Private Trash Haulers Are a Street Safety Menace — It’s Time for Carting Route Reforms

With two people killed in the last three months, there’s more urgency to implement City Hall’s proposed reforms to bring order to waste collection routes and reduce private carter mileage on city streets.

An Action Carting worker drives against traffic on Greenwich Street in Tribeca. Photo: Jennifer Aaron
An Action Carting worker drives against traffic on Greenwich Street in Tribeca. Photo: Jennifer Aaron

In the 1999 study “Killed by Automobile” [PDF], researcher Charles Komanoff found that operators of private trash trucks killed more pedestrians per mile driven than any other type of vehicle in NYC. With two such deaths in the last three months, there’s more urgency to implement City Hall’s proposed reforms to bring order to waste collection routes and reduce private carter mileage on city streets.

Last weekend a private trash hauler struck and killed cyclist Neftaly Ramirez in Greenpoint, then fled the scene. The driver has not been identified, but NYPD told DNAinfo the truck belongs to Action Carting.

Ramirez’s death occurred two months after a driver for M&M Sanitation killed 60-year-old Fern Jones in Greenwich Village.

The city does not publish data on crashes that involve private trash trucks, but a 2016 city-commissioned study conducted by Sam Schwartz Engineering found that of 21 reported crashes between 2010 and 2014, 86 percent resulted in injury or death. The study also indicated that such crashes are likely underreported. According to crash data tracked by Streetsblog, private trash haulers have killed at least 13 people in NYC since 2012.

Private sanitation companies, which collect commercial waste, are contracted by individual clients. With clients spread across the city, routes are long and circuitous, and companies are known to cut corners, putting the public, and their employees, at risk.

From a 2016 Politico piece on industry working conditions:

In one night, some 20 trucks from different companies could visit a single city block, bringing with them all the concomitant emissions, traffic and safety concerns.

Last year, City Hall announced a plan to institute zone-based waste collection, which could reduce private carting mileage by 49 to 68 percent, or up to 15.64 million miles a year. It’s estimated that the plan would cut greenhouse gas emissions, and emissions that cause respiratory illness, by up to 64 percent in each category.

“The current system is just a mess,” says Eddie Bautista, executive director of the NYC Environmental Justice Alliance, a long-time proponent of waste carting reforms.

Private trash haulers are not required to install safety devices like cameras or GPS on their trucks, and drivers — who, unlike city sanitation workers, usually aren’t unionized and are more vulnerable to being exploited — might go multiple shifts without a break, since there’s no cap on the number of hours they may work. “Nobody’s monitoring it,” says Bautista. “Nobody cares.”

Bautista says the de Blasio administration is so far adhering to its two-year timeline for developing a reform package. The Sanitation Department recently awarded a contract to consultants for a plan that should eventually serve as the basis for legislation.

“If done right, commercial zoning addresses multiple flaws in the system virtually simultaneously,” Bautista says. While it will be some time before a reform proposal is on the table, he says, “Right now we’re satisfied that the city is taking this seriously.”

Streetsblog asked City Council Member Antonio Reynoso, who chairs the sanitation committee, whether a company’s traffic safety record affects its ability to operate in the city. A Reynoso spokesperson referred us to the Business Integrity Commission, which regulates the commercial waste industry.

The commission conducts traffic safety sessions for licensees, but Reynoso would like more oversight. His office is working on a bill “that would prevent drivers with suspended licenses or a proven record of persistent reckless driving from driving for BIC-licensed companies,” the spokesperson said.

We have a message in with BIC concerning what, if any, penalties exist for companies with poor traffic safety records.

  • Joe R.

    One of the best safety improvements would be to require private sanitation operators to use cabovers like NY Department of Sanitation uses. The excuses for using conventional cabs usually devolve to mostly silly aesthetic reasons. The fact is you can’t avoid what you can’t see, and visibility in those trucks is very poor. Cabovers are a simple safety fix which could make a world of improvement.

  • 1ifbyrain2ifbytrain

    They drive like nuts through my neighborhood. Wouldn’t it be most efficient to simply allow businesses to put their trash out like everyone else does and have the city collect it?

  • reasonableexplanation

    I really think the visibility argument is minor compared to the real issue; their driving behavior.

    I’m sure everyone here has seen the private trash trucks blatantly running reds, going the wrong way down one-ways, and other really terrible stuff regularly.

    Also I don’t really understand why they’re so loud! The regular sanitation trucks aren’t anywhere near as ear splitting as these guys.

  • LN

    Action has plenty of City contracts to haul trash, including from NYC Schools. Cancel City contracts for hauler companies that kill & maim cyclists and pedestrians. Also, why are they driving trucks with out of state license plates?

  • Alan

    I have heard that one can make complaints about illegal driving by carters in the following fashion:
    “Email a photo to ahorowitz@bic.nyc.gov with
    plate info and photos each time it happens. please, do it before they
    kill someone. if you are specific with dates and times and it is a
    consistent problem they will send out an enforcement unit and talk to
    the principal of the carting company.”

  • Joe R.

    I see those trucks regularly going something like 55 mph on the local arterials near me. That’s in addition to doing all the other stuff you mentioned.

    Yes, they’re hideously loud but in a way that might be good. Late nights you can hear them coming from a few blocks down. That gives me time to get out of their way.

  • Kendall Christiansen

    while each fatality is a tragedy, politicizing it isn’t an appropriate way to address the issues involved. In fact, most private-sector companies – including Action – are unionized, pay very well, screen and train drivers constantly, employ on-board cameras and GPS more than DSNY trucks, and generally make safety of all concerned a very high priority. Companies in cities with franchises aren’t suddenly immune from such incidents, nor are national publicly-owned companies necessarily safer than local companies that employ local workers. The commercial waste/recycling companies already are at the table with the city to figure out how to do even more given the inherently hazardous work of collecting the trash we all generate, and will continue to do all they can to operate as safely as possible.

  • Morris Zapp

    Speaking of politicizing, you forgot to mention that you’re a lobbyist for private waste haulers.

    https://wasterecycling.org/blog/2016/03/22/industry-expert-named-manager-for-new-york-city-chapter-of-the-national-waste-recycling-association/

  • Richard Aguilar

    Private companies generally have a track record of being less safety-conscious than public agencies. At the end of the day, their concern is profit, not safety, so spare us the rhetoric. Also, kudos to Morris Zapp for exposing you as a lobbyist.

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