City tree workers log fewer than 4 productive hours per day: auditor general

·2 min read

Workers with the City of Toronto's tree maintenance crews do just three and a half hours of productive work per day, according to the city's latest auditor general report.

"The city is still not receiving value-for-money for tree maintenance," according to the report, which is the second audit to focus on tree maintenance in the last two years.

"[Parks, Forestry and Recreation] PFR needs to put more focus on systematically ensuring outcomes for tree maintenance, whether delivered through contracts or by City staff," the report says.

Crews spend approximately five hours working on trees, according to the report, of which it classifies only three and a half hours as "productive" time. The rest of the eight hour day includes about an hour of driving, as well as yard and dumping work.

The report shows more than two hours of non-productive work.

"[Crews] spend less time working on trees than reported, take extra unreported breaks throughout the day, and kill time before the end of their shift," it says.

The auditor general's office monitored crews for full day stretches for more than 500 hours from July 31, 2020 to Sept. 25, 2020.

The office found that "478 hours of down time due to parked cars was reported by contracted crews operating out of one yard during the two-month follow-up."

The report says PFR paid approximately $68,000 for this time.

The report says says if crews increased their time directly working on trees by 30 minutes per eight-hour shift, the AG's office estimates the city would gain "over $1 million worth of work on trees each year."

The 2021 auditor general report was requested by city council last July as a follow up to the 2019 report, which outlined how "city management wasn't managing their tree maintenance crews very well."

The latest report noted some improvements have been made since the last audit, including crews more accurately reporting their locations to match GPS tracking. However, the auditor general's report also noted some unsafe work habits, such as crews not wearing hard hats or talking on phones while working around wires.

The city's auditor general has put forth 18 new recommendations to city council, including

  • Having the general manager of PFR periodically perform discreet physical observation of tree maintenance vendors for multiple full day stretches.

  • Requesting the general manager improve crew management at the operations yards to reduce daily yard time and increase efficiency on tree maintenance work.

  • Requesting the general manager ensure Forestry Performance Inspection records accurately reflect the actual scope of the inspection or review performed.

The full list of recommendations can be found here.