Working Families Party: Let’s Allow Bus Drivers to Run Over Working Families

The Working Families Party says it supports the City Council bill to exempt MTA bus drivers from the Right of Way Law, but its position is based on a misreading of the law and the premise that bus drivers, in the course of doing their jobs, should be allowed to strike people who have the right of way.

An MTA bus driver ran over 15-year-old Jiahuan Xu as she crossed a Brooklyn street in a crosswalk with the walk signal, causing severe injuries. The Working Families Party thinks the bus driver was the victim.
The Working Families Party thinks a misdemeanor charge was not warranted for the MTA bus driver who ran over 15-year-old Jiahuan Xu as she crossed a Brooklyn street in a crosswalk with the walk signal, causing severe injuries.

Last year, bus drivers killed eight people who were walking with the right of way. In a memo of support released Wednesday, the WFP claims that since bus drivers must negotiate “intersections teeming with pedestrians,” they should be excused for “accidents that are unrelated to reckless driver behavior.”

The WFP memo says a clause in the law meant to apply to drivers of emergency vehicles in emergency situations should also apply to bus drivers:

When the NYC Council created Vision Zero, it rightly wrote in an exception for drivers of municipal vehicles who, to fulfill their duties, are required to enter crosswalks where cyclists and pedestrian [sic] have the right of way. The exception does not apply if the driver acts recklessly.

The law was not designed for the purpose of punishing conscientious bus operators who are forced to operate repeatedly in dangerous circumstances. Therefore, New York Working Families rejects the notion that accidents not resulting from recklessness are criminal acts.

The law was designed to protect people crossing the street from motorist negligence, since violations of pedestrians’ right of way account for thousands of injuries and dozens of deaths in New York City every year. It’s clear that bus drivers were never intended to be exempt — if an MTA driver injures someone with the right of way after failing to exercise due care, a misdemeanor charge is warranted.

The Working Families Party and the Transport Workers Union are saying that bus drivers must injure people through outright recklessness, not negligence, to be charged. “The recklessness standard proposed for bus drivers by WFP and TWU is reserved for police involved in chases and others responding to emergencies,” said Steve Vaccaro, an attorney who specializes in traffic law. “The notion that bus drivers belong in the same category is misguided, to say the least.”

The Right of Way Law was adopted so NYPD could hold motorists accountable for causing injury and death in crashes that police didn’t personally witness. Charges are based on witness testimony, video footage, and other evidence of carelessness. The law was proposed in Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero Action Plan, and the mayor’s office has defended it against attacks from the TWU and the Daily News, which ramped up after bus drivers were charged with misdemeanors for killing and maiming people.

The WFP memo pays lip service to crash victims and proposes a nebulous “review of all of the issues affecting bus mass transit and pedestrian accidents.” But the thrust of the WFP argument is that bus drivers have to run people over while on the job, and the rest of us just have to accept that.

  • Bobberooni

    How about a compromise… bus drivers who kill someone while violating the right-of-way law on-the-job are re-assigned to non-bus duty, for some time — 5 years, or maybe forever. I think such an arrangement would satisfy both sides of the debate.

  • dporpentine

    I’d been wondering why I didn’t remember the exception for municipal vehicles that Working Families claimed was in the law . . .
    Anyone have a link to the text?

  • Orcutt

    Not too many in the political establishment seem concerned about what this crash has done to Xu household finances or Jiahuan’s ability to attend school, work in the future etc. “Working Families” ??

  • dporpentine

    Thanks.

    Reading it, I can see just how dishonest the WFP’s argument is.

    Basically, the WFP’s reading of the law voids the whole concept of right of way, since it wants to pretend that mere operation of a bus *requires* that buses be in intersections when pedestrians and cyclists are, simply because they have to make turns–as does literally every other driver in New York! It’s *crazy*.

  • Eric McClure

    “Crazy” is a good euphemism for “bullshit.”

  • Alex

    No. The law needs to be applied equally without exception. If you run someone over in the crosswalk while they have the right of way, you get charged. No special deal just because you’re a bus driver.

  • Alex

    If anyone wants to share their thoughts on this with the Working Families party, here’s their email: wfp@workingfamiliesparty.org

  • HamTech87

    Just left a message on the WFP phone voicemail: 347-382-8377.

