Toronto

Amid COVID-19, city spending $300K to outsource street-sweeping work

The city is contracting out $300,000 worth of spring street-sweeping work to companies running vehicles that likely violate Toronto’s own environmental standards, while also relying on 17 of its own sweepers that were expected to be scrapped by now.

City also plans to use aging vehicles as drivers trained on new machines

The city is using 17 of its aging Tymco sweepers, purchased back in 2007, to clean Toronto's roadways this spring. (Michael Wilson/CBC)

The city is contracting out $300,000 worth of spring street-sweeping work to companies running vehicles that likely violate Toronto's own environmental standards, while also relying on 17 of its own sweepers that were expected to be scrapped by now.

The city also plans to use 30 brand new street sweepers it recently purchased for prices far higher than other cities, however workers will not be trained on those new vehicles until next week so it's unclear when they'll hit the roads (a city news release only says "later this spring").

Toronto has deemed the sweeping an essential service amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but the spending comes at a time when Mayor John Tory is bluntly warning that the city's economic health is "not good." 

City officials said in an email they'll be monitoring the quality of the spring clean-up daily.

By Friday afternoon, those officials were not able to confirm what companies were hired to do additional cleaning work. In previous years, the city has contracted out work to firms using mechanical broom sweepers — a style of truck-mounted sweeper the city itself refuses to buy based on its own environmental research

The vehicles the city owns, by comparison, use regenerative air systems that it considers to be "highly efficient and effective."

"Street sweeping helps to remove dust, dirt and other contaminants that would otherwise enter the environment," the city said in a news release.

"It also assists in improving the overall air quality and is an important part of Toronto's flood prevention strategy, since litter and debris are removed from roadway catch basins."

City relying on vehicles prone to breaking down

The city has some 5,500 kilometres of roadway, and the city's sweepers pick up an average of 14,125 tonnes of road dust and debris — when they're working.

Last year, the city missed its cleaning targets on local roads due to maintenance issues with its fleet of sweepers, which were purchased back in 2007. The city now says 17 of those Tymco DST-6 sweepers are still ready for use.

City spokesperson Eric Holmes said in an email those sweepers are "nearing the end of their useful life but remain in service and operational and are maintained to a degree that continues to meet City of Toronto environmental and operational requirements."

City staff waited until last year to replace those vehicles, and only purchased 30 new vehicles to replace a fleet of 50, even as the city gets bigger and dirtier. You can learn more about that story here.

Meanwhile, expect to see street sweepers during the day and in the evenings through April in neighbourhoods and on main streets.

If you see a street sweeper in action, feel free to email a picture and some details to john.rieti@cbc.ca.

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