Consultant says PWSA has made positive changes

Phone service upgrade cited


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In July of last year, the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, still reeling from a scandal that unseated its executive director, brought on consultant Veolia Water North America to remake its operations from the ground up.

In a report released Friday, the company said it has reached some notable milestones: increasing revenues, bringing on a million-dollar-a-year commercial costumer and holding rates steady.

But the one change that will mean most to ratepayers might be this one: the abandonment rate. That's the rate when people calling in to customer service hang up before they actually reach someone -- likely because they've become too frustrated to wait any longer.

It has dropped from upwards of 20 percent to 9 percent, bringing glowing customer service reviews to the authority. Call wait-time was cut from 8 minutes to 4 minutes and all of it was done with existing staff and resources and without spending a dime, according to the PWSA.

"You know how you call a bank ... and how you think 'It doesn't matter what button I push, it's going to the same place'? Well that was actually happening here," said Jim Good, a Veolia official who was brought on as PWSA's new executive director.

"Now when you say, 'I have an emergency,' it goes to the people who handle emergencies. When you say, 'I have a billing question,' it goes to the people who handle billing."

The authority and the company set several goals, called Key Performance Indicators. When the authority reaches one of these goals, Veolia gets paid additional money on top of its $150,000 per month fee. The company also gets a portion of cost-savings and extra revenue that their changes generate.

Mr. Good said one of Veolia's major achievements was bringing a large commercial customer back to PWSA. He said the company, a food processor he declined to name, had become so fed up with PWSA that it opted out of the water grid and drilled wells to extract water instead. Mr. Good said he's brought them back on board, a move that will generate $1 million extra revenue a year.

Additionally, the company started collecting a fire service line fee that the board had legislated in 2005 but had never collected. The fee -- which applies mostly to buildings with sprinkler systems -- is expected to bring in around $300,000 a year.

State Rep. Dan Deasy, D-Westwood, the chairman of the authority board, said the changes have restored public confidence in PWSA, confidence that was likely derailed by a scandal over line insurance that was ultimately ruled illegal by a judge. Former executive director Michael Kenney resigned as a result, because of his ties to the insurance provider.

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Moriah Balingit: mbalingit@post-gazette.com, 412-263-2533 or on Twitter @MoriahBee.


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