So presently the City of Vancouver only shares its garbage schedule (which it divides into north and south) as a PDF file. This is a pity as it means that no one can build any apps around it. Imagine a website or Iphone app that mashed up google maps with a constantly up to date city garbage pick up schedule. With such a application one could:
- Simply punch in your address and find out your garbage zone (no more guessing if you live on the border of a zone)
- Get an email or SMS notification 15 minutes, 1 hour, 12 hours (whenever!) before pick up
- Download the garbage schedule into your calendar using XML, HTML or ICAL
Let’s face it, everyone could do with a garbage day reminder. I can imagine that there are 1000’s of Vancouverites who’d sign up for an email notification.
Maybe this seems all very simply, nice but unimportant. But this is more than just creating convenience. What are the implications for such an application?
- Let’s face it, for many of us, it would be a convenient and nice to get a reminder of when the garbage is going to be picked up
- It would improve citizen’s appreciation for city services
- It might also increase the likelihood citizen will recycle as the notification would enable them to better plan and prepare for garbage pick up
For the city & taxpayers
- Every day 100s of Vancouverites forget to put out there garbage out for pick up. If garbage isn’t picked up, it piles up. This creates several new risks and costs to the city including: increasing likelihood of rodents and health hazards and an increased risk that some residents will dispose of their garbage inappropriately/illegally
- When garbage is not put out an expensive city asset (the garbage truck, fuel, garbage men) all pass by unused. This means that taxpayers money is not used as efficiently as it could.
- Moreover, when garbage isn’t put out there will be twice as much at the house the next week. Multiply that by 100’s of houses and the very quickly the city must deploy extra garbage trucks to deal with this unusually large volume of garbage – costing city taxpayers.
What would be the total value/savings of such an application? Hard to gauge. But add up, time saved by citizens better able to plan around garbage pick up, a small reduction in illegal garbage disposal, a small increase in recycling, slight increase in garbage pick up efficiency and I’m sure the total value would be in the low millions, and the direct savings for the city in the low $100,000 per year. That is not insignificant – especially if all the city had to do was free the data and allow an intrepid hacker to code up the website.
Of course it doesn’t end there. A reliable source tells me the city collects far more data about garbage collection. For example when the driver can’t pick up the garbage can, they make an entry on their device as to why (e.g., it is under a tree). This entry is sent via a wireless connection back to a City database, and includes the highly precise coordinates of the truck at that moment. Then when a resident calls in to find out why the crew did not pick up the garbage can from their residence, the operator can bring up the address on a map and pinpoint the problem.
Such data could also be on the website in an option with something like “Why didn’t my garbage get picked up?” By sharing this data the city could reduce its call volume (and thus costs). With open data, the possibilities, savings and convenience is endless.