Automated Garbage Trucks might be Coming to Athens-Clarke County

Athens-Clarke County might be replacing its current fleet of garbage trucks with new fully automatic trucks for $1.9 million.

The Solid Waste Department estimates that the overall savings for purchasing the new trucks, primarily in personnel costs and workers compensation claims, will add up to $500,000 per year. That amount suggests the city could recoup its losses in four years.

One of the key differences between these trucks and the ones currently used by Solid Waste will be that the new vehicles will be identical as opposed to the current ones, which have a range of ages.

The reason that is cost effective is that it is far easier to only need one brand of car to be fixed. Since the parts can be purchased in bulk, which can, but not always, reduce costs, and maintenance is much easier when there is only model that needs to be repaired.

In addition, since these will be new trucks they will not need to be repaired as frequently as the older models.

The primary reason for the savings is that the fully automated trucks will require fewer people to man them. Jim Corley, the director of solid waste for the Athens-Clarke government, said personnel cuts would likely be achieved through attrition.

“We currently have six vacancies and typically have a turnover of 8-12 per year,” Corley said. “We will use temp labor to fill in until the conversion is made. Also I think we can shuffle around the employees to other posts in the government so layoffs will not be needed.”

Although Corley thinks the commission will approve of the new trucks, he acknowledged that one of the biggest obstacles would still be the cost.

“The trucks will cost double that of the standard versions,” Corley said, “and in addition the commission will have to decide if it is worth it to wait for the economic benefits.”

However, there are other benefits to getting the new trucks. Two of the bigger ones are that they will be faster and more efficient so they will save some money that way.

Currently, the garbage trucks patrolling Athens are semi-automatic, which means the collector on the truck has to move the can to the back so the garbage can be dumped in. The newer trucks will use a claw to tip the can directly into the back.

However, in order for the claw apparatus to work, the garbage cans have to be placed at the correct spot in the curb or the claw will not be able to collect the trash, the New Haven (Conn.) Register reported when that city made a similar conversion. The Register also noted that due to the automation, uniform trash bins would have to be provided for the garbage trucks.

Since this is different it will be necessary to educate the people of Athens that the system has changed. If the plan is approved, Corley said, citizens will be informed ahead of time through such means as mailers, water bill inserts, door hanger tags and a notice on the government web site.

Although the policy for garbage pickup would change, residents such as the disabled or the elderly would not need to worry about having to adapt, as the current policy allowing them to place their garbage at a more convenient location, such as their backyard, would remain the same.

Another obstacle that has been in Solid Waste’s way for a long time has been getting funds. Corley has noted that his staff has shrunk over the years and previous proposals, such as around-the-clock garbage pickup and garbage corrals, have been shot down, although part of the later was because they might offend the eyes.

Despite that, Corley said he is optimistic that the cost savings offered by the new plan will make it attractive to commissioners, who he said have offered positive feedback.

The proposal is going to come to a vote in June, said Corley, and will be implemented late this year or early next year.


Bike Sharing comes to Athens

Dressed in a “Talk Nerdy To Me” t-shirt, an engineering student tore through a notebook filled with sketches of wheels, rods, frames and handlebars — all components of an automated bike rack. As he shared his ideas, the eight others in the laboratory listened and offered feedback.

The seven University of Georgia students and two professors, huddled in a small room in the south campus engineering building, are developing one of the most advanced and environmentally sustainable methods of transportation seen by the University.

“Bike Sharing” is a modern movement in which urban cities provide readily available bicycles to the public as an alternative way of transportation. The system began in Europe in the 1960’s, and spread throughout Asia, the Middle East and North and South America in the past two decades. Numerous cities across every region of the United States implemented bike sharing operations, including a large system in downtown Atlanta. According to USA Today, the systems are also popular on college campuses. Over 90 universities in the U.S. contain a public bicycle program.

Back in the engineering building at the University of Georgia, the head coordinator of the transportation project, Kareem Mahmoud, is bringing the bike sharing trend to Athens. Mahmoud is a third year finance major at the University, who recently received a grant from the Office of Sustainability to advance the current university bike sharing program and make it more efficient and wide-spread.

