Privatizing garbage collection: still not about cost or efficiency

The Toronto Star’s Kenneth Kidd followed the lead of a bunch of other journalists this week and dug into the nuts and bolts of garbage privatization:

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford now wants to extend that idea to everywhere else west of Yonge St. He thinks the contracting out of garbage collection will save the city money, and he wouldn’t be alone in thinking that a private company could do the job a lot more cheaply than a bunch of city hall bureaucrats and unionized public employees.

There’s just one problem: Almost every assumption in that equation is doubtful at best.

via To save money, keep some trash collection public –

The piece is well-written — particularly the bit that points out the limited utility of privatizing big city operations –, but I still believe that all this talk about potential savings or service improvements misses the point that, at the core, this is a knee-jerk response to a 2008 labour dispute that left our parks filled with garbage.

The big worry here is that the process will be rushed through for short-term gain, allowing Ford to check a box on his big list of election promises. Will, as the article suggests, the area set for contracting out be divided into smaller areas to allow for competition, or will the entire western half of the city be awarded as one giant-sized contract, limiting the realistic pool of winners? Will city resources (trucks, facilities) be sold or leased to private vendors, and, if so, on what kind of terms? Will the city’s diversion targets for recycling and organics be kept? If so, who will audit that?

A lot of questions but not a lot of answers yet. Let’s hope the dialogue surrounding this amounts to more than doom-and-gloom strike talk.