Parents of Seth Kahn: Ineffective MTA Protocols Contributed to Son’s Death

After Wednesday’s MTA board meeting transit chief Tom Prendergast said the agency may revise bus routes to reduce the number of turns bus drivers have to make, in order to minimize conflicts between buses and pedestrians, according to the Daily News. Prendergast said another possibility would be to move crosswalks away from intersections where buses make turns, which would necessitate streetscape changes by DOT.

Seth Kahn
Seth Kahn

Whether or not these ideas pan out, it’s good that the MTA is seriously engaging in the Vision Zero discussion. Bus drivers killed eight people in crosswalks last year, and there’s no evidence that admonishing people to stay out of the way of buses will reduce crashes.

The MTA didn’t really come to the table until several bus drivers were charged under the Right of Way Law for maiming and killing pedestrians. But some City Council members want to rescind the protection to pedestrians and cyclists the law provides. Council Member Daneek Miller’s bill to exempt MTA bus drivers from the Right of Way Law has picked up 14 co-sponsors.

Miller and TWU Local 100 say the MTA’s internal protocols adequately ensure bus driver safety. That doesn’t jibe with the story of Seth Kahn, killed in 2009 by a speeding bus driver who was just back on the job after a suspension for texting behind the wheel.

Driving a bus in New York City is a tough and stressful job, and most drivers do it well. That doesn’t mean crashes are an inevitable cost of doing business, or that bus drivers can’t be reckless or negligent. The Daily News and the union have taken to using the phrase “criminalizing bus drivers,” but in fact the law does not single out bus drivers and only criminalizes negligence that leads to serious injury and death. Even Daily News reporter Pete Donohue, whose column has become a platform for TWU opposition to the law, slammed the MTA for failing to keep Seth Kahn’s killer out of the driver’s seat.

Debbie and Harold Kahn shared with Streetsblog their account of what happened to their son and the driver who took his life.

Seth was 22 years old on November 4, 2009; his 23rd birthday was one month away and he was excited about plans that he had made. He was the love of our lives and our only child. Seth was always a very careful person who looked both ways when he crossed the street. As Seth was walking across the street in the crosswalk at Ninth Avenue at 53rd Street with the walk signal he was struck from behind, run over and killed by a MTA bus that was making a left hand turn from 53rd street onto Ninth Avenue.

The bus driver that hit, ran over and killed Seth was as explained to us:

It was the bus driver’s first day back on the job, since he had been previously fired for texting while driving, but the union got him reinstated with only one week of retraining. (Conversation with an MTA exec. said that they knew he was a “problem” but that they were instructed to allow him to drive again and they had no choice.) According to the New York Daily News, the driver had posted to Facebook while he was driving his bus, “Thinking about how many people I want to kill today, including myself” and “I hate these people. I want to kick the (expletive) out of them.” The driver was texting-while-driving; posting messages to Facebook and reading a newspaper all while he was sitting behind the wheel and driving a MTA bus. His driving record also included two red-light violations and a citation for “reckless operation of a bus.” The MTA did suspend the driver and take steps to fire him, but the penalties were curbed by a contract arbitrator who determined that they were too harsh. Instead the driver, was given refresher training and was back driving an express bus on November 4, 2009, which was his very first day back at work when he killed our son, Seth Kahn.

At the end of his run (his bus was “not in service”) at the time he ran over and killed Seth. He was off route without permission. He was speeding around the corner; making a left-hand turn (doing 15 mph, 10 mph above the speed that a bus is supposed to do while making a turn).

The driver’s first phone call after he ran our son over was to his union.

Two weeks after he killed Seth, the police issued a ticket to the bus driver for “failing to yield to a pedestrian,” but the ticket was thrown out due to the police officer not showing up at the hearing. Ultimately the bus driver retired on full disability (due to being stressed). He never received any form of punishment, rather being rewarded with the disability payments. We have no knowledge if he is still driving a car or anything and have never seen or met him, only seen photographs of him in the newspaper.

This man should never have been driving a bus. People that drive buses and other professional drivers should be the best drivers. They should be held to a higher standard than other people that are not professional drivers. We do not see how the MTA has their own investigation and discipline process because if they do, it is ineffective. What happened to our son should never be allowed to happen to anyone else because his #RightOfWay was taken away and the driver clearly got away with killing our child and was even rewarded for it.

Debbie and Harold Kahn

  • dporpentine

    That letter is just heartbreaking.

  • It is. The people who jumped on the MTA’s “#LetsBePerfect” threat to slow service should read it.

    It points out something very, very important. The MTA was ineffective at making pedestrians safe from bus drivers. The TWU was downright on the drivers side. It takes a law like Right Of Way to make badly needed changes.

  • sbauman

    I just did some number crunching on the NYPD Crash Data that’s available on the web.

    I’m looking at all the single vehicle collisions that for which a pedestrian was killed or seriously injured and for which the vehicle type was recorded. Buses accounted for 1.7% of all such collisions; they accounted for 2.3% of all such killed/seriously injured (KSI) pedestrians, 2.2% of all seriously injured pedestrians and 10.2% of all pedestrian deaths.

    If a pedestrian is hit by a bus, his chances being killed are 5.2%. The only vehicle class with a higher kill rate are heavy commercial vehicles (6 or more tires) with an 11.1% kill rate for KSI collisions. The kill rate for all trucks is only 4.3%.

    Cordon counts reveal that buses account for about 1.2% of all vehicles entering/leaving the CBD on a typical business day. The 1.7% of pedestrian collisions that involve buses is roughly in line with their percentage in the traffic mix. That 10.2% of pedestrians are killed by buses isn’t. It should raise red flags.

    The data suggests that bus drivers are no better nor worse than other drivers in avoiding collisions. However, there is something in the bus design that makes them more lethal to pedestrians than almost any other vehicle type.

    These figures do not distinguish between bus types or owners. However, should any bus company or operator needs to have some pretty good objective data before pointing to the other guy for blame.

  • Corrine

    NYC Local 100 Bus Operators are the safest in the Country.

  • Larry Littlefield

    This guy clearly didn’t deserve to be one of them, and the union should have agreed.

  • Larry Littlefield

    This is why I’m still waiting for the matrix of x struck by y in cases of serious injury or death that I hope that city legislation would require.

    With detail, dividing motor vehicles into private cars, taxis, trucks, vans and buses, and dividing bicycles into those riding for exercise, commercial cyclists, and those riding for transportation. And including one person pedestrian accidents (ie. falls on the street or sidewalk) to put everything in perspective.

    What we may find is that trucks and buses account for a very large share of pedestrian deaths and injuries. That’s sort of an inconvenient truth around here, because while some might wise for a world without private cars, none would expect a worked without delivered goods and mass transit.

    But it has to be dealt with. Just as the fact that most of the severe bicycle-pedestrian collisions don’t include people cruising around on Citibikes and their ilk, but rather those riding fast for exercise in places where there are lots of clueless pedestrians.

  • ahwr

    Not exactly what you want, but here.

    http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/downloads/pdf/nyc_ped_safety_study_action_plan.pdf

    2002-2006 Pedestrian crashes by vehicle type.
    Vehicle type, % of registrations, Fatal Crashes, Severe injury crashes, Total KSI crashes, % of total
    Buses, 0.4%, 44, 133, 177, 3%
    Trucks, 3.6%, 74, 172, 246, 4%
    Taxi/Livery, 2.1%, 44, 727, 771, 13%
    Passenger, 90%, 439, 4091, 4530, 79%

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