Homeless in Vancouver: Street sweeping change comes to town

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      I suspect that the City of Vancouver bought its newest street sweeper—a Dutch-made Ravo 5 iSeries—based on looks. When it’s idle the Ravo 5 looks as cute as a bug and when its hard at work it looks like a big wet/dry vacuum cleaner on steriods.

      One sales video for the Ravo 5—by the vacuum sweeper’s manufacturer Ravo-Fayat—shows it thoroughly sucking-up a community garden’s-worth of dirt, a pickup truck-worth of coarse gravel and about $3-worth of empty wine bottles—not to mention a whole slough of standing water.

      In the process, it has to be said that the little Ravo 5 street sweeper ends up making its older and larger peers in the sanitation department look like obsolete, lumbering dinosaurs.

      For one thing, the Ravo 5 has the comparatively small footprint and turning radius of a Honda Civic sedan. It also has a startling top speed of 80 km-per-hour and (belying its size) a “vacuum bag” which holds of 5 cubic metres—only about one cubic metre less than the 30-some percent larger Elgin Crosswind sweeper.

      Looking for a new broom that sweeps cleaner

      Don’t fear the sweeper! Behind a City of Vancouver sanitation department’s Elgin Crosswind dual in 2013.
      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      The big regenerative air sweeper trucks, made by U.S. companies like Elgin, SpectraTec and Tymco—the sort we’re used to seeing slowly perform curbside cleaning in Vancouver—are all built on mid-size truck chassis, half-again longer than the Ravo 5.

      And these big sweepers, for all their size, power and capacity, are largely limited to performing one simple task: cleaning the curbs of automobile-centric streets; they cannot handle traffic islands, or bike lanes and they cannot even clean up a mess in the middle of a road.

      The quick and nimble Ravo 5, however, can seemingly do everything that the big sweepers can. And, because Ravo has been developing street sweepers for the European market since 1964, the Ravo 5 is designed to be good at doing what the big U.S.-made sweepers can’t, namely, cleaning narrow streets, complicated pedestrian and cyclist-friendly features and large public spaces—all of which have long been commonplace in European cities and which are fast becoming a thing here in North America.

      Regenerative air  and vacuum sweepers compared

      Sweep little thing. The Ravo 5 mingling with traffic on West Broadway.
      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      I’m not at all clear about the exact, technical distinction between regenerative air sweepers (like the Elgin Crosswind) and vacuum sweepers (e.g., Ravo 5s). Both suck, as it were but regenerative air systems also seem to blow at the same time—resulting, we are told, in superior debris collection. The knock against vacuum-only systems, near as I can tell, is that they are potentially less efficient and prone to kicking up the fine residue that they fail to collect; also, they are supposed to be harder on brushes, which adds significantly to maintenance costs.

      In 2017, Yuba City, California, looked at the benefits of buying Ravo 5s to replace their two Tymco regenerative air sweepers (purchased in 2000 and 2003), which had both clocked well over 300,000 kms and were costing the city USD$13,000-a-year in maintenance.

      Comparing the Ravo to the Tymco, Yuba City officials rated hopper capacity a tie at 6 cubic yards each but the Ravo scored big on daily water consumption, using a miserly 605 litres to a whopping 2271.25 litres for the Tymco.

      The Ravo was likewise much more efficient than the Tymco on daily fuel consumption: 47.69 litres to 85.17 litres.

      It took half as long to clean out the Ravo’s hopper and, unlike the Tymco, the Ravo featured a glass-bottomed floorboard and (of course) the handy option of a third broom!

      Contrary to claims of regenerative air advocates, the Ravo’s brooms lasted signifigantly longer than the Tymco’s: 100 hours to 6o for the curb brooms and three years to three months for the curtain broom.

      The Ravo also had a smaller turn radius than the Tymco and made less noise.

      A cool new street sweeper costs a cool few hundred thousand

      In May of 2017, the City of London, Ontario, was looking to buy a Ravo 5 iSeries, in order to address additional cleaning challenges posed by new “creative spaces” coming to the city’s downtown core, such as bike lanes and a “flex” street, designed to be shared by pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists.

      Among other features that recommended the Ravo 5, London officials pointed to its optional articulated third broom, which gives it the singular ability to clean up what is directly in front of it and not just beside it:

      “From a versatility perspective, the Ravo street sweeper includes a third broom that can reach previously uncollectable areas such as islands and curbside sidewalks.”

      In 2017, London, Ontario, costed out a new Ravo 5 iSeries (with an optional third broom) at $274,109, plus HST. This compares to the USD$228,186 (CAD$289,009) base price tag of a larger Elgin Crosswind dual brush street sweeper offered to the state of Idaho in 2017.

      Unlike Elgin, the Fayat Group doesn’t mention the option of a rear LED stick, but there is one stuck on the back of the city’s Ravo 5.

      Ohio’s price for an Elgin Crosswind did not, by the way, include such essential options as a rear LED arrow stick (over $2,000), rear cameras (price to be determined), or an AM/FM/CD radio (over $1,000).

      On the Ravo 5 iSeries, rear cameras are standard, as is a radio with MP3 and USB in the cab, not to mention air conditioning, sound-proofing and (so important) a cup holder.

      On top of the standard features, the Ravo 5 options are many and varied. One that the City of Vancouver opted for can be seen in the photo at the top of this post, attached to the “roof” of the Ravo 5’s hopper. This is a power-washing wand with just under 15 metres of hose on a take-up reel attached to a long boom with a 360° turning radius.

      Unlike Elgin, the Fayat Group doesn’t mention the option of a rear LED stick, but there is one stuck on the back of the city’s Ravo 5.

      Stanley Q. Woodvine is a homeless resident of Vancouver who has worked in the past as an illustrator, graphic designer, and writer. Follow Stanley on Twitter at @sqwabb.