TWU Demands to Be Allowed to Kill People Who Have the Right of Way

The Transport Workers Union is making a great case for why the Right of Way Law should apply to all drivers.

The law made it a misdemeanor for drivers to strike pedestrians or cyclists with the right of way. As part of its campaign to secure a special exemption for bus drivers, TWU Local 100 launched a work slowdown on 181st Street in Washington Heights this morning. From 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., according to the Post, drivers were instructed not to enter crosswalks if pedestrians were present and to come to a complete stop if people were crossing.

The implication: Under normal conditions, maiming and killing pedestrians is the inevitable cost of operating buses.

In a perfect illustration of its disregard for people’s right to cross the street safely, TWU tweeted a photo this morning of a bus operator waiting to turn left as a woman in the crosswalk checked her phone. “Bus waits to take a left turn as oblivious pedestrian crosses intersection,” the union tweeted. The woman had the light — and the right of way.

The union was targeting City Council Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez, who represents the area. Rodriguez himself would not comment for this story, but his spokesperson, Lucas Acosta, said he is undecided on the bus driver exemption. “The council member is exploring all of the legislation regarding the Right of Way Law and has yet to come out in support or opposition,” Acosta said. “He is reviewing the MTA regulations.”

Update 5:43 p.m.: City Council Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez says he opposes amending the Right of Way Law to exempt bus drivers.

Rodriguez shepherded the Right of Way Law through the City Council last year.

The TWU was handing out flyers this morning featuring a cartoon of Mayor Bill de Blasio handcuffing a bus operator. De Blasio responded to the flyers last month. “They’re absolutely misleading and I think they really should think twice before they continue to spread this misinformation. We made very, very clear that public employees are going to be treated like any other citizens,” said de Blasio. “Job one of all of us in public service is to protect people’s safety, not to placate unions.”

Indeed, the TWU has not been placated. Read another tweet today:

So be it.

  • Jesse

    You know what slows buses down way more than driving with due care? Traffic.

  • Eric McClure


  • Jesse

    Also, what’s great about this is that the bus drivers are illustrating how recklessly they were driving before. “You mean you want me to just STOP when someone is crossing the street?!” YES!

  • WalkingNPR

    The union could argue for more drivers to reduce fatigue, more buses on routes or revision of routes to ease time pressures–heck, even restrictions on other traffic and dedicated bus lanes or separate pedestrian signal phases. Instead, they’ve chosen to go to the mat for the ability to kill pedestrians with impunity. That’s really something to be proud of….

  • kevd

    “Bus Drivers were intent on avoiding turning onto intersections while pedestrians were crossing. Both buses and pedestrians have the right of way”

    Amazing. The TWU doesn’t even understand basic traffic law.
    No, they do not both have the right of way.
    Pedestrian’s crossing have the right of way. If none are crossing, turning vehicles may proceed.

  • stairbob

    Where is this quote from?

  • stairbob
  • AndreL

    Don’t they have even an intern with PR basic training? Or do they feel that much insulated from the obligation to abide by laws that apply to everyone else?

  • Daily Newser

    Whatever they’re paying Pete Donohue, they should cut that amount by about 100%.

  • scastro87

    Of course bus drivers shouldn’t run people over, but this is an inevitable reaction from unions, whose only mission is to protect their members, to drivers getting arrested on the job. Vision Zero advocates should recognize that reducing pedestrian death necessarily entails motor vehicles of all types moving slower and because of that, New Yorkers, who are an impatient bunch, will complain to the MTA if their buses arrive even just 2 or 3 minutes later. Speedy bus service will be a casualty of Vision Zero plans.

  • SteveVaccaro

    Some very entertaining comments being made in reply to this tweet as well…

  • Reader

    Speedy bus service is more a casualty of the city and states refusal to enact congestion pricing, DOT’s failure to reform parking rules and regulations, and NYPD’s reluctance to enforce laws that would keep bus stops and other bus routes free and clear of private cars.

    Among the things slowing down buses, safety is not on the list.

