Winter Program Changes Improve Services and Save Money

Like every municipality we are always looking for new ways to improve service and reduce costs. For the 2015/2016 winter season we made some changes to our snow management program with these goals in mind and found some interesting successes.

Every year as part of our continuous improvement strategy, the department selects a handful of priority services and deconstructs these services based on Lean methodologies for the purpose of verifying where value is added and that the right level of service is being delivered to the right customers. Of course, being public sector and servicing a broad community, we also focus on a consistent service model for all.

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Primary Change for this Season was the elimination of Sand
We have two major road classifications in Aurora being our primary roads and secondary roads. the primary roads receive salt treatment and the secondary roads receive a 95 percent sand/salt mix and the road ratio is about 4 to 1 for secondaries.

The exercise we undertook in 2015 was to review every step of the winter operation from both a customer perspective (are we adding value to the customer experience at every step) and from a life cycle approach ( what is the full impact of each practice).
How the Program Changed
The key changes to the program were:

1. eliminate the pre-wetting operations (8 years of operation in this mode has found some significant overall disadvantages of this approach on asset life)

2. Trial a pre-treated salt product in lieu of pre-wetting

3. Shift from sand/salt mix to salt only on all routes

4. Reduce overall application rates based on new characteristics of treated product

And here is how its shaking out so far...
Service Levels Experience
The major service level improvements were noticed on the roads that shifted from sand to salt. Moving to a bare pavement objective resulted in higher positive feedback from those areas. In addition, there were comments on how much cleaner the roads and private drives were based on the absence of tracked sand. This was an immediate benefit to the community. The overall service level improvements to the customer included:

  • clearer roads
  • faster completion of routes (due to reduced loading time)
  • perception of cleaner streets (due to absence of sand on roads in spring)

Operating Experiences
The major operational improvement was reduced re-load time as the application rates for sand vs salt was almost 4:1 since much more sand needed to be applied to provide the necessary traction as snow melt was not the objective. With salt only, the objective changed from snow pack to centre bare resulting in a more visible measure for the staff.

Also, the reduction in trips to the dome drastically increased "Plow on Road" time resulting in improved completion times with the same level of equipment. This was also translated into improved service to the customer with no added equipment costs and the availability of staff to perform other valued added services to further improve the customer experience.

Another significant improvement is with the spring cleanup. We are seeing an immediate savings of approximately $30,000 as all street sweeping will now be performed internally compared to a blitz with contracted services. The blitz was previously necessary due to high complaints of street conditions with the remaining sand. Now the roads are only requiring s light sweep for debris. This savings does not include the additional savings expected with sweepings disposal which will be minimal compared to sand application volumes.

The other area where savings are expected is with catch basin cleaning. This will be verified this summer but intuitively no sand on the road means no sand in the catch basins benefiting cleaning costs.

Staff have also found the change beneficial and are very much in support of how this has simplified operations.
Environmental Stewardship Major Consideration
We were also concerned about how this change might effect the environment so our overall goal was to minimize overall salt impacts as much as possible. While application rates for the secondary roads did increase due to the removal of sand, there was an opportunity to lower application rates on primary roads due to the benefits of the pre-treated salt. We are monitoring the overall application rates and believe that we have found the right balance of public safety and environmental stewardship as we balance legislated service levels with road salt usage.

Overall this has been a great pilot and these changes will be incorporated into future operations.

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