Unit Count Studies for Program and Transitional Planning: A Review of Two Methods

Managers of municipal curbside collection programs often have a hard time gathering up-to-date information on the number of units serviced in a collection route. This issue is even more difficult in areas with seasonal populations which leads to challenges reporting out in the RPRA Datacall. These difficulties are compounded when undergoing a collection contract change, or for programs that aim to move from a per tonne to a per unit-based system but don’t have a good understanding of the number of units that need to be serviced.

In addition, with the transition of the blue box program now on the horizon, an understanding of a collection program’s specifics becomes even more imperative. Conceivably, municipalities continuing to operate a blue box collection program in some form after transition will need a better understanding of costs, which entails having a definitive idea of the number of units requiring servicing.

Methodologies to update your unit counts

Two unit count study methodologies are presented below, each meant to provide a standard practice to track the number of units that are provided waste collection services. The first is a quick and manual based example from the City of Barrie (CIF project 1058) which offers a lower cost approach. Coming to us from the District Municipality of Muskoka, the second and more expensive methodology permits automated updates to the total counts (CIF Project 820).

Barrie: Low-cost manual approach

Over a 15-week period, Barrie’s waste collector counted serviced units through Sonrai Systems (counting each time the spike brake is applied as a stop), which is a program that’s used on all of the city’s collection vehicles. Collection crews tracked the number of stops per day along with addresses where no material was set out at the time of collection. By gathering a larger data set, the City was able to develop a full collection unit and stop count. Collecting the data over the 15-week study period also helped account for vacations, holidays, and forgotten set out variances and minimizes the difference between the total unit count and the number of collection points actually serviced.

For multi-res, staff obtained the number of legal multi-unit houses from a City planning database. Open space stops were compiled from the actual collection route sheets. In the Business Improvement Area (BIA), which includes residential units above commercial units, the unit count was determined by on route observation and physical counts. For the BIA, this is a total count of units. Further study is required to determine how many of the total BIA stops are commercial and how many are residences above commercial.

The cost to complete this work by the contractor was $8,000.

Muskoka’s higher cost; automated GIS-based approach

Using GPS receivers and tablets, the District Municipality of Muskoka created route maps and accurate stop locations built upon existing government GIS databases. Much of the data was collected through a desktop analysis, while rural areas were mapped by Muskoka staff using vehicle mounted GPS systems, GoPro cameras and tablets, over a period of three summers. Prior to this project, the District utilized a manual approach requiring the curbside contractor to provide stop counts every second year during the contract. Now, with each release of MPAC data, revised curbside service levels can be determined and the database updated to reflect the changes. As new roads are built, new property units are added to the database to ensure customer service information is up-to-date.

Another benefit of on-board tablets is that many can be integrated with sensors on the tipper or the automated arm. This offers a count of customers on a route that’s based on the number of carts serviced.

The cost to complete this work for the entire District was $76,000.

Thinking about your program

Both examples have their advantages and disadvantages. Programs that have the ability to complete a study over a longer period of time with a larger budget will find that the GIS-based option provides a higher level of certainty. However, if you need a quick analysis, the approach employed by the City of Barrie may work well for your program.

If you’re seeking to confirm your program’s unit stops, CIF staff can discuss your needs with you. Please give us a call to help as you seek to determine which approach may be more suitable to your program.