Trash Hauler Layoffs Are a Small Price to Pay for Cheaper and Better Garbage Service

Going with a single hauler will mean a bunch of small trash hauling businesses will fail, but that’s no reason to sustain a trash collection market design where Bethlehem residents are getting badly ripped off. A couple dozen people would be out of work, but even more people are out of work because of all the public sector layoffs. Life in the age of local government austerity is hard and unfortunately has required some layoffs. What people need to figure out is how to cut payments to service providers without harming service delivery. In the case of the trash haulers, this is very obvious. It’s a rare case where you can spend less money and get better service.

The bottom line is that the number of people who would lose out by these trash haulers going out of business is far smaller than the number of people who would benefit from cheaper and better garbage service. Life goes on.

A city council members’ job is to pick the market design that gives residents the lowest cost and highest quality trash collection service. This is a situation where everybody can get a better deal if they pool their money, via city government, to pay a single hauler.

There’s no debating the merits here. We know that service is better and cheaper in municipalities with a single hauler. The only question is whether city council members will do the right thing and win the cash savings for residents even if trash haulers, predictably, get a couple hundred people to go to a meeting and complain. It doesn’t stop being a good idea just because a couple hundred people want to yell at you about it.

Be like Palmer. Figure out what’s actually the best deal, and then do it.


  1. Actually, a city council member’s first priority is their own re-election. Sorry but you are forgetting the politics here.

    Yet another reason for term limits everywhere. We need to take the selfish act of wanting to be re-elected all the time out of it. Then maybe good decisions, instead of selfish, whore-like decisions, will be made.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      City council members have agency. They can choose to do the right thing. It’s also not clear to me that they would actually suffer at the polls for this. Most people would probably enjoy paying less money and getting more frequent trash collection.

  2. But it’s also not clear they wouldn’t suffer. If citizens don’t make themselves heard, then that’s their problem.

    I refuse to give citizens a pass on their responsibilities. I also believe that it’s any citizen/taxpayer’s right to spend more for something if that’s what they want.

    You’ve made no case that the citizens want a single hauler. The financial case is there, no argument. But that’s not the only test it has to pass.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      I just reject the idea that most people have strong opinions on *how* their trash gets collected. I think they want good service at a low cost. It’s city council’s job to decide the *how* questions on the merits, not based on politics. The singular question they need to answer is what’s going to increase residents’ real disposable income.

      • Politicians should ignore politics? Like that will ever happen.

        Again, I do not absolve citizens of their responsibility to make themselves heard. You want one hauler? Go to a meeting or write an email and tell council. If you want it to stay the way it is, go to a meeting or write an email and tell council.

        The only voices right now want it the way it is. As to the silence, it’s one of two things – they either agree, or they don’t care.

        So politicians, being politicians, will react accordingly, and in fact are doing the will of the people.

        • Jon Geeting says:

          I think we just have different views on how this should work. My view is that representative government means politicians should make decisions based on their own judgment of the issues. The job is to gather information, which includes listening to constituents via meetings and emails and phone calls, and then weigh the merits of all the options and choose the best one. The job is not to say “well, 10 people called in favor of this, and 5 people called in opposition, so I have to choose the position the 10 people wanted”. If 100% of the people call in opposition to a policy, but you think it’s right on the merits, then you should vote how you think. You’re the representative. You got elected to make the choices, not to defer to other people. If they want to make the choices, let them try to get elected.

  3. How about a suggestion on improving the situation? Most customers prefer this system…they just do. If (big “if”) the city truly is concerned about trucks and garbage being on the streets every day of the week, then simply divide the city into two zones. The companies may collcct garbage for their customers on these days only. The city needs to enforce this vigorously, up to and including revocation. But I believe this is not really about solving the problem…

    • Jon Geeting says:

      But why? We know that single hauler saves the most money for people. Why do anything other than what’s actually the best option?

  4. And how is it that you can say with such absolute certainty that everyone will definitely benefit by going with one single entity? I think that it is a distinct possibility that private haulers could possibly be more affordable…

    Again, IF the main issue is “all those trucks and all that garbage..” every day of the week, the zone schedule ends that.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      I can say it with certainty because I looked at the pricing differences. I laid it all out in this column There is no “main issue”, it’s all the issues. On every possible metric – price, pickup frequency, sanitation, administration, environment – single hauler beats 18 private haulers. There’s no justification for it other than inertia and lots of people straight up misunderstanding the economics of the service:

      Allentown residents pay $28 a month for unlimited trash removal twice a week. This includes free recycling, free yard waste removal, and free removal of large appliances.

      Bethlehem residents pay $26.50 a month to dispose of 5 bags once a week. There’s a $3 charge for each additional bag. This does not include recycling or yard waste, and there is a $20 charge for large appliances. The city charges $40 a year for recycling.

      Let’s compare the costs for a Bethlehem resident and an Allentown resident who each throw away 7 bags of trash a week. Suppose each person also recycles and throws away 3 large items all year: a broken television, a chair, and a Christmas tree.

      If the Bethlehem resident could hold his trash output down to 5 bags a week, his bill would only be $26.50 a month, but since he uses 7 bags, it adds up to $50.50 – almost double the sticker price!

      Add in $40 for the city’s recycling fee, and $60 for the 3 large items, and the Bethlehem resident’s yearly bill comes to $705.96.

      The Allentown resident pays just $336 a year, and even gets her garbage picked up twice a week. The Bethlehem resident pays more than twice as much.

      • No, not every possible metric, you’re forgetting the most important – what people want. You’ve made no case whatsoever that the residents of Bethlehem want one trash hauler.

        Make the case it’s what people want, then you can move forward. Until then, the politicians aren’t going to move on this.

        • Jon Geeting says:

          Nobody needs to make the case that most people want one trash hauler. That’s not important. The outcomes people want are very important – general things like inexpensive, frequent hauling. The “how” issues are up to politicians. There’s no particular reason to think voters have well-formed opinions on the “how” questions of designing the trash hauling market.

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