A backlog in repairing street light outages is leaving some Calgary neighborhoods in the dark.
According to city officials, a global supply shortage of materials earlier this year hampered the City of Calgary’s ability to replace the burned-out street lights.
“At the beginning of the year we had some issues with fixtures,” Michael Gray, head of the City of Calgary streetlight design team, told Global News. “So we worked with our supplier to expect longer lead times, order more inventory — so we plugged that gap.”
A fixture is a fully assembled lighting unit at the top of a street light pole that includes a panel of LED lights.
Gray said there were also problems sourcing steel and junction boxes from overseas suppliers.
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A change in the amount of inventory the City of Calgary carries has helped with the shortage, Gray said, but there is now a backlog of street light repairs.
“Those material shortages — initial staffing shortages — just compounded the problem where we’re really seeing it now,” Gray said.
The City of Calgary said as many as 1,100 street lights are out across the city, which is a small percentage of the roughly 104,000 street lights in total. But Gray said it was still too much.
City crews aim to address a reported street light outage within 30 days, but the city has recently had trouble meeting that goal.
Gray said with the sun setting earlier, burned-out streetlights are much more noticeable, and that leads to an increase in reports to the city.
According to Jon Van Heyst of Bike Calgary, visibility and reliability are critical for people walking, running and cycling on city paths.
“When you just think about people driving, it might not be at the top of your mind because everyone has bright headlights,” Van Heyst told Global News.
“But for someone who has even just walked their dog, they don’t necessarily have that advantage. So that makes the lighting a very critical part of that transport network.”
City officials expect crews to catch up with the backlog by next spring.
Gray said outages lasting more than 30 days, outages on major roads as well as outages in areas heavily used by pedestrians are prioritized.
According to Rajbir Bhatti, an associate professor of supply chain management at Mount Royal University, the shortage of fixtures can be attributed to the high demand for new vehicles.
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Luminaires require a certain grade of semiconductor wafers, which are also used in semiconductor chips commonly found in newer vehicle models.
Bhatti said that those semiconductor wafers are diverted from other sectors to meet the demand in the automotive sector.
“The auto sector definitely gets precedent just because they are the big fish,” Bhatti told Global News. “So whatever semiconductor wafers are available, they’re sent to the big players because they have the buying power.”
Gray told Global News the city does not anticipate further material-related delays as a result of the changes made to its inventory.
“We actually have more material, so we’ll be able to scale down in the future,” Gray said. “So we don’t expect that problem.”
However, Mayor Jyoti Gondek said the supply chain disruptions that have affected city services throughout the COVID-19 pandemic are lessons learned, and may require a rethink of how the city relies on overseas markets.
“Maybe it’s time to look local and maybe it’s time we go back to creating things and producing things in our own country,” Gondek said.
“We have to do things differently. We have learned that relying on other markets is not always the way to go.”
The City of Calgary is urging residents to report outages using its street light outage tool online or by calling 311.
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