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Toronto's Troubled Street Sweeping Program

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The City of Toronto is struggling to keep many streets clean due to internal maintenance issues with its aging fleet of Tymco street sweepers. CBC Toronto reports that those problems could persist all summer long, leading to poor air quality and more waste flowing into the stormwater system.

The City of Toronto is having difficulties cleaning its expressways and local roads due to ongoing maintenance issues with its fleet of aging street sweepers, leaving residents breathing in dirtier air and more road waste flowing into Lake Ontario.

According to Toronto transportation staff, on a typical day just 28 of the city's 43 sweepers are in operable order. On one day in April, nearly a quarter of the city's entire fleet was in for maintenance. Worse, this problem is expected to continue throughout the busy summer construction season as replacement vehicles won't be available until the end of 2019 at the earliest.

TYMCO-Back The city's own research, conducted as part of its internationally-lauded Clean Roads to Clean Air program, which WorldSweeper covered in 2007, shows if a fleet of regenerative air sweepers aren't at work in Toronto there will be more airborne fine particulate matter hanging around for people to breathe in while more "toxic loads" will wind up fouling the city's stormwater system.

Heather Marshall, campaigns' director with the Toronto Environmental Alliance, said keeping the city's streets clean is especially important in the spring and summer months, when heavy rain washes pollution into the stormwater system and hot conditions lead to poorer air quality across Toronto. "It's really important to be taking that pollution that settles on our streets off the streets entirely," she said. "We know here in Toronto we have an air quality challenge."

Marshall says the city should have been adding more sweepers as construction boomed and more people moved to Toronto, bringing more pollution with them. But since 2007, when councilors purchased 50 of TYMCO's top-of-the-line sweepers and voted to require any new sweeper technology to meet strict environmental standards, the city hasn't purchased a single new machine.

TYMCO-Sweeper However, a new deal was just signed at the end of 2018 to buy 30 new sweepers for some $12.4 million, but most of those vehicles won't arrive until 2020.

As those in the power sweeping industry should be well aware, there are plenty of good reasons to keep the streets clear of debris and road dust – a mix of crunched up rock, metal, vehicle exhaust, litter and more. Clean Roads to Clean Air focused in on finding the best way to remove fine particulate matter from Toronto's roads. That particulate, referred to as PM 10 and PM 2.5, is considered a toxic substance under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. Health research has shown the human respiratory system is negatively affected by the airborne mix of lead, aluminum and aromatic hydrocarbons.

"We have more hospitalizations and premature deaths in our city than we ever should because we're not dealing with our air pollution," Marshall said.

That claim is backed up by the city's own health board, which reported in 2014 that some 1,300 people died prematurely and 3,550 were hospitalized due to air pollution. Recognizing this, the city set targets for cleaning its 5,397 kilometers worth of road.

City staff say sweepers are still meeting cleaning targets on major arterial roads and business improvement areas, but admit there aren't enough to clean expressways or local roads (the target is to clean local roads once every two months). This spring, the city was also forced to contract out some of its road-cleaning work for two weeks.

Troubled history of street sweepers in Toronto

Transportation Svcs The city's street sweeper fleet has been hampered with maintenance issues for years, woes that are well-documented. Current Auditor General Beverly Romeo-Beehler found that from 2015 to 2018 there were lengthy vehicle downtimes due to repairs. One of her most striking findings was that nearly one in three of the city's heavy duty vehicles – which includes sweepers – was out of service daily in January and February of this year. Romeo-Beehler suggests several reasons why this is happening now, but the problems have existed for years.

In 2007 and 2008, the city purchased 50 regenerative air sweepers – the exact model is the Tymco DST-6 – that its research found reduced airborne fine particulate matter at street level by at least 21% when compared to traditional broom sweepers.

Before the DST-6's, the city's fleet sucked up an average of 6,432 tonnes of waste from the roads. A year later, with the new machines, that average tonnage was up to 15,854 tons. Despite the successful start, the city's former auditor general, Jeff Griffiths, found many of sweepers were poorly maintained in the following years and in some cases damaged by the use of after-market parts.

By 2012, the average tonnage collected was down to 8,720. City staff, raising concerns about the sweepers performance, sought to acquire more sweepers. However, somewhat inexplicably, according to a May 16, 2019 report by Yahoo! News "the city says its sweepers picked up approximately 14,125 tonnes of road dust and debris in 2018 (data for 2019 isn't available)."

Those numbers suggest there's more waste to deal with than ever in the rapidly-growing city, although it's unclear how much waste is not being cleaned up. The Toronto Environmental Alliance's Heather Marshall says the city needs to do more to deal with the pollution that's piling up:

"We really do need street cleaning equipment on the roads every day to keep to keep pace with all of the pollution that we see," Marshall said.

While common litter like coffee cups and cigarette butts are the ugliest items, Marshall said Torontonians should be more concerned with the particulate matter that's left behind by both construction and vehicle emissions. "It's actually even worse for our health," she said.

"When it's in our air it really affects our lungs and affects our breathing abilities. And when it's in the waterways it gets flushed down into the storm sewer system which ends up in our local streams, rivers and eventually Lake Ontario." TYMCO Parked

For its near-term delivery, Toronto is buying Tymco 600 sweepers, a lower-grade model that has not been verified by ETV Canada, the organization that certifies green technology in this country (the DST-6, on the other hand, was recertified in 2017). A city spokesperson defended the purchase, saying the new machines meet environmental and operational requirements and also meet the standards set by city councilors.

"These two models have identical design and ratings for the regenerative air street sweeping system," said Eric Holmes in an email. The new TYMCO 600s are expected to arrive by the end of the year.

Toronto falling behind nearby City of Hamilton


What's happening in Toronto hasn't stopped the nearby City of Hamilton, which was a partner in the Clean Roads to Clean Air testing, from investing in some of TYMCO's high-end street cleaners. Hamilton currently has a fleet of 19 of TYMCO's DST-6 sweepers, three of which were acquired and put into service in May, officials there confirmed.

Hamilton spends $440,000 per year to maintain its sweeper fleet – or about $25,000 per vehicle. The City of Toronto expects to spend the same to maintain its new vehicles. Meanwhile, Toronto continues to lack new street sweepers that documents show were badly needed in 2015.

Some of the material for this story came originally from a story, written by John Rieti, that was on the CBC news website.

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