For several years, we have had a policy of having a week when residents can take stuff to the landfill for free. This week was in the spring, and the free access was intended to encourage residents to clean up their yards of the material that tends to build up over the winter.
Five years ago, it was decided to provide this free access during five weeks of the year, rather than one. And it started to be sold as a favour that we were giving residents, saving them money. What was never mentioned was that this meant that revenues from the landfill would be reduced. We don't know by how much - foregone revenue was never tracked, but considering the line-ups that could be expected during those weeks, it was probably considerable.
And, for the first three years of this free service, there was no restriction on who could access the landfill, so non-residents were able to use a city-operated facility for free. For the last two years you were supposed to produce a driver's licence to prove residency, but I have my doubts, based on anecdotal evidence, on how strictly that requirement is enforced.
I have certainly taken advantage of the free access, and had the opportunity to wait in line many times. So I thought, what if we provided the free access, but on a basis that might be more convenient for residents, as well as limiting the free access to those who are already paying for the landfill through city sanitation charges? My thought was that, if we provided a number of passes to city residents, then they could use the pass when they needed it - perhaps if a summer windstorm blew down branches in your yard, after you've built a new fence, or in the fall when you're cleaning out your garden. That way, we would avoid the congestion that occurs during the designated weeks, limit the number of times that free access could be taken advantage of (because right now, there's no limit on the number of times that you can drop things off during the free weeks), and ensure that only city residents could take advantage of the opportunity.
With a pass system, we would know exactly how much this opportunity is used by residents, and figure out what it actually costs the city in lost revenue. We could even colour code the passes according to each ward, so we could see in which areas the access is under-utilized, where perhaps a different incentive for yard clean-up would have to be developed.
When I first suggested a pass system a few years ago, city administration was full of reasons why this wouldn't work, and how much it would cost to put such a system into place. I'm not sure why it would cost an arm and a leg to put free passes in with the water bills, since free advertising for the Raiders had been done that way, but this was what we were told.
However, last year, council voted to try out this new system. Imagine our surprise when this spring, free landfill weeks were announced once again, contrary to council's decision. When I asked why, I was given the rather questionable excuse that "they hadn't had time". So the subject came up again at last week's Executive Committee meeting, and is again being discussed.
Of course, any time you provide a free service, it's not really free. In the case of free access, we're reducing the revenue that we get from landfill fees. The hoped-for benefit to the city is the improved appearance of residential areas, encouraged by providing this free access. It's also encouraging residents to do work that otherwise will be done by city staff, when we have to send out extra trucks to pick up the debris in back alleys that is left because it's too big for the bins or dumpsters.
Obviously, I would like to give the pass system a try. I think that it will result in increased revenues from the landfill, since there would no longer be unlimited access during five weeks of the year, and non-residents would no longer be able to take advantage of a loosely enforced check system. And I think that the flexibility for residents of being able to use their pass when it works for them, would be appreciated.
It's unfortunate that we don't know what the level of use has been during the free weeks - then we could make a good comparison on foregone revenues. But I think that we do need to track the usage better, and I think that using a pass system will do that.
" There's no such thing as a free lunch." - Milton Friedman