NEWS

Johnston, and other RI cities and towns struggle to hire private snowplow drivers

RORY SCHULER
Posted 12/8/21

If you have a truck and like working alone during storms, it may be the season to plow in some cash. Some towns and cities in Rhode Island are having a hard time contracting outside vendors to plow streets.

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NEWS

Johnston, and other RI cities and towns struggle to hire private snowplow drivers

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If you have a truck and like working alone during storms, it may be the season to plow in some cash.

Some towns and cities in Rhode Island are having a hard time contracting outside vendors to plow streets.

Johnston Mayor Joseph M. Polisena has initiated a $1,000 bonus for drivers who sign contracts to work in town.

“We have 175 miles of road across 26 square miles,” Polisena said Monday. “That’s a lot of roads to cover and that’s just town roads.”

Johnston aims to hire around a dozen independent snowplow drivers to tackle town roads this winter. So far, only seven have signed up.

“I’ve decided we should pay $1,000 bonuses at the end of the winter,” Polisena said. “It’s getting real difficult to hire people, for whatever reason.”

Drivers must be insured and provide their own equipment.

Polisena said he met with the mayors of some neighboring towns, and each municipality seems to be struggling to hire an adequate pool of private snowplow drivers.

“It’s not just Johnston,” Polisena said. “I don’t know where all these people are.”

To qualify for the bonus, drivers must show up for work when called following inclement weather, Polisena explained. Those who have already signed up are also eligible for bonuses.

“I’ve got to get the roads done,” Polisena said.

Cranston typically hires close to 100 private snowplow drivers each winter.

“I talked to my public works director, and we’re expecting some snow tomorrow,” Cranston Mayor Ken Hopkins said Tuesday afternoon. “We usually hire 100 private vendors, and right now he has 50. Usually when the first snow falls, they start to rush in.”

The snow tends to spur snowplow hiring in Cranston.

“At this point, we have 50 percent of what we need,” Hopkins said. “We’ve got a fleet of trucks that are ready to go. We can cover most of it. We’ll know better when we start getting the snowstorms coming one after another.”

Cranston has not initiated a bonus for private plow drivers, however the city has increased the rates it pays outside vendors, according to Paul McAuley, deputy chief of staff for Hopkins.

Warwick, however, has promised private snowplow drivers a $1,500 winter bonus.

When the cost of insurance went up about five years ago, the city started having issues finding drivers. Insurance for private snowplow drivers can cost as much as $3,000 per year, according to Warwick’s Director of Public Works Eric Earls.

After several mild winters, some drivers lost money. The lack of snow started to outweigh the cost of legally providing plow services.

Earls said drivers have to spend hours on the road plowing before they come close to recouping out-of-pocket insurance costs.

Similar to Johnston, plow drivers must be available throughout the winter to receive a bonus at the end of the season.

Earls said the bonus helps drivers recoup insurance expenses. The city just recently increased Warwick’s bonus from $1,000 to $1,500.

“It gets tough,” Earls said. “It puts a lot more onus on the City side when we have a snow event. It’s all hands on deck. Everybody is plowing for us.”

Six years ago, Warwick aimed to hire around 20 private snowplow drivers per winter, but that number has decreased to 6-10.

Occasionally, the city reassigns sanitation drivers to snowplow duty, which can become a problem.

Polisena said Johnston’s Recreation Department helps to plow, but private drivers are key to keeping roads clear and safe for travel.

“We use our workers first,” Polisena said. “The private vendors work in conjunction with town employees.”

Although towns and cities try to handle street-clearing operations in-house, some storms require calling in additional help.

“We’re not calling vendors in until we get four or five inches of snow,” Earls said.

This winter, the competition is heating up between towns and cities looking to hire a full stable of back-up snowplow drivers.

“I’m hoping a $1,000 bonus will attract more people to come to Johnston over other communities,” Polisena said.

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