  • HamTech87

    Also called Janel Quarless, the WFP rep at the bottom of the party’s statement: 718-222-3796 x251 or jquarless@workingfamilies.org.

    So frustrating and disappointing.

  • D’BlahZero

    That should happen *in addition to* enforcement of the law not *instead of* it.

  • IlIlIl

    Bet they’d feel differently if it was their kid that got mangled.

  • Andres Dee

    “Would never happen. We drive ’em everywhere in our Suburbalade.”

  • Alex

    Yeah, I generally am on board with their mission and most disagreements I have with their positions are more philosophical. They are super pro-union and I get that. But this is pretty extreme to make these statements and a real departure from their otherwise family friendly/stick up for the little guy approach.

  • cmu

    Just sent:
    Dear Working Families Party:

    I am as strong supporter of your party, and you have my reliable vote. But maybe no more.

    Are you absolutely insane by pushing a provision to exempt bus drivers from being charged if they injure or kill pedestrians in cross-walks? What possible justification is there for this? No driver, none, should be careless enough to not yield to people in crosswalks. A standard of recklessness should not be required, in fact, if you think about it rationally, isn’t it ‘reckless’ to not yield to human beings when you’re driving a 20-ton bus?

    I hope you will immediately rescind this idea, and apologize to the families of many pedestrians killed in this city.

  • Funny that people dismiss Streetsblog as biased advocates. If you ask me, the real biased advocates work for the Daily News.

  • cmu

    Wow and I didn’t even realize the punishment for injuring or killing a ped. is a fine of …$250!! Can this be correct? That’s the ‘crackdown’ ? No jail time?

  • dporpentine

    Yes, that and a misdemeanor charge on your record.

    For killing.

    And this is portrayed as the sky falling.

  • Bobberooni

    Remember that the fine for HURTING a ped while riding an e-bike is $1000.

  • Bobberooni

    Based on statistics so far, the law seems to have been applied disproportionately to bus drivers. Frankly, I find that to be disturbing. What we had before wasn’t right, but I don’t the law in its current form is the right balance either — especially given the current enforcement patterns.

    How about this for a right-of-way law:

    *) “Regular” schmoes, and those driving vehicles that do not require a commercial driver’s license, get a criminal summons as is now the law.

    *) People who were using a commercial driver’s license on the job lose that license permanently, but no criminal penalties. Remember that this sanction could cause serious life problems for many commercial drivers, far more than a misdemeanor and a $250 fine. They would have to find a completely different line of work.

  • A professional driver should be a better driver. That’s the idea. It should be a more serious offense for a professional driver to demonstrate such negligence because s/he should have the training and experience to do better.

  • Alex

    Agreed. The punishment for a professional driver should be worse than that of a non-professional one. I think charging them AND banning them from driving professionally would be the right approach.

    And the “disproportionate” application to bus drivers is likely due to ample witnesses on the bus itself whereas private drivers wouldn’t have a vehicle full of impartial people to question. That’s just the reality of the situation.

  • Eric McClure

    Don’t forget the lifetime of shame endured for having to spend 10 minutes in handcuffs while someone lies dead or maimed under the bus you were driving.

  • Guest

    In fact, if you are a professional driver, shouldn’t you, if anything, be held to a higher standard than Joe Schmoterist?

  • Bolwerk

    Meh. Surprise: WFP is more conservative than the Democrats, who are more conservative than the Republikans. Granted, they may be to the left of the two major parties but they’re also more conservative in the customary sense of, well, conserving the place of tradition/power/wealth/status quo more or less where it is.

    I don’t dislike WFP people, but their overall politics are anything but “progressive.”

  • dporpentine

    Ugh. Is that what Donohue’s support boils down to: shared . . . Irish nationalism?

    One look at the other honoree tells you all you need to know about TWU 100’s standards:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rita_O%27Hare

    A straight up terrorist (though she’s obviously granted the special “white people don’t commit terrorism” exception).

  • Monarda

    They are tone deaf!

  • Larry Littlefield

    They just might as well go all the way and call for exempting anyone who is part of any of the organizations that fund the WFP from any consequences for running people over, whether they are on the job or not. Perhaps seniors too, if they were born before 1957 or so.

    It’s not about what, it’s about who. All the time.

  • neroden

    WFP went the way of the Liberal Party when they endorsed Cuomo. They’re dead as a party now that they’re establishment shills.

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