Many residents who use BFI/Allied Waste Services for curbside trash pick-up were surprised to receive a service agreement contract enclosed with a customer satisfaction survey last month.
A cover letter encouraged customers to sign the two-year contract in return for one free month of service and to lock-in their current service rate for another year. One of the benefits of a service agreement is to “assist us in negotiating disposal rates, which allows us the ability to control our costs” and pass those savings on to the customer according to the letter.
But when Bill Mann read the contract’s lengthy fine print he learned that by signing the agreement he would be liable to pay a fee equivalent to six month’s service if he cancelled the contract in less than two years. His signature would also authorize automatic renewal of the contract unless he notified BFI/ Allied Waste Services in writing 30 days before the termination of the contract via certified mail.
“It’s a form letter that says in order to save money they want you to sign a two-year contract and the reason they give is to give them better bargaining power, but it’s all written by lawyers so it’s difficult to understand their intent,” said Mann. “It seems an obvious attempt to give them stability so people can’t change to another service in a hurry.”
Mann has used BFI, or its predecessor, since he moved to Sudbury in the 1980s. He signed with the private hauler because all of his neighbors use the company.
Mann said he’s had no problems with the company’s service, “but I did get bent out of shape by the attempt to institute a cancellation fee.”
Mann pays $39.50 per month for trash pick-up plus an additional fuel/environmental surcharge, so he calculated that a six month cancellation penalty would cost $237.
“Naturally I’m not about to sign such a contract, and if I am reading the contract correctly no one else should sign it either,” said Mann.
Reached at the Tyngsboro office of BFI/Allied Waste Services, General Manager Stan Walczak refused to comment on the contracts enclosed with Sudbury bills.
“I don’t comment to newspapers,” said Walczak.
However, a phone call to a customer service representative in another office in the Allied Waste Services eastern Massachusetts system was more informative.
“Residential customers have an option of a contract. They do not need to take it,” said the representative.
A call to Allied Waste Services’ east regional corporate office in Michigan was not returned by press time.
The timing of BFI/Allied Waste Services contract mailing struck some customers as possibly being related to recent research into a single-hauler town service by the town-appointed Solid Waste Management Options Committee (SWMOC). The idea of a town-wide fee-based service is merely hypothetical at this time, and would need a substantial number of households to sign up for such a service to receive a significant savings.
“I’ve been getting some calls from residents,” said John Pearson, SWMOC chairman. “It seems possible that it’s a response from what this committee is doing, but who knows?”
The SWMOC recently surveyed Sudbury households that use a private hauler for trash and recyclables and found that 88 percent of the respondents would support a town-wide, curbside service. Only about a quarter of transfer station users said they would support such a service.
The SWMOC was formed in 2006 to investigate options for town-wide waste disposal and expects to make its recommendations to the selectmen in the spring of 2009. Any action on those recommendations will be decided by the selectmen, including whether to present any proposal to a future Town Meeting.
“So if anything were to happen (regarding town-wide trash pick-up) it’s more than a year away,” said Pearson. “What we say to callers is read the contract very carefully and if you think it’s in your best interests, sign it, and if you don’t think it’s in your best interests, don’t sign it. We’re certainly not the ones to tell people what to do.”
According to the town Highway Department and SWMOC, three other private trash haulers also service residential customers in Sudbury: BP Trucking, Waste Management and a small business called Mr. Trashman. None of them ask customers to sign a contract.
“We’ve never seen the upside of a contract,” said Gary De Paolo of BP Trucking. “It’s just another piece of paperwork I don’t need.”