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Trash truck driver shortage causes pick-up delays

LAWTON, Okla._If you live in Lawton, you may have noticed that your trash bin has been sitting on your curb quite a bit longer than normal on your garbage pick-up day.

For many, the days of bringing the bin back to the side of the house when you get home from work are over. Some may be waiting until eight or nine at night before the trash crews pick it up. The city is aware of the delays and said it's due to a trash truck driver shortage.

The city is supposed to have 25 trash truck drivers on staff. However, they are short 9 drivers, leaving the remaining 16 to pick up the slack, most driving multiple routes per day.

Assistant City Manager Jim Russell said Monday the city has been working the last several months to fill those nine vacancies, but finding drivers with the proper qualifications has been difficult.

The trash truck driver shortage has been a problem for the last several months. Because of that, Russell said in the last two budget sessions, the city has considered going back to once-a-week trash pick-up.

"Council gets a lot of feedback from citizens who don't want the once a week pick-up. So it's just not an option that we're able to consider at this point," Russell explained.

So instead, the 16 drivers on staff have been running two or three routes per day just to keep up with the work load.

"They’re working 12-14 hours a day, and you know, they get exhausted. They don't get a break," Russell said.

Director of Public Works Larry Wolcott said the physical demands of running multiple routes takes a toll on his drivers.

"Whenever we push those guys 12 hours instead of their eight-hour day, they have a tendency to not want to come to work, and I understand that. So, when we're understaffed and then we have to deal with that on top of it, it makes it really difficult to pick-up the minimum amount of waste collection that we have to do on a daily basis," Wolcott explained.

The city has been on the lookout for qualified applicants for the open positions.

Russell said they must have a commercial driver’s license and some experience maneuvering large trucks is preferred.

"Making sure that they don't take out a mailbox or run over a car as they're driving down the street. But we'll provide some training for them. We just need to have the proper certification to begin with," Russell said.

With starting pay just under $13 an hour, and the eligibility for a pension plan, Wolcott said working for the City of Lawton is full of opportunities.

"It goes the gamut: vacation, holidays, all those things. So, you can't just look at the salary that you make, you have to take into account those benefits,” Wolcott said.

To become a trash truck driver, you can apply for the position on the City of Lawton’s website.  There used to be a place in Lawton where you could take the test for the commercial driver’s license, now the closest places to get that done are Oklahoma City and Burns Flat.

However, if hired for the position, the city does reimburse you for the $70 it costs to get a CDL

Since the Solid Waste Division is already using all the manpower they have to pick up its required routes, Russell said this year's city-wide fall curbside pick up, in which residents can put out trash that's too large to fit in their regular bins, won't be possible.

As an alternative, they will give people a chance to bring that trash to the McMahon Auditorium parking lot on Friday, October 23, and Saturday, October 24, from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. The city's trash division will be available to help unload and haul off the items. For a list of what items the city won't take, check the City of Lawton’s website.

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