I have a long list of things I don’t like about snow but near the top is how it interrupted the City’s leaf collection schedule this year. There are so many variables that go into staying on schedule for leaf collection that snow was the last thing we needed. So thanks to the early blanket of white stuff many leaf piles sat buried, frozen and abandoned over the last couple of weeks leaving homeowners to wonder if all their hard work to rake would ever be rewarded. Admittedly the original schedule is pretty much shot at this point but hopefully we’re catching a break in the weather and I know the crews have been busy making runs through the neighborhoods to vacuum up what they can as fast as they can. So please be patient as help for those piles is on the way (assuming mother nature remains cooperative).
I have had the good fortune (or was that mis-fortune) of managing leaf service for many years and in every City I’ve worked in it has always been one of the most challenging public services we offered. Expectations run high but with so many elements beyond our control, e.g., rate of leaf drop, quantity of leaves raked out, winds, frozen leaves, parked cars, snow, resident cooperation, things inevitably don’t work as out planned and the calls start rolling in.
We generally work very hard to not vary off our advertised schedule because as soon as you do that things can unravel in a hurry. I can pretty much guarantee that if you try to do a good thing and maybe send a truck out ahead of schedule to grab that one super-sized pile that is blocking visibility at an intersection the other neighbors will take notice and very shortly your phone will be ringing with reports of missed leaves before the truck is even back out of the neighborhood. You can try to tell them that you only grabbed that one pile because it was a safety hazard at the intersection and that you’ll be back for theirs later but that usually just leads to a bunch of new traffic hazards appearing as the leaf piles grow legs and walk their way into the travel lanes of the street too.
I hate to admit it but leaves bring out the worst in people. I’ve sat at the end of the street to watch the leaf truck finish its pass only to see a late-rising resident frantically raking their leaves out behind the truck with the cell phone in their hand calling to report that we missed their leaves.
We try to allow ourselves some flexibility to handle the chronic property that just didn’t seem to want to play by the rules and technically we could play hard ball and stick them with a ticket but I just can’t in good conscience support writing tickets for leaf issues. Sure, every city has some ordinance or another that could support writing a ticket for leaves but I’ve never felt that ticketing accomplished much value other than inciting ill will towards their City. We tended to save more time and aggravation by all parties if we just took care of the problem property and got back to our routes.
Leaf service is one of the few very visible areas that is a high touch-point for residents to see their City tax dollars at work. Most of what we do is out of sight and out of mind but leaf collection is front and center. That makes leaf service an area where we have a rare opportunity to earn the appreciation of our customers for a job well done or likewise if things don’t go well we can equally damage our reputation.
Because of the relative high-stakes of leaf service I always found it better to err on the side of the customer which is why in my previous cities we doubled our efforts to hand out information flyers, have on-line collection schedules with daily updates of our progress, frequent press releases/media updates, we created a 24 hour leaf hotline and we kept the dispatch office informed of where the crews were working every day so dispatch had better information to share with customers, and our supervisors personally handled a lot complaints with visits to the address to talk through the issues with the upset resident. Make no mistake about it, doing that is a lot of work but when so much of your reputation depends upon it we felt that we couldn’t afford not to do it.
At the end of the day we found that 95% of the upset residents could be satisfied with a little extra personal touch – many of them just felt that the City forgot about them and their leaves – and a personal call and/or visit to let them know where the crews were working and when they are planned to be on their street was all it took to resolve it. Of course, you’ve got to live up to your promises but if you do you can turn your critics into your biggest supporters.
This doesn’t mean there’s no role for enforcement, it’s a legitimate option to manage that last 5% but I would suggest that there are many other steps we need to look at before pulling out the hammer.