A street sweeper is a truck with a vacuum unit and brushes attached. Like vacuum cleaners, some are better than others, and some are more expensive than others.
In Revelstoke, monitoring street sweeper routes and frequencies is a hobby for sidewalk superintendents. A truck sweeping a clean street generates attention, causing some to run to their computers to complain on the Stoke list.
At their Sept. 10 regular meeting, council was cruising toward a decision to buy a recommended $204,840 Falcon Freightliner M2106 with a Johnston RT 655 vacuum, to replace the current 2005 Elgin Crosswind Regenerative Air Sweeper.
However, the item was moved to a closed-door meeting at the last minute. Days later, the city issued a media release, stating they had in fact decided to go with the recommended truck, saying it was “determined to be the best value to the city.”
The process was unusual; a major capital purchase of a straightforward item wasn’t done in public view, and no straightforward explanations were offered as to why. The city’s CAO did say litigation or potential litigation affecting the City of Revelstoke was a reason for holding the meeting behind closed doors.
Not long after, a competing supplier phoned to criticize the decision. He was unwilling to go on record, but he criticized his competitor’s product. His claims must be viewed in light of his own self-interest in winning the bid, but upon checking verifiable statements, they proved true.
The Times Review believes the decision to purchase the English-made Falcon was the subject debate amongst city staff, and that the accepted bid was felt by some to be underpowered for the heavy Revelstoke street sweeping workload, which includes lots of winter road-sand removal – something that’s hard on the sweepers.
The concern is the vehicle may need to be operated more – including more passes of the same street – in order to do the same job as a more powerful (and more expensive) vehicle. (And more aggravation for sidewalk superintendents!)
There was consensus that there are currently only two of these street sweepers in use in B.C.; one at the Vancouver airport, and one in Whistler. Although they are used as general street sweepers, it’s also marketed as a niche vehicle used for airport runway sweeping.
When asked about these concerns, senior City of Revelstoke officials said they made the right decision. “I have absolutely no concern with the truck,” said city engineer Mike Thomas. “This truck is used in Whistler. It’s pretty similar conditions in terms of overall snow loads and sand loads.”
Thomas said they had no concerns about the parts supply chain, saying he had “verbal assurances” from the supplier about access to replacement parts from the English manufacturer.
He underscored the truck “met all the requirements” in the tender document, but conceded that power requirements for the sweeper were not spelled out in the bid.
In the end, all factors were weighed to arrive at the best decision. “It’s pretty hard to ignore a $20,000 difference,” Thomas said.
City CAO Tim Palmer said himself and city council were satisfied with the purchase. “There was a lot of employee engagement and analysis,” he said. “And those were listened to, considered and weighed out ultimately in the final decision.”
He added the decision wasn’t a “slam dunk.”
Palmer added: “There’s two good competitors out there.”
Ask your buddies which brand of pickup truck to buy, and you’ll get a variety of recommendations. A Ford, a Chevy, a Toyota, a Dodge. The kind of truck or street sweeper may not be the point here; city council and staff opted to steer a major capital purchase decision with significant lifespan operating expense considerations to a closed-door meeting.
There may be valid reasons to keep parts of the discussion in confidence, but to button up the entire conversation is a troubling trend.