Bulk trash has gone high-tech.
The District's Department of Public Works is using a new digital mapping and data-crunching system to plan its bulk trash collections, a move the agency credits with increasing the operation's efficiency.
Coordinating bulk trash pickups used to rely on vast amounts of paper and on public works employees' knowledge of city streets. Bulk items are those too large for the regular trash, including furniture, appliances, mattresses, tires, tree limbs and rugs.
In November 2003 the department began using a system that relies on geographic information systems technology, or GIS.
The new system has changed the way pickups are scheduled, officials said, cutting down on the time it used to take supervisors and drivers to sort and figure out the best routes while streamlining an operation that last year picked up nearly 8,000 tons of garbage.
"It has enabled us to do the same amount of work, the same number of collections of bulk refuse, in a shorter period of time," said Mary Myers, a department spokeswoman. "It's just a much smarter way of doing business."
GIS has become a powerful tool for boosting the efficiency of city government. An interactive set of D.C. government databases and aerial photographs called DC Atlas utilizes GIS technology, part of a multimillion-dollar effort to overhaul the way District agencies make decisions and deliver services. Health officials, for example, have used it to track the West Nile virus.
Supervisors at the Public Works Department's bulk pickup headquarters on W Street NE used to sit down the day before the route was to be run with an average of 225 sheets of paper. The sheets were requests for service from residents in a rotating pair of the city's eight wards.
The supervisors would organize the sheets according to address and proximity, a process that typically took 21/2 hours. They then gave each driver 20 to 30 pages, and it was up to the drivers to figure out the most efficient way to make their pickups in an eight-hour day, officials said.
It was a system that was "very low-tech," said Tony Duckett, chief of the department's Solid Waste Collection Division. "It depended on those guys' brains."
Now, it takes a department GIS technician about 40 minutes to map out a day's route, said David Koehler, a GIS analyst for Public Works.
"The computer is sitting there every day, waiting for those work orders to come in," said Chris Walz, vice president of RouteSmart Technologies Inc., a Columbia, Md., firm that manufactures some of the software used by the department. "As soon as they come in, those work orders are dispatched efficiently so nobody has to sit there and sort through that stack of paperwork."
Walz said the District is one of 75 municipalities that use Route-Smart software for solid waste routing, utility meter reading and street sweeping.
Public works crews are handed a brief report with the service request information and a computer-generated map that details their route for the day. "It helps them get from spot to spot in a more efficient manner," Koehler said of the new system, which officials said has freed workers to do other tasks by shaving up to two hours off a route.
Officials said they recently increased the number of items that could be taken during one pickup from five to seven because of the time saved with the new approach. And they plan to use the system when they take over recycling collection in the city next year.
Bulk trash pickups are made by appointment only with the city's call center at 202-727-1000 or at www.dpw.dc.gov.