What’s a Sanbot?

What’s a Sanbot?

a.  a miniature PB&J sandwich robot
b.  a 6” heel woman’s shoe style
c.  the URL for the Jarrett Meeker Foundation
d.  a garbage truck driver in Flatbush
e.  all of the above

Letter e. became the right answer when NYC Deputy Mayor for Operations Stephen Goldsmith — the famous “Missing Man” of the 2010 Blizzard — designated BK14 (Flatbush-Midwood) as the pilot district for garbage truck-tracking by GPS.

Stephen Goldsmith

It is not clear how truck-tracking could have made a difference in how the Sanitation Department responded to the December blizzard, when City Hall’s late decision to declare an emergency played a significant role.

But improving snow plowing may be secondary on Goldsmith’s agenda. The point of the GPS may be to make sanitation workers interchangeable — not unlike robots — and to define prescribed routes, which can be competitively bid and privatized.

Such defined routes could preclude traditional Sanitation “specials” such as diverting a snow plow to prioritize a dead-end street where a handicapped dialysis patient is trapped, or plowing the loading zone in front of a day training center for cerebral palsy patients.

Monitoring and controlling truck movements centrally and eliminating local route discretion could prevent community boards and sanitation supervisors from responding to special needs. If so, it would violate the intent of Chapter 69 of the city charter, which deliberately aligns Sanitation and community board districts to enable local service delivery coordination and monitoring by the boards’ district managers.

New Yorkers would pay a price for privatization of sanitation services. Any dollar savings could come at the cost of sanitation worker initiative and the ability of community boards to assist local residents with special problems.

A huge city with hundreds of distinctive neighborhoods can’t afford an inflexible and high-risk centralized system.  The Bloomberg administration needs to rely less on failure-prone technology and more on human decision-making. The  limits of the 311 system during the December blizzard demonstrated this.

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