By Ryan S. Clark
Having a 99 percent efficiency rate at most jobs is enough for a promotion, a hefty raise or perhaps a management position.
Scott Schrauf of Accu-Read, the meter reading service for Entergy, claims that being 99 percent is not good enough to do the job. Schrauf said before customers get their bill, meters are read and then tested multiple times to reduce the number of inaccurate readings.
Oh, and if those numbers still don't add up, then they go back and check them again.
"Less than 99 percent would not be good enough," said Schrauf, an Accu-Read office supervisor in Beaumont.
"We have one error per 15,000 meters. We do our best to make sure we are accurate."
Pulling off such a high accuracy rate might sound daunting, but there's more to being a meter reader than just shooting for perfection and punching a few buttons on a handheld device.
There's dealing with the weather, fending off and at times being chased by animals all while walking a 500-home daily route.
Reggie Semien, 35, has been a meter reader for 10 years, and during that time he's found a way to overcome the job's demanding nature.
When he first started, Semien said it would take eight or more hours to complete a route.
These days, it might take him five hours at the most to complete a route, but he still gets paid for working an eight-hour day.
"It has to be about self-motivation," Semien said. "I would say I walk about 20,000 steps a day."
Tina Harrison joked by saying she walks twice that amount.
Harrison 46, has also been a meter reader for 10 years and likes the fact she can work at a quick pace.
Before becoming a meter reader, Harrison worked in a health care facility where she'd be chided about her pace.
"I would be pushing a patient down the hall, and people tell me to slow down," she said. "They told it me would only be a matter of time before I got a speeding ticket in the hall-ways."
With all of the walking and other movements, it is a necessity for Harrison and Semien to be in great shape.
As Schrauf put it, "With this job you can eat all the ice cream you want and not gain weight."
Another adjustment to the job was dealing with man's best friend, or in this case, a meter reader's worst enemy, Fido.
From yipping Yorkies to hulking hounds, meter readers are constantly in contact with dogs.
"There were three Dobermans, and I thought nothing of them until I went around the corner and I saw a Great Dane," Semien said.
"It was in 1998, so I was new. I was trying to jump the fence, but the fence reached my chin so I had to pull out my pepper spray and spray the dog."
Harrison, Semien and Schrauf can rattle off myriad kinds of animals they have encountered.
Besides dogs and cats, there are the occasional snakes, and for the customers who live out in the rural areas, there might be a monkey or a rooster.
"Yeah, I remember going to a farm once, and that rooster would not let me near the meter," Harrison said. "He was just one really mad rooster."
And then there's the rare kangaroo, alligator or even coyote.
Semien said that a few years ago he was training a person on a rural route, and they noticed a cow lying on its side and didn't think much of it.
On the way back, they noticed there was something inside of the cow.
That something was a coyote.
"We looked and there were the cow's insides everywhere, and the coyote ran away," he said. "The woman I was with, after she saw that, she just lost her lunch ... in my truck."
Because Accu-Read covers such a large area that goes as far west as Dayton and as north as Woodville, there are plenty of chances to have some interesting stories.
Schrauf said that when it came to covering a route in Woodville, it takes around six hours to cover 30 houses since the meters are spread out.
He said a four-wheeler is needed to do the route.
"It may sound fun," he said. "But doing that route takes all day, especially if it's your first time doing it."
Schrauf said the high demands are the main reason Accu-Read runs through a large number of potential hires at any one time.
He said the company goes through 10 new hires just to find one person who can make it past 90 days.
The average hourly pay in Texas for a meter reader is $12.70 an hour, according to payscale.com
Once they make it past 90 days, they are cut out for the job, he said.
After hearing that, Harrison joked by saying, "I hope hearing that does not scare people, because we're actually hiring right now."
Business | Nov. 28, 2008 | Page 1A
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