Starting next year, sanitation collection from most of Dallas’ residential alleys could be phased out to minimize risk to city workers and equipment and improve service delivery.

That’s what Clifton Gillespie, director of the Department of Sanitation Services, told the Dallas City Council on Tuesday when he detailed in a presentation how he plans to increase curbside collection while all but effectively ending alley pick-ups.

“The varied conditions of alleyways, including surface and right-of-way width, curbs and embankments, structural encroachments, utility poles, and overhead lines and gas meters significantly affect our collection methods and the wear-and-tear on our equipment,” he said.

Each week, sanitation workers collect refuse and recyclables from 258,000 locations across Dallas. Of those, 62% are curbside, and 38% are alleys with widths generally between 8 and 10 feet. Most of the city’s sanitation trucks are just over 8 feet wide — a safety issue Gillespie highlighted in a short video showing injuries to sanitation workers and damage to trucks during alley collections.

‘Myriad of Hazards’

“The infrastructure challenges in our alleys’ narrow passages, inadequate space for carts, and a myriad of hazards are reflective of 20th century standards,” Gillespie said. “[They are] not designed for today’s solid waste management needs. Crews face daily risks from extreme weather, overhead utility lines, utility poles, gas meters, and unpredictable alley conditions, including ruts and other obstructions. These conditions have also caused fires resulting in total losses of trucks, injuries to personnel, and near misses for electrocution.”

Over the last two years, the city has filed 246 insurance claims totaling about $257,000, Gillespie said.

“The majority of the incidents … are related to fences or ruts in the alley. So, we have our own what we call minor damage repair team that just essentially chases our trucks, repairing fences and ruts and replacing sod and those sorts of things. We put the dollar figure for those teams at around $580,000 a year.”

The “vast majority” of more than 98,000 alley collection points are in North Dallas, Gillespie said.

“Curbside collection is widely recognized as a best practice in residential solid waste management for several key reasons. First, it allows for the utilization of automated side-load trucks, which make up almost half of our fleet. These vehicles are operated by a single driver, which maximizes efficiency and minimizes labor costs. On average, a driver can service up to 233 locations per hour, depending on the density of the route, making this method not only efficient but also cost-effective.”

Furthermore, Gillespie said, alley collection requires a driver and two laborers.

“The automated nature of curbside collection is less dependent on workforce availability. This aspect is particularly advantageous during extreme weather conditions, ensuring consistent service when it’s most challenging for laborers to work,” he reported.

The Department of Sanitation Services is one of Dallas’ enterprise funds, meaning it’s a cost-recovery fund that operates on fees. Its budget for this fiscal year is about $154 million.

“When we tally these expenses, the automated trucks offer annual savings of millions in operating costs while also aligning with our modern best practices for efficiency and environmental friendliness,” Gillespie told council members. “Reviewing Sanitation’s five-year history, the average increase year over year has been approximately 7%. The total rate increase over the five-year period is 32.6%.”

He attributed the increase to personnel, temporary labor, cost of equipment, and contractor services.

“To summarize our current operational state, most sanitation customers already receive curbside collection services,” Gillespie said. “Most areas currently service via alleyway can be serviced more safely and efficiently from the curb with automated side-load trucks. Rear-load trucks make up more than half of the fleet [and] have three times the staffing but do less work than automated trucks while costing significantly more to operate.”

‘Dangerous Work’

Sanitation collection “consistently ranks among the top 10 deadliest jobs in the U.S. … further highlighting the unsustainable nature of our reliance on this labor model,” Gillespie said.

Sanitation officials propose transitioning to curbside collection through a 12-month phase-out of 8-foot-wide alleys, an 18-month phase-out of 9-foot-wide alleys, and a 24-month phase-out of “all other alleys not safe or efficient to operate in.”

Gillespie said that “special considerations” will be made for locations where “front-of-home curbside collection is not operationally feasible.” Also, third-party and other services remain available for disabled customers to help them move carts for collection.

“The primary intent of this change would be for the safety of those involved in this dangerous work,” Gillespie said. “The secondary benefits are numerous. The efficiency of service delivery would improve. Efficiency would also be gained through opportunities to reduce the fleet over time, and further standardize equipment and the skills and processes to maintain that equipment.”

The department uses 94 side-load trucks primarily for curbside collection. It uses 114 rear-load trucks primarily for alley collection.

Increased Monthly Rate

“Looking forward at the five-year forecast for sanitation, the sanitation utility rate, as it stands now without consideration to the proposed service delivery changes, there’s an average increase of 3.6% each year,” Gillespie said. “… Each dollar on the monthly sanitation rate generates approximately $3 million in revenue. A basic assumption would be that if sanitation was all curbside with automated trucks today with no temporary labor, the rate would be at least $3 per month lower before considering any other factors such as less equipment and more standardized maintenance.”

Since 2019-2020, the monthly residential rate has increased from $28.64 to $37.98 this fiscal year. Gillespie said a rate study is underway to examine “all factors associated with alley versus curb collection” to revise officials’ five-year forecast. Council members will receive the study in the fall.

“We’ve been talking about … within the last seven years the need to move in this direction,” Interim City Manager Kimberly Tolbert said. “We also realize that if we look at this holistically over the next five years, we’re talking about anywhere between $9 [million] and $10 million savings that would allow for us to then reduce the growth of the rate that we’re having to charge for sanitation collections.”

Council Member Paul Ridley (District 14) asked Gillespie if he expects “a slower increase” in residents’ service costs.

“I hesitate to say at this point that there would be a reduction in the cost just because there’s so many other factors that do go into this,” Gillespie said. “And we’re talking about an extended phase-down as the rear-load trucks age out of the fleet. … But at this point, this briefing is just to gather feedback and integrate it into a revised operating procedure that we would show you again in the fall.”

Council Member Jaynie Schultz (District 11) said that residents do not want “any of our employees to be at risk of their lives for the sake of their garbage.”

“I don’t think it should just be about rates on this because this is a very difficult decision and looking at the collection points … we need to really take a good look at those and particularly the ones that are going to be affected immediately.”

Opting Out and Outsourcing

Council Member Cara Mendelsohn (District 12) told Gillespie she’s “not all in on this” and asked if neighborhoods can opt out of the city’s sanitation collection and hire contractors.

“No, ma’am,” he said. “Sanitation is the exclusive solid waste service provider for single-family homes and duplexes in Dallas.”

Mendelsohn asked City Attorney Tammy Palomino to “evaluate whether” neighborhood opt-outs could become an option. She also told Gillespie that Dallas should consider outsourcing sanitation services and establishing a two-tier rate schedule for alley and curbside collection.

“If that is a direction where we have to continue to provide alley service and we have to change the collection methods that we currently utilize, we would certainly need to look at how we would pass those costs on to just the alley customers,” Gillespie said.

Mendelsohn said residents need to be informed about collection procedures and how they may be fined for non-compliance. Council Member Carolyn King Arnold (District 4) reiterated this, adding, “the education is so very key.”

“I’m putting on the record the fact that I am concerned about the health and welfare of the workers,” Arnold said. “I’ve seen the alleys. I know the alleys. Most of the alleys that I’ve been through, sometimes, I wonder how they come out of [them] alive. Seriously.”

Council Member Chad West (District 1) recommended that the council revisit the alleys-to-trails concept if the Department of Sanitation Services implements its phase-out program.

Dallas residents have expressed dissatisfaction in the job the local government does at keeping the city clean. As The Dallas Express reported, a 2023 satisfaction survey found that 44% of respondents felt the City does a “poor” job of maintaining the cleanliness of the city’s streets.