Norfolk is bringing a bit of Silicon Valley to Hampton Roads with tech partnerships

This time last year, Richard Broad had a problem.

Broad, who runs Norfolk’s Public Works department, was being plagued by calls about his trash trucks missing garbage cans on collection day.

Norfolk’s refuse collectors are supposed to pick up 60,000 cans a week, and get the vast majority of them. But every once in a while they would skip a narrow street that was, say, blocked by a delivery truck and not remember to go back at the end of the route.

And when trash isn’t collected, residents aren’t shy about letting people know, Broad said. The city’s call center, Broad’s office, the city manager and even individual council members have all gotten calls.

Broad thought that surely someone could find a high-tech solution for the decidedly low-tech problem.

That’s where Norfolk decided to look outside the city.

Broad’s missed trash cans didn’t require that kind of on-the-ground work by a tech company. Norfolk got a pitch from a firm, Rubicon, that already had a way to track collections using GPS.

Under a free six-month pilot, the city outfitted trucks with trackers this summer and issued drivers iPhones to take photos when they can’t make a pickup. The Rubicon system shows a map of every trash can in the city, and they turn from blue to green when they’re collected, so managers can see exactly where the missed streets are.

And it’s working, Broad said.

Refuse collectors are missing far fewer cans this year; Norfolk got 58% fewer complaint calls this July and August than in those two months last year. And now, when people call to complain, the city can explain why their can didn’t get picked up. If residents were late putting their cans out, a time-stamped photo from the driver proves it.

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