Water trailer — first sip, second sip

The city of Ottawa is considering buying two water trailers for special events similar to the Toronto one pictured above.

The City of Toronto  created HTO to Go, a mobile water trailer that serves as a big drinking fountain.City crews deliver HTO to Go to local events and connect it to a safe supply of potable water (usually a connection to a water main).They have two mobile water trailers available for free to provide water at special events throughout Toronto. 

 There is a stainless steel trough on each side of the trailer; 10 drinking taps (five on each side); 10 spigot taps (five on each side) for filling drinking bottles; step stools for children and cups available to accommodate accessibility challenges; two automatically-refilling doggy bowls at the back; bright, attractive trailer, with lit signage to attract visitors; professional and courteous crew who take care of the trailer from start to finish.

My first reaction to this “what a good idea”. But on second thought, I wondered how much staff time and equipment is required to sterilize this trailer after or before each use. City staff is unionized, with minimum hours of work per shift rules, I can imagine it might take two guys plus a supervisor an entire shift to deliver the trailer and set it up (if it doesn’t require workers from another branch to set it up … connect to the watermains … or operate it…). Then there is the crew to operate it — at least two people, full shifts, at special events that occur mostly at weekends or evenings … and to bring it back to the yards. I can see the operating cost of this “good idea” being a shift-premium bonanza to staff.

And just why is the City delivering water to special events? We charge Bluesfest and other festivals for the policing … the traffic control … the health inspectors … all of which are more crucial to public health than a free water fountain. Of course, the merchants who pay top dollar to get a vending spot at or near the festival won’t mind a bit if the city gives away competing product free from a locale they didn’t pay for. Who will pick up and dispose of all those disposable drinking cups?

As much as this looks like a “good idea” I think there are significant hidden costs that make it much less attractive on second sip. Once again, its not the capital cost, it’s the operating cost that needs to be determined.