The A1 Trash situation is an illustration of the down side of privatization. It can leave customers in the lurch. The question is how to proceed, or if there’s a way to improve the current system.

I do feel for the company’s customers. Many of them have gone more than a month without their trash being picked up. And they have no idea what’s going on. The company won’t answer the phone or the door.

The trouble, for those customers, is that leaving the garbage out, uncollected, can actually bring on a code violation citation from the city government. As a practical matter, that would require a neighbor to call in to complain, so that seems unlikely at the moment. Fortunately it’s not 97 degrees outside. But sooner or later, somebody will in fact complain, because nobody wants a bunch of garbage hanging around their cul-de-sac for months.

Anyway, those customers have no protection, and if they’d paid in advance for several months’ service, they appear to be out the money. The only way to recover their money would be to sue, and, assuming A1 is more or less kaput, there’s probably no money to recover. A lawyer’s fee would be more than a few months’ garbage bill, anyway.

So what’s a customer supposed to do?

Well, they have several other garbage collectors to choose from. That’s free enterprise. Perhaps a competitor will offer some help as an incentive to pick up more business. That’d be good business, and also a way to make whole the people left in the lurch.

The big-picture alternative to all this is to have the city take over garbage collection. That’s not uncommon, particularly in larger communities. Then this sort of thing wouldn’t happen. But having the government take over a private business function sort of flies in the face of common sense, and a free-enterprise approach that we generally embrace in Kansas.

The other way to deal with it would be to require companies who want a permit to operate as trash collectors to post some sort of performance bond, and if they go kaput, the money could go to make whole the customers left dangling. If this particular situation doesn’t resolve itself soon, city officials ought to consider something along those lines.

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