulers to help collect residents' garbage because of an apparent "sick-out" among refuse workers.
Twenty-three of the almost 100 refuse collectors were out in what was thought to be a protest to the route reduction that was not union-sanctioned, city leaders said.
Chuck Collinson, business representative for Teamsters Local 20 which represents the refuse collectors, could not be reached for comment.
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