The Department of Public Works has developed a new "hot list" of addresses that trash crew supervisors and foremen will use for same-day, in-person checks to determine if garbage was properly collected from residential streets and alleys.
The program, which agency officials put into practice last month in a section of Columbia Heights, came after outraged citizens ranted on neighborhood listservs and contacted the citywide call center of Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) to complain about incomplete or missed garbage collection. The program will be expanded to other areas of the city as needed, according to the department.
Since late May, residents living north of Columbia Road NW, south of Spring Road NW and between 14th and 10th streets NW have reported that the three-person crew on their route was missing some Tuesday and Friday pickups. When the crew did come, it did not take all of the trash, leaving some bags at the bottom of cans, residents complained.
Each week the department collects trash citywide from 110,000 single-family homes and multifamily buildings with three units or fewer. About 75 percent of the collections are weekly, while the remainder, including the Columbia Heights route, are twice weekly.
The agency has a 98 percent daily on-time collection rate, said department Director William O. Howland Jr. He said the agency created the list and replaced the crew on the troubled Columbia Heights route because the city was not used to receiving complaints about the service.
"People expect to have their trash picked up . . . and rightfully they're upset when it's not," Howland said. "We want to deliver the service that people expect."
The problems started around Memorial Day. Residents entertained friends and barbecued throughout the weekend, piling up more garbage than usual. But the day after the holiday, as trash bins lay stuffed, the agency reported a higher number of absent workers than usual, Howland said.
That same week, the agency took over the recycling collection efforts for the entire city, which meant workers had to do more pickups each week. Howland said the higher workload, combined with fewer workers, exacerbated the problems, which continued for several weeks as employees were on vacation leave. These same circumstances applied citywide, but officials said that for unexplained reasons they had a greater impact in Columbia Heights.
By late July, the department had decided to replace the crew on the Columbia Heights route, which is one of the more difficult routes in the District because it has more one-way streets than other parts in the city, according to Howland.
Gus Ventura, president of the South Columbia Heights Neighborhood Association, said that residents called him repeatedly about trash problems and would show up for neighborhood meetings just to get updates. The main issues were the crew skipping whole blocks for collection and the pickups being inconsistent, Ventura said.
"It got really bad," Ventura said. "People had mounds of garbage sitting in front of their house."
Ventura, who lives in the 1300 block of Fairmont Street NW, said he watched the pickup last week and found it efficient. He said he has received fewer calls since the new crew started.
"I think that they've made a good start to resolve the problem. Now they only have to be consistent," he said.
Complaints about trash pickup are taken by the mayor's call center at 202-727-1000.