Most city residents don't think much about municipal trash collection. They want it picked up when it should be and they don't want to hear their taxes will go up to pay for the service.

How those twin demands — not to mention a few others, like environmental compliance and safe operation — are met is the duty of vocational fleet managers of the municipal variety.

But let it be known that few, if any, have rose to this multifaceted challenge as the managers responsible for the Refuse Collection Div. fleet of the City of San Diego's Environmental Services Dept.

This year alone the fleet's managers, led by Chuck Woolever, deputy director of the refuse collection div., launched three initiatives rife with innovation that will benefit the residents relying on its service and the taxpayers paying for it.

“Costs are attacked on a continuous improvement basis,” he points out, “and greenhouse gas reduction is a standing fleet objective.”

The three innovative initiatives launched this year are impressive: rerouting of trash trucks; new shorter vehicle trade cycle; and environmental “credits” secured form the California Air Resources Board (CARB) in recognition of the fleet's pioneering and ongoing efforts to field lower-emission vehicles.

“Rerouting was contemplated for years but we had to consolidate our operations center and build a new state-of-the-art maintenance facility and LNG fueling station at our new yard first,” explains Woolever.

With that accomplished, this year rerouting of all weekly pickups commenced. This in turn enabled the fleet to cut its spare vehicle ratio, and that “helped achieve both goals — lower cost of operation and less emissions.”

That kind of smart thinking also led the fleet to shorten its vehicle trade cycle from seven to just five years. “A basic cost analysis showed that after five years, we were starting to spend considerably more on component repairs,” says Woolever. “We feel we can justify the higher payments vs. a seven-year cycle on maintenance costs.”

And it's expertise in emissions technology coupled with the stomach to engage a state bureaucracy that really sets off San Diego's refuse collection division.

According to Woolever, Sam Mendoza, motive fleet equipment engineer, led the charge this year to Sacramento that has kept the division where it likes to be — “ahead of emission reduction mandates.”

Even though the fleet made a major commitment to LNG fueling seven years ago it has committed to a better mousetrap — ultra-low-sulfur diesel — for its 2004 vehicles.

“Due to our previous and continuing efforts,” explains Mendoza, “we've achieved early implementer status” on CARB's diesel particulate regs for solid waste vehicles.

Woolever points out that Mendoza's efforts before the CRAB board to “get us credit for the 77 LNG trucks” already in the fleet vs. having to retrofit particulate-matter traps on existing trucks saved San Diego $1.3 million — and bought it two more years [till 2009] before it must be in full compliance with the trash-truck measure.

“And by being able to now buy less-expensive clean diesel [vs. dual-fuel] trucks,” adds Woolever, we'll save another $1.8 million.”