A Fleet In The Streets: City's 600-plus vehicles working for residents

Published on Friday, 16 May 2014 23:15 - Written by Kelly Gooch kgooch@tylerpaper.com

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Robert Dominguez has a method to picking up residents’ trash.

Sitting in the driver’s seat of a Solid Waste vehicle, he monitors the trashcan, properly lines up the truck, and the trashcan is picked up with the arm of the truck, then dumped.

Dominguez said he looks in the mirror to ensure that the garbage falls in the truck, and if there are any major spills, the “ground man,” who typically sits in the seat next to him, will get out and clean things up.

Then it’s on to the next customer. He picks up an estimated eight tons of trash each workday.

“I enjoy it. I enjoy working outdoors,” Dominguez said, adding that he also engages with people in the process.

He said it may be challenging around the holidays because the amount of trash increases, but he’s used to it — it’s been his job for more than 20 years.

Dominguez, a residential equipment operator, drives one of the city’s hundreds of vehicles.

Tyler has more than 600 vehicles and pieces of equipment, including police vehicles, fire trucks, buses and light-duty trucks, said Leroy Sparrow, vehicle services manager for the city. That number also includes equipment such as tractors and backhoes, as well as Tyler Transit’s 10 large buses, three medium buses, four vans, one truck and one SUV. It does not include boats and trailers.

Tyler’s number compares to Beaumont’s 1,236 vehicles and pieces of equipment, which includes 260 boats, pumps, generators and trailers, and Waco’s 649 drivable vehicles, which includes things such as tractors but does not include “nonrolling” stock, such as trailers and rolling generators, according to representatives from the respective cities. 

Sparrow said Tyler tries to keep its number the same, and if 50 vehicles were added, the city generally would try to sell 50. The city tries to add vehicles or equipment if there are changes in a department’s business structure.

Each year, Tyler Vehicle Equipment Services has a $4 million budget for purchasing new vehicles, a $3 million budget for maintenance and a $2 million budget for unleaded and diesel fuel. Natural gas is done separately. 

As of earlier this month, the city had spent about $45,000 on natural gas. Although the budget for natural gas is $161,000, the city projects that it will end up spending $112,000 by the end of this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, Sparrow said.

“We haven’t gotten all the (natural gas) trucks that we thought we would have by now, so it’s kind of making our projections lower,” he explained.

Currently, he said, the city has 25 natural gas vehicles, and four more natural gas vehicles — three refuse trucks and one dump truck — are on order and likely will come in next month.

Sparrow said the focus is to have all natural-gas vehicles for residential trash pick-up, as those are the biggest trucks, have the most pollutants and would present the greatest fuel savings. The plan is to accomplish that in the next 10 years.

Sparrow pointed out the various benefits of using natural gas versus unleaded and diesel, such as the fact it cleans the environment by reducing pollutants. 

Using natural gas vehicles also saves money, and as of earlier this month, the city had saved $78,000 since it started using natural gas vehicles in December 2011, he said.

Tyler Solid Waste Director Russ Jackson said the natural gas vehicles that Solid Waste is using helps prevent a rise in trash service rates. The last time the trash rates increased was October 2011. 

Sparrow said vehicles and equipment are maintained at a facility on Oakwood Street, but if the issue can’t be handled there, the city may use its external service agreements and have the work done by an outside source.

If a vehicle or piece of equipment breaks down, the internal vehicle maintenance shop determines whether it is under warranty and whether it will be fixed there or at an outside source, Jackson said. Emergency vehicles are prioritized.

Sparrow also said lawn mowers are particularly important for the Parks and Recreation Department, as they have to maintain parks and keep fields in “top shape.”

In Solid Waste, routes vary from 800 to 1,000 customers, said Galen Billington, residential superintendent with Tyler’s Solid Waste Department.

“A lot of people depend on us. They set their can out there, and they expect for it to get dumped,” he said.

“It’s all routine, and the guys really love working here. It’s a good job, and it’s out in the public, so if you like working outside this would be the right job for you.”