“It will be completely automatic where you put in a pin number or swipe a card to check out a bike, and then you can turn it back in somewhere else,” Mahmoud said. “It’s very stream line, very easy.”

The University implemented the current system, called Bulldog Bikes, last fall but has seen little traffic. There are only ten bikes available and students can only check them out at three separate locations, that is, after they complete an online safety course and fill out administrative paperwork.

Nigel Long, who lives at one of the three check-out locations, is one of the few students who uses Bulldog Bikes. Headed for class on a Tuesday morning, he stopped by the front desk of his residence hall to take one of the bikes. While he signed his name in a notebook, he flipped through the pages and laughed at the pattern he saw.

“You would think this was filled with hundreds of students who use the bikes everyday, but if you look closer, it’s all just my name, and then a couple random ones here and there,” Long said. “Biking is such an easy way to get to campus. I think a bigger bike sharing program would be awesome.”

Mahmoud attained the idea of expanding Bulldog Bikes after class one day over the summer. As he sat on North Campus, he looked towards downtown at Broad Street and noticed the immense amount of bikers that passed by. The young entrepreneur thought it would be beneficial to implement an automatic bike system where one could check in and check out public bikes, when needed, at any time of the day.

“At first I brushed it off and thought, ‘No that’s too complicated’,” Mahmoud said. “Then one day I just sat down and began doing the schematics for it to see how hard the coding would be, and realized that this could actually work.”

He researched the bike sharing programs of multiple cities and towns and based his own model off of successful systems of others.

“There is a system like it in Atlanta, a system like it in Miami,” Mahmoud said. “They are all over the place. Even a large number of college campuses have incorporated them, like Texas
Christian University, University of Kentucky, Ohio State, and even Georgia Tech. I figured UGA needed something like this too.”

Some University of Georgia students, like sophomore Hayley Magill, expressed worry about the safety of additional bikers on the road.

“I did bike sharing in Sweden and I loved it,” Magill said. “The only thing that concerns me is if people know all of the biking laws and would be safe on the bikes. I know cars aren’t always looking for bikers on the road so I might be nervous in trying to figure out the safest places to ride. I guess to get to places around campus without having to wait for a bus would be nice though.”

The expansion of the improved Bulldog Bikes beyond campus and into downtown Athens is a longterm goal for Mahmoud and his engineering team. To achieve that aspiration, however, downtown Athens needs to do some progressive development of its own.

BikeAthens, a local organization that encourages the growth of bike transportation, works with the Athens-Clarke County government to make the city more “bike-able”. Tyler Dewey, the director of BikeAthens, thinks there is potential for Mahmoud’s bike sharing program to work in downtown Athens, but he said that it will take time.

“The difficulty with a bike share is it sometimes takes a while to catch on,” Dewey explained. “I know in D.C. they started one and then it kind of fizzled out. Then they started one again about 10 years later and it has been a wild success.”

He said BikeAthens is supportive of anything that increases ridership and awareness of bikes.

“You can always tell the popular areas of town because you’ll see five or so bikes locked up, even if its to a tree because they can’t find parking. To me that suggests that there is latent demand for something like a bike share.”

With a large bike culture present in Athens, Mahmoud is confident that people will embrace this “cleaner” way of travel and, in turn, reduce the traffic congestion on campus and downtown.

He and his engineering team are in the process of designing a prototype that they will test this semester, and then present to the University administration in order to gain approval from Legal Affairs and move forward with further implementation. The main funding of the project comes from the Office of Sustainability grant and student green fees.

Bike sharing programs are successful across the globe for both environmental and economic reasons. According to the American Society of Landscape Architects, who helped re-map Washington D.C. to be more bike-friendly, a car emits 15 pounds of air pollution into the atmosphere for every eight miles that it drives. When that distance is biked, however, there is no harm to the environment and there is less strain on the biker’s pocketbook.

Bulldog Bikes is in its infant stage as a program, which Mahmoud and his engineering team intend to mature into a state of the art transportation system. After an hour-long debate over non-rustable metal, the nine University of Georgia students and staff ended their meeting on a playful note in an argument about the color of the new Bulldog Bikes.

“We said we wanted the bikes to be distinct,” Mahmoud said with a sly smile. “I say we go with hot pink.”