Waste Management owns up to sub-par service to Prairie Village residents, vows to improve

Paul Howe (right) and Kent Harrell appeared before the Prairie Village City Council to address Waste Management's service troubles in the city.
Paul Howe (right) and Kent Harrell appeared before the Prairie Village City Council to address Waste Management’s service troubles in the city.

Representatives of Waste Management, the company that purchased Prairie Village’s trash hauler Deffenbaugh Industries about a year ago, came before the city council on Monday to explain the missed pickups and poor response time to customers calls that have annoyed residents in recent months.

Waste Management Senior District Manager Paul Howe told the council that a combination of factors had contributed to the gaps in service. The hiring and training of dozens of new drivers as well as the implementation of new technology inside the collection trucks has proved a challenge Howe said, and the company knows it needs to do better. Howe noted that prior to Waste Management’s acquisition of the company, drivers would use a paper map to navigate their route, which made it impossible for the company to verify if and when collections were made. Such lack of accountability likely contributed to the growing issue of missed pickups, Howe said.

Now, though, each truck is being equipped with a tablet computer and the company is working to develop navigation instructions for its drivers that will provide them with a specific route for them to follow. That system is expected to be fully implemented in the coming weeks.

Members of the council thanked Howe and Director of Collector Operations Kent Harrell for taking the time to explain the issues, but pressed them on when residents can expect to have service fully restored to the expected levels.

Councilor Terrence Gallagher told Howe and Harrell that the improvements needed to go beyond just ensuring there are no more missed pickups.

“I would really hope that as you go through this transition of trying to find better staff, that you start to find respect for our residents, because that seems to be a really big problem right now,” Gallagher said, noting that he’d seen drivers try to get residents to pay them extra money to pick up garbage on the curb and that trucks often spill refuse on the streets. “I know it’s garbage day in Ward 6 because the streets are full of garbage.”

Councilor David Morrison asked the Waste Management representatives whether they were prepared to offer financial concessions to make up for what he deemed “sub-par” service in the city. The city’s contract with Waste Management allows it to impose financial penalties when the company fails to address complaints within 24 hours. But because the city’s complaint registration system did not account for the time complaints come in, the city had not been able to document whether many violations extended beyond the 24 hour time frame. To date, it had only imposed one $30 fine on the company. (The city has since updated its documentation procedures to account for the time a complaint comes in). Howe and Harrell told Morrison that they didn’t know how the parties would go about determining a financial penalty for the issues, but that they were committed to meeting the demands of the city’s contract.

A representative of Allied Waste Services also attended Monday’s meeting and told the council that his company would like to compete for the city’s contract should they decide to put it out for bid in the coming months.