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Tracking Tech Coming to Pittsburgh Garbage, Recycling Trucks

In a City Council vote Tuesday, officials approved the nearly $500,000 expansion of the GPS tracking technology for garbage and recycling trucks. The system is similar to the one currently used to track the city’s snow plows and salt trucks.

An aerial view of Pittsburgh, Pa.
(TNS) — Garbage and recycling trucks in Pittsburgh will be outfitted with GPS technology in the same manner as the city's snow plows and salt trucks after a split city council vote Tuesday greenlit the nearly $500,000 expansion of the technology's usage and contract.

Council voted 6-1 with one abstention to approve the measure, which extends the city's contract with Minnesota-based Quentica through the end of 2024 and allows them to add the GPS-tracking technology to environmental services trucks as well.

All told, the approval adds $492,660 to the cost of the technology and the contract, for a grand total of roughly $2.6 million over the course of the latest contract. Beyond GPS tracking, the technology is also supposed to optimize the routes drivers take.

The legislation garnered debate the week prior during council's standing committee meeting when some members questioned the veracity of the snow plow GPS information that is put out to the public via the city's live tracker.

"At the very beginning of each snow season, the snow plow tracker works wonderfully," Councilwoman Erika Strassburger said at the Nov. 30 committee meeting. "As the season goes on, there are glitches. Halfway through the snowy season, you just can't trust it anymore."

Brandon Walton, the city's fleet services manager, said some of the city's older trucks weren't fully compatible with the GPS technology and "they would overheat the system and stop working." He noted that some of those older vehicles have been retrofitted with newer equipment to try to alleviate that issue.

"I'm not a fan of the tracker," said Councilman Anthony Coghill, who chairs the Committee on Public Works. "It's great that people can sit there in their pajamas and see where they salt truck is, don't get me wrong. But it doesn't work for me."

Mr. Coghill, whose South Hills city council district does not yet have its own public works facility and thus trucks plowing those streets have to leave the district to get salt, said that when residents look at the live tracker application and see no trucks in the area, "they call my office."

"It gives them a reason to scream at me during a bad snowstorm," he said.

He pointed to other flaws in the technology, including the fact that the tracker doesn't note whether a truck plowed or dropped salt as opposed to having just driven down the street. The GPS also doesn't record movements that are less than 5 mph.

Mr. Walton said the GPS information is accurate, but the technology is less clear about whether a street has been plowed or salted.

It is not clear when the installation on environmental services vehicles might begin or whether that information will be public-facing as it is with the snow-plow tracker.

In the end, all members voted on the move except Council President Theresa Kail-Smith, who voted against it, and council Member Deb Gross, who abstained.

©2022 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.