The Portland Water Bureau currently employs 12 water meter readers responsible for reading meters at homes and businesses on their assigned routes throughout the City of Portland. Meter readers fall under the Customer Services Group, and are based out of the Water Bureau’s Interstate Facility in north Portland.
Meter readers work Monday through Friday, in all weather conditions including snow, ice, and frozen rain. Reading a meter may seem easy, but there’s definitely an art to it. Readers are often challenged by inclement weather conditions, piled snow, aggressive animals, parked vehicles, overgrown plants, and construction materials. Oftentimes, customers place compost and recycling carts and garbage containers over their meters on collection day, affecting access and quick reads.
On average, each meter reader walks seven miles and reads 500 meters each day. In January 2014 alone, 65,100 meters were read in a city with 180,000 customer accounts.
Using handheld computers, meter readers manually capture readings. The computer then calculates the amount of water used which is then compared with water used during the same time period the previous year. The computer will alert the meter reader if the current water usage surpasses the previous water usage, prompting a meter re-read. If water usage remains elevated, the reader will leave a courtesy notice of increased usage for the property owner. The notice suggests common reasons for the high water usage, such as summer watering, an increased number of people in the household and structural or underground leaks.
The meter read is a crucial and first step in the utility billing process. Without the initial meter read, the Customer Services Group would not be able to prepare the average 87,000 statements each month for a variety of rate payers, including residential and commercial water customers.
Water meter readers are not only an essential component of the Water Bureau’s billing system but they also play many other lesser-known roles that are equally, if not more, important. Meter readers interact with the public on a daily basis, coming to customers’ homes and forming relationships that often last for years. They spend their day walking and driving around local neighborhoods, learning the ins-and-outs of every block and even individual homes. Often times, the readers know when something is out of place or suspicious. By their very presence every day, our water meter readers continue to be a valuable part of the community and a set of eyes on patrol.
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