  • kevd
  • scastro87

    It already is happening. Bus drivers can’t control those other things, so they’re reacting to the conditions as they exist, not as they could exist. They’re slowing down and making sure that no pedestrians are in any points of the crosswalks before turning. That obviously slows the bus down.

  • It’s very disappointing to see that Ydanis Rodriguez, who has otherwise been a real standout when it comes to traffic safety, is undecided on a fundamental principle of Vision Zero and, let’s be honest, law and ethics. Either a pedestrian has the right of way or he doesn’t. Either a person who kills another person who has the legal right of way should face (minor) consequences or he shouldn’t. Either the law applies equally to all New Yorkers or it doesn’t. Where’s the grey area? What on earth is there to be undecided about?

  • Reader

    Next time you’re on a bus, poll the riders when a pedestrian is in the crosswalk. “Would you rather the bus get you to the next stop exactly on time or would you like the driver to run over the person walking with the light?” See what people say.

  • scastro87

    Are those the only two options? Buses can also edge into the intersection slowly.

  • AlexWithAK

    The TWU likely honestly believes they are being reasonable and will cry foul at being accused of wanting bus drivers to have the right to kill. Their blindness at how they are coming off is astounding. They honestly believe that it is *necessary* for bus drivers to push through intersections even when pedestrians are present in order to do their jobs and that they shouldn’t be held responsible when pedestrians are inevitably injured or killed. They don’t *want* anyone to be hurt or killed, but they wrongly believe the full onus of avoiding that to be in the hands of pedestrians. Buses have to turn, so WATCH out!

    Somehow, they fail to recognize on any level that they are they are portraying themselves as bullies, basically trying to garner public sympathy by saying bus drivers have a right to expect you to get the hell out of their way and if you don’t it’s your own fault. This is not a winning PR campaign.

  • AlexWithAK

    But there’s a difference between making a statement or two opposing the law’s application to bus drivers and launching an all out attack and PR campaign against it. Putting that effort behind initiatives that would actually broadly benefit union members (as mentioned by WalkingNPR below) rather than sparing a few from being (rightly) punished would seem to be a better approach.

  • AlexWithAK

    That is not yielding the right of way. That’s bullying the people in the crosswalk into allowing the bus to proceed under the threat of injury or death.

  • scastro87

    The union could lobby for more bus drivers, but is there money for that? More buses wouldn’t address this problem at all, and of course that would take more money. Revising the routes? Sure but buses will have to turn somewhere, eventually. Again, unions are about protecting their existing members. Nothing more.

  • scastro87

    Sure, that’s what you don’t want them to do, so why are people up in arms that they’re making a show of not doing it?

  • scastro87

    Buses are part of traffic though.

  • Joe R.

    Except speedy bus service needn’t be a casualty of Vision Zero if NYC would get its head out of its behind. I totally get it that waiting for people crossing the street delays buses, so often they’ll bully their way through. Why not instead have a driver activated don’t walk signal which the driver activates a few seconds before reaching the intersection where the turn is? This will give crossing pedestrians time to finish crossing.

    New Yorkers, who are an impatient bunch, will complain to the MTA if their buses arrive even just 2 or 3 minutes later.

    And rightfully so given that NYers already have the slowest commutes in the country. I support the overall goals of Vision Zero but I don’t feel they’re incompatible with faster travel times, at least for buses. Traffic signal preemption as I just mentioned will help with the turn issue without impacting pedestrian safety. And there’s no need for 25 mph speed limits everywhere. NYC should see where the limit can be raised without impacting pedestrian safety. We might also consider a higher speed limit for buses, particularly when they have an exclusive bus lane.

    What the union is wrong to ask for is an exemption from the ROW law. It’s just not necessary.

  • scastro87

    That’s intriguing but I feel very unlikely that pedestrians. At 32nd and 7th, pedestrians constantly cross in front of buses even on don’t walk signs because 32nd stops at Penn Station/MSG there and there’s no Eastbound traffic. Pedestrians, including myself, constantly cross streets no matter what the signals indicate.

  • Joe R.

    I cross streets regardless of the state of the traffic signal myself. The only point of what i’m advocating is that it would give bus drivers the legal right-of-way when making a turn. Sure, this being NYC I’ve little doubt people will still be crossing as the bus is turning even if they would have a don’t walk signal. At least the bus driver would now be able to inch their way into the turn without worrying about violating the pedestrians right-of-way. It’s also worth noting though if we did this smartly, namely had the don’t walk remain red only for as long as it takes the bus to turn, we might actually have reasonably good pedestrian compliance. I’m personally fine with waiting a few seconds for a bus to turn but I hate waiting an entire light cycle.

  • AlexWithAK

    Wouldn’t avoiding the problems in the first place be better for everyone, drivers and the public alike? And more drivers and better working conditions seems like a pretty good cause to get behind for a union.

  • kevd

    “Pedestrians, including myself, constantly cross streets no matter what the signals indicate.”
    Then those situations are not covered by the ROW law.

  • st4rchy
  • scastro87

    Sure, but it doesn’t address the unions’ concerns with this specific law.

  • Jesse

    I don’t even think TWU is worried about delays in service as a trade-off for safer drivers. All of that is completely disingenuous. What this is really about is that they see it as the union’s job to protect them from any kind of accountability whatsoever.

    If the situation were reversed and there were some kind of public initiative to tie bus driver pay to the driver’s ability to stick to the schedule they would suddenly become very concerned about pedestrian safety.

  • scastro87

    I agree with that mostly. The most serious threat to the union is its members getting arrested. However, there is constant pressure to make sure buses arrive on schedule by management, so the TWU wants to protect its members against measures that will lead to criticism.

  • Brad Aaron

    I observed this intersection for 15 to 20 minutes this afternoon. There are a lot of turning buses there, a lot of drivers, and a lot of people crossing.

    Thing is, most of the bus drivers I saw did not enter the crosswalk if people were there, because they couldn’t. Because of the people. I imagine this happens thousands of times a day across the city. And the world keeps spinning.

    I saw one bus driver jump a green light and make a left, cutting in front of oncoming car traffic and cutting off a group of pedestrians before they could proceed to cross. Very dangerous. I saw two cops from the 34th Precinct bully their way through a crosswalk, goosing the rumbler siren, so they could park half a block down the street.

    But mostly I saw people getting along just fine.

  • WoodyinNYC

    The traffic is mostly cars. Some trucks. Tolls on the bridges would help to set priorities.

  • Jonathan R

    I bike through there regularly in the evening rush hour and I have to say, the westbound buses turning left onto southbound Wadsworth will often run the red light, then jam up the intersection until the eastbound traffic on 181 clears and they can continue.

    But really, it’s the fault of the private motorists who jam up the street.

  • Andrew

    However, there is constant pressure to make sure buses arrive on schedule by management

    If bus drivers are reprimanded for being late, then thousands of bus drivers must be reprimanded every day.

    I strongly suspect that this is a made-up concern.

  • scastro87

    You don’t think the MTA encourages drivers to follow route schedules? Have you seen the supervisors observing buses at big junctions? I see them all the time. If the MTA isn’t, then shouldn’t they be?

  • Andrew

    You don’t think the MTA encourages drivers to follow route schedules?

    Encourages, sure, but not when it’s impractical to do so (safely).

    Have you seen the supervisors observing buses at big junctions? I see them all the time.

    Dispatchers. They monitor service and have the authority to make adjustments, like short-turning a bus or directing a bus to skip some stops. If a bus is unusually late, perhaps they ask why (I’m not sure about that). They’re there to try to restore some semblance of decent service, not to reprimand the driver. In the past they spent most of their time recording bus arrivals, but that’s presumably all automated nowadays with BusTime.

    If the MTA isn’t, then shouldn’t they be?

    No, not unless the driver is willfully delaying service more than traffic conditions require.

  • Matthias

    Yes, a similar clueless quote from Pete Donahue appeared in today’s news coverage of the slowdown: “Common sense would dictate that you should not give a bus a green light to make a left turn onto a street and, at the same time, give pedestrians the ‘walk’ signal to cross that same street.” He is really pushing the misinformation.