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Best Management Practices for Street Sweeping

Metropolitan Council

The St. Paul, Minnesota-based Metropolitan Council is a regional agency that conducts long-range planning and research for the Twin Cities metro area. It also coordinates regional planning among local governments, and collaborates with public and private sectors in solving critical regional problems.

One question local governments asked the Metropolitan Council was "How can we find better ways to provide services and cut costs when our reduced staffs can barely keep up with basic service needs?" In response, the Council conducted a study to find a cost-effective way to assist cities in addressing that challenge. The following is adapted from the findings of the Council's study entitled Best Practices: Street Sweeping. Although conducted in 1994, the study's information remains valid for many municipalities around the US. Terry Kayser is the Council's contact for this study. His email address is: terry.kayser@METC.STATE.MN.US.

Metropolitan Council
Best Practices

  1. Training operators. Find highly skilled sweeper operators with many hours of experience and recommended by employer and colleagues. Use them to train (one-on-one) new operators or those with less experience. This also applies to mechanics responsible for maintenance and adjustments to the sweeper.
  2. Use a small pool of operators. For each sweeper owned by a municipality, there should be a primary and backup operator. [They then] feel pride in, and responsibility for, the expensive piece of equipment they are assigned to use...and can develop skills that get the most from the machine.
  3. Combine two 15-minute coffee breaks into one 30-minute morning break. This recognizes that, although coffee breaks are to be 15 minutes, they often last longer - perhaps 20 or 25 minutes, especially when sweepers are in neighborhoods where there are few toilet facilities and coffee vendors. By combining these two times, the extra time used is reduced, resulting in more work accomplished.
  4. Establish an ongoing internship for mechanics-in-training. Municipalities could benefit from, and provide a service to, local technical colleges and their students by developing appropriate internship programs.
  5. Maximize use of sweeper capabilities by using only 'high-dump' rather than 'bottom-dump' sweepers. This reduces the need for extra equipment and labor to pick up debris after it has been collected and deposited on the ground. [It was predicted that the overall cost of a sweeping program would increase between 10 and 20 percent if only bottom-dump sweepers were used, depending on the characteristics of the city and its sweeping program.]
  6. Use larger capacity equipment if available. Use tandem trucks to receive and haul sweeping debris from sweepers, not single-axle dump trucks. Cost difference is roughly $5/hour, but capacity goes up by 100%.
  7. Share equipment (and operators) with other municipalities through contract arrangements. If a sweeper is idle part of the time, then consider providing contract sweeper services to a neighboring jurisdiction.
  8. Monitor equipment performance and costs using manual or computer-assisted record keeping. Such monitoring helps avoid unscheduled maintenance and repairs. If all the life-cycle costs of a piece of equipment are not considered, low-bid estimates may prove to be more expensive [in the long run] and reduce the effectiveness of a sweeping program. Such information should be shared with other municipalities.
  9. Use a double shift during the spring sweep. Early debris removal means fewer harmful materials will be washed into storm sewers and holding ponds, minimizing more expensive methods of removal at a later time.
  10. Where winter debris is heavy and requires two-passes, use two sweepers in tandem and make only one pass. Alternate the sweepers. After the first sweeper picks up most of the debris and dumps it into the truck, the second sweeper then takes the lead (leapfrogs) and the first one then follows until the lead sweeper dumps its load. Repeat the cycle.

The rest of the Metropolitan Council's Best Practices are in Topics In Sweeping: Metro Study

The Metropolitan Council report has widespread application because - like the agencies that conduct street sweeping throughout America - there is a wide variation in how the Council's member cities provide street sweeping. Some cities do it all themselves. Others contract with a neighboring city or with their county. Many cities contract with private firms. A few contract their major spring sweeping with private firms, then use their own equipment and workers for the rest of the year. Some of the cities in the metro area hadn't even tracked their costs for sweeping, so weren't even aware of what they actually paid for the service. In fact, one recommendation that came from the study was that all cities should start recording the total costs and performance outcomes of providing the service of street sweeping, as well as the separate costs of their other services.

The report contains four main sections. The first describes basic municipal street sweeping practices and the reasons for sweeping. The second lists the 66 'best practice ideas' uncovered during the project, each of which was currently in use by one or more municipalities in the Twin Cities area. For this project, best practices were defined as "logical and supportable variations on standard practice that improve the quality of the service or reduce program costs." The 66 best practices in the study address personnel, equipment, maintenance, operations and other areas where improvements could be made. Information was derived from a questionnaire, 31 field interviews, and 8 subregional meetings held with city street superintendents and public works directors. The third section compares the cost of best practices with a 'standard' set of street sweeping practices. The fourth provides background information on the best practices method.

Because the original study is over 60 pages in length, this article contains basic overview information and a selected few of the best practices. However, the study is available in its entirety here on the website.

Prior to the study, the Council assumed the cost of sweeping a mile of street would vary among cities, perhaps by as much as 5-to-1. The findings showed a much greater variation - in some cases more than 10-to-1. Although the study doesn't focus on the differences in street-sweeping costs by the various cities in the region, it was felt that some comparative information was necessary to illustrate the impact of the best practices unearthed by the study. To accomplish that, the Council developed characteristics for three 'typical' cities (small, medium and large), based on information supplied through the questionnaire and field interviews. Using that information, comparison data was presented for a number of best practices, comparing them to the standard practice for the three 'typical' cities. While these cities are hypothetical, the comparisons showed that potential savings, through implementation of some of the best practices, were as high as 20 percent.

A conservative estimate of current sweeping expenditure by the combined metro region was $7 million per year. It was concluded that nearly $1 million a year of this total could be saved if the 138 municipalities under the purview of the Metropolitan Council each implemented all of the recommended best practices. Although there would also be an implied increase in the efficiency of the sweeping programs, no attempt was made to quantify that number.

A side note is that the disposal of sweepings was also found to be a growing issue, as well as one with increasing environmental concerns. Because of their Minnesota snowbelt location, municipalities in the seven-county metropolitan region used more than 173,000 tons of sand on their city streets in an average year. Although it cost an average of only $2 to $4 per ton to buy the sand, it cost from $6 to $11 per ton to dispose of it in a landfill, not including hauling costs. And, as more cities run out of publicly owned space to dump sweepings, disposal costs are predicted to increase. Some cities are already recycling their spring sweepings, which the study concludes may become the most cost-effective disposal approach for the future.

For some of the best practices, a cost-saving example was included. The remaining best practices, while more difficult to place a cost value on, were ideas that could potentially improve the quality of a municipality's street sweeping or general operations. It was also noted that some best practices are easier to adopt than others.

For example, purchasing a piece of equipment might be easier than changing certain personnel practices. Yet, the end result will reflect what communities value, as well as what they are willing to support.

In the sidebar to the right are a selected few of the best practice ideas uncovered by the Metropolitan Council report. The numbers are non-sequential, since they correspond to the number of that best practice idea as listed in the actual study.

This article is reprinted from American Sweeper magazine, Volume 7 Number 1.
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