Streets Department – Follow-Up Review of Bigbelly Operations

Audit Date: June 22, 2017
Audit Categories
  • Investigation
Controller: Alan Butkovitz
Audit Tags
  • Streets


Costs & Operations Examined of High-Tech Trash Cans

Executive Summary

Why the Controller’s Office Conducted the Review

In 2010 the Controller’s Office conducted a review of the multi-million dollar purchase of Bigbelly solar powered rubbish bins by the Streets Department. During that review we raised many issues including: The legitimacy of the possible cost savings, responsibility for overall
maintenance, life expectancy claims and lack of contract compliance.

As the Bigbelly units originally purchased are nearing their purported life expectancy, this review was undertaken to assess the program and progress made since our 2010 report.

What the Controller’s Office Found

The Controller’s Office found that the Streets Department still does not have an effective or efficient system to manage the multi-million dollar Bigbelly rubbish collection system. Significant issues included:

  • The Streets Department has not conducted a comprehensive cost benefit analysis of the system even though the original bins purchased are reaching their life expectancy.
  • There is no viable work order and maintenance tracking system and, as a result, repairs languish for months or sometimes years.
  • While a refurbishment and parts recycling process has been developed, there is no formalized routine cleaning and maintenance program.
  • On at least one occasion, the Streets Department circumvented contract bidding procedures by subcontracting cleaning, at a cost of $88,000, through one of their professional services contractors.
  • A software system purchased from Bigbelly, at an annual cost of $130,000, has had a significant network outage since January 2017 and is continuing. As a result of the outage, up to 82 percent of the Bigbelly units have no communication ability, rendering the system practically useless.

What the Controller’s Office Recommends

  • Before additional purchases are made, conduct a comprehensive and validated costbenefit analysis including all costs associated with Bigbelly units and their maintenance.
  • Pursue reimbursements from Bigbelly for the lost use of the purchased software platform.
  • Develop a system to manage the Bigbelly program that includes robust and viable tracking of all Bigbelly work orders, overall costs of repairs and provides accountability for the work being completed.