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Phoenix Invests in High-Tech Van to Promote Savings

The City of Phoenix faces a different set of challenges today than it did five to ten years ago. For example, it has become increasingly difficult to rely on federal and state funding. Although the economy has improved, cities can no longer rely on increased revenue for financial strength. Expectations, and most importantly, attitudes, have changed. They must.

Innovation and efficiency have become the lifelines of the City of Phoenix. How can we be more efficient in our day-to-day operations? Can we find creative ways to deliver exceptional services to our residents at a reduced cost? Those are the questions Phoenix employees, across all levels and departments, live and breathe each day they come to work. It is now part of our culture.

IMG_3606An example of how Phoenix is investing in innovation comes from the recent purchase of a pavement management van. In an effort to keep Phoenix streets safe, inspectors routinely canvas thousands of miles of asphalt to determine where repairs need to be made – 5,298 miles of asphalt to be exact.

Since the late 1980s, this process has been rather slow and methodical. A large SUV would tow a heavy trailer carrying equipment that would analyze the street surface. The vehicle unit would make frequent stops to test small patches of roadway: five feet of street surface in 300-feet increments. Not only was this a very time consuming process, but it would also often impede the flow of traffic.

The new pavement management van has changed the way street transportation inspectors canvas the streets of Phoenix. The van surveys the entire street instead of taking samples from isolated areas. It also uses sensors and video to measure the actual condition of the roadway surface including cracks, type of cracks and any pavement deterioration. The rating developed from this method is objective and more accurately represents the true condition of the roadway, taking human error out of the equation. The van operator is now able to drive the posted speed limit without having to make frequent stops and affect traffic. This makes it safer for the city technicians as well as the traveling public.

Phoenix is one of just a small number of cities using this new technology, which offers a reliable and accurate system to measure the true condition of Phoenix’s roadways. The information gathered allows the city to better allocate funds to the areas that need it most. The immediate cost of the system was $690,000, with an expected future savings that will be assessed by realizing further savings through more timely responses to pavement conditions and allowing the city to address pavement issues before they become more costly.

This is just one of many ways Phoenix is getting innovative. A Phoenix Water Services Department team recently found a way to improve water quality without the need for expensive new equipment. By developing a plan to reconfigure the way water moves through a reservoir complex, the team saved Phoenix water customers more than $3.3 million at a cost of only about $15,000. The team members each received around $2,300 as part of Phoenix’s Employee Suggestion Program. This bonus is a small price to pay for more than $3 million in savings.

Another example of how Phoenix is becoming more efficient has to do with trash pickup. For the past 28 years, residents placed their trash and recycling bins on the curb for pickup on separate days. One year ago, that process changed so that trash and recycling bins are collected on the same day. This has resulted in a reduction of daily collection routes from 166 to 154 as well as the elimination of 12 trucks and 12 employees. The estimated savings in the program’s first year is $2.3 million with an added benefit of no solid waste fee increases.

As the Phoenix City Manager, I believe that results don’t come without taking risk, and risk should be rewarded. Some of Phoenix’s best ideas have come from our front-line employees who are engaged in their work and are committed to Phoenix’s vision, which is to make our city a great place to live, work and visit by fostering a dynamic and sustainable environment with exceptional public services. Everyone must be committed to the vision.

The bottom line: everyone must work together to find ways to do better with less. Cities are struggling to find ways to stretch dollars to pay for basic services like roadway improvements. Historically, much of that funding came from the federal gasoline tax and, here in Arizona, the Arizona Highway User Revenue funds that totaled approximately 36 cents per gallon. However, the portion of that revenue collected by the region and local governments has dwindled in recent years as drivers are becoming more fuel efficient. Phoenix’s response is to take the lead and find ways to operate as efficiently as possible to make up for losses in funding.

Attitude is everything. Cities must change their attitude about how they operate. As the federal government continues to struggle to get control of the deficit, local governments must take action and become more progressive when it comes to operating, especially with the uncertainty of federal funding.

Phoenix and other cities must not only be open to change, but embrace it as a catalyst for finding ways to do the job better. Winston Churchill once said, “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” In order to build efficient and effective 21st century cities, everyone must embrace and advocate for frequent change. We cannot look to the past or present as indicators of the future, we must instead provide a vision of the future that embraces constant change to reflect the rapidly changing environment. Providing that vision is how officials can move towards perfection.


Author: David Cavazos is the City Manager for Phoenix, Arizona.  He can be reached at [email protected]


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