City may suspend shopping cart pick-up program for a year

Auburn’s big cart-el: Shopping carts, when taken from store property, remain in large supply, costing stores and the City money.  - Rachel Ciampi/Auburn Reporter
Auburn’s big cart-el: Shopping carts, when taken from store property, remain in large supply, costing stores and the City money.
— image credit: Rachel Ciampi/Auburn Reporter

Former City Councilmember Gene Cerino's goal for the shopping cart pick-up program in 2005 was that it would eliminate, or least sharply cut, the hazards all those shopping carts abandoned on city streets and sidewalks presented to the public.

But as of this week, according to the head of the City division tasked with enforcing Ordinance 5906, the program is not only failing at what it was supposed to do, it is costing more than the $7,000 it takes in every year.

On Monday, Randy Bailey, assistant director of public works and operations for the City of Auburn, asked members of the Municipal Services Committee to put the brakes on the program — at least for a year of assessment.

"We have found that we are not reducing the number of shopping carts that are found on the roadways," Bailey said. "And I know that we're spending more than $7,000 a year just collecting the carts."

Typically, there's a perimeter around the stores within which the wheels on the carts roll freely. Even if at a certain point, an automatic brake is supposed to prevent them from moving, folks still find a way around the feature.

And, as of today, when somebody reports an abandoned cart, the City calls in maintenance and public works employees to drop what they are doing and go where it is, load the cart onto a truck and drive it to the maintenance yard on C Street Southwest, where it is stored.

The City then charges a store $35 to get each cart back, and $70 to destroy those that a store fails to claim.

The charges were intended as an incentive to get the stores to police their carts. But the program has since proved sharply unpopular with store management, who resent having to shell out $30 each to get their property back.

"It's been a very contentious relationship, at least with us, I can't speak for the council," Bailey said. "There are some rough feelings about being charged to get the carts back.

"... I don't think (the City Council) understood when they first started the program how much time it was going to take. That if you have a staff of two doing certain things who have to drive across town to pick the carts up and drop them off before continuing to the work they had been doing, 45 minutes could pass," Bailey said.

If the full council ultimately agrees to suspend the ordinance, things would return to the way they were before 2005. That is, City workers would pick up stray carts and simply return them to the store parking lots for the stores to pick up and reuse.

"I think it's a perfect opportunity for us to go ahead and give this a shot, to just put the ordinance on hold for year and let us evaluate that," Bailey said. "If it works out that it's time to go back to the old ways, that'd be great; if not, then we can re-enact the ordinance and go forward again."

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