Can Toronto save money on snowplowing?

I submit that we can. Apparently the idea is to plow less frequently, with a higher threshold for snow, and to stop removing the windrow across driveways.

Windrow first. I live on a busy, “metropolitan” street in that it was plowed by the city before amalgamation. We get plowed in. We dig out the driveway. We get plowed in again. We dig out the driveway. One time in ten another machine comes and digs out the driveway – badly – and we have to dig out the driveway again.

Our windrow is not done by a machine “following the plow”. It is done six to ten hours later. Anyone who needs to enter or exit the driveway has been forced to dig it out by hand before that.

The second, third, et cetera plowings are superficial. The first pass leaves eighteen to twenty-four inches of snow on the roadside along the curb. The second pass comes through about half of that, collects it between houses, and puts it in our driveways. The third pass finishes the job, and gets close to the curb.

I submit that the city should put markers along the curbs so the plows can see where the curbs are. Then one pass would do it, providing it isn’t still snowing. That’s a big saving.

My ability to observe snowplows is limited, but what I see leads me to believe that the city should indeed monitor where they are and what they are doing. I had the ill luck to be waiting for a bus at Dufferin and King several winters ago. Two snowplows passed me southbound, blades up, in tandem, blocking traffic and achieving little else. Thirty or forty minutes later (still no bus) two snowplows passed me northbound, blades up, in tandem. I am pretty sure there was a large black number on at least one of them, and that it was the same two machines.

Their log will show that they plowed Dufferin and who knows what else. In fact there were enough parked cars to make plowing the outer lane difficult, and I saw them not try. The traffic lane was already bare.

Plows sometimes pass our home, sometimes in tandem, blades up, going somewhere. Can’t you plow your way? Is this an intractable map problem?

We should know where our plows are, and have a camera showing what they are doing. In case of accident this could possibly pay for itself.

Finally, we have the clearing of sidewalks. I would almost ask the city to stop doing this. They started because (my memory here, eh?) someone pointed out that, if an employee was clearing the walkway on company orders, and had a heart attack, the surviving spouse would likely sue, and win. So it was asked, if the city forces someone in ill health to clear the sidewalk, and they have a heart attack, can the city be sued? Not admitting there was a problem, the city chose to clear the sidewalks, or at least some of them. I have not figured out why we are favoured with this service, but we are. However it too is a mixed blessing.

My neighbour clears the sidewalk in front of his house. I merely put one pass of the scoop up the middle and wait for the bobcat. When it comes, the driver sees my neighbour’s walk is completely clear. So he moves over onto the boulevard (sometimes tearing out grass) and plows a minimum of a foot off the ground beyond the sidewalk. This he dumps across my driveway, which I now clear for the third or fourth time.

Imagine if, on reaching a clear sidewalk, he merely lifted his blade, or re-scraped the concrete. It takes skill to pull extra snow off the boulevard. He used to plow off the other side, but he took out a few prized plants once and may have heard about it. Not sure, but it only happened once and then he shifted to street-side for his extra plow.

I am not making this up. This happens every single time the sidewalk is plowed.

So, we could potentially save money by doing the following:

  • marking where the curb is, and plowing approximately to that, first pass.
  • tracking what our plows are actually doing, and not moving plows around with nothing to do.

I also wonder if we still pay the salt trucks by the amount of salt they make disappear. I once worked on Consumer’s Road and we marvelled to see two salt trucks pull out in an early thaw, and park in the rain, with the covers off their dumploads of salt. Later I found out that, at that time, we were the rare municipality that paid by salt used/lost/dissolved/ or whatever. Do we still pay this way? Are we nuts?

I wonder how many of these observations were hinted at by our auditors, who are suggesting to Mayor Ford how to cut service costs, while costing us precious tax dollars to boot.

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