Street Sweeping Cuts in Chicago?

Hard on the heels of a contract sweeper discussing losing parking lot sweeping contracts to national service providers the Chicago Tribune last week reported the city is considering a restructuring of its street sweeping program. The program is run by the city, with municipal ownership of 50 sweepers and city employees handling all the work. But Chicago Mayor Richard Daley says the city can both cut costs and improve street cleaning efficiency by restructuring the service. Chicago is divided into 50 wards and currently each ward has its own designated sweeper (and drivers) under the direct control of the ward's alderman. A street sweeping plan is in place for each ward, but the sweeper is responsive to the alderman -- meaning when a constituent calls the alderman's office with a report of a dirty street, the alderman can dispatch the sweeper to the offending area and get it cleaned up pronto. Under Daley's new plan the city would be divided into 33 equal-size sweeping districts with centralized dispatch. Each district would have one sweeper (the remaining 17 units would be kept to replace sweepers that break down or for special uses), the idea being that sweeping would be done more equally across the city. The Mayor's office estimates that under the new plan streets would be swept on average once every seven weeks, with sweepers covering an average of 198 miles per day vs. the 200 miles a day that are covered now. The city employees not used in sweeping would be shifted to garbage collection, which frequently falls short of the schedule in some areas. Not surprisingly, alderman aren't enthusiastic about the idea because they would not be able to be as responsive to public requests for sweeping, and responsiveness -- at least in Chicago -- translates into votes.