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(Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)
(Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)

Private contractor garbage pickup lags into the night Add to ...

The company hired to collect Toronto residents’ trash between Yonge Street and the Humber River had a difficult first day on the job, with some people complaining about missed and late pickups as garbage trucks continued to roll through the streets as late as 9 p.m.

But Green For Life Environmental (GFL)’s chief executive officer said Tuesday’s delays were expected – and likely to continue for at least the next month.

“It’s normal on the first day of the contract until the drivers get familiar with their routes and the most efficient way to get back and forth to the transfer stations,” Patrick Dovigi said on Tuesday evening.

He said it generally takes four to six weeks before “all the bugs are worked out” on new collections, adding “we get much more efficient over time.”

But the slow pace of garbage collection on Tuesday left some frustrated Toronto residents complaining about pungent odours after their trash was left to bake in the heat until late evening.

Tom Dalton, who was home on vacation on Tuesday, said he watched a garbage truck empty the bins of house after house on Major Street where he lives but drive right past his own garbage bin.

“I ran after the truck [and] I told them they didn’t pick it up,” he said. The driver wrote down his house number and suggested he call 311, the city’s hotline for services, he said. But hours later, the bin was still there. “It’s a bad first day from my perspective.”

Other residents were puzzled to come home to find their garbage gone but their compost bins still sitting full at the curb.

The new contract, worth $186.4-million, fulfills a major campaign pledge of Mayor Rob Ford, who came to office promising to cut spending. Mr. Ford was expected to be on hand at an event on Tuesday morning to mark the milestone but was “under the weather” and unable to make it, said Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong.

Mr. Minnan-Wong told reporters he hoped service under the new contract would “make the case” for further privatization. “Our objective is to get this right,” he said.

The company already collects waste in the former city of Etobicoke.

On Tuesday, Jim Harnum, general manager of the city’s solid waste division, said pick-up was going “extremely slow” as new workers learned unfamiliar routes. Depending on the progress made by crews, he said the city might ask them to do “triage,” collecting green bin waste and garbage, and leaving less perishable items such as garden waste and recycling.

Mr. Harnum characterized the delays as “growing pains.”

“This happens with our own staff when we change routes,” he said.

As of 3 p.m., the city had received 10 collection complaints but Mr. Harnum was anticipating a “spike” in calls to the city’s 311 hotline when homeowners returned from work to find their garbage still at the curb. Mr. Dovigi said about 78 calls came in by 6:30 p.m.

“I think that’s next to impossible when you’re talking about 180 new employees and 85 new trucks out there,” Mr. Dovigi said. “You have these guys training for the last 16 weeks, running dry runs, trying not to interfere with the current service. The only real practice you get is the first day of the contract.”

Mr. Minnan-Wong, chair of the city’s public works committee, noted that under the contract the extra hours required for collection would not cost the city overtime charges.

Mark Ferguson, head of CUPE Local 416, which represents city garbage collectors, said his union’s hot line received 26 complaints in the first few hours of operation about tipped bins, late pick-up and trucks leaking liquid from organic waste.

The union also is setting up a website (www.GFLwastewatchers.ca) to report problems in the coming days, he said.

The contract is expected to save the city $11.9-million in the first year and about $11.1-million annually after 2013.

The new contract resulted in job losses for 90 temporary workers, Mr. Ferguson said, with another 165 permanent employees and 35 temporary workers redeployed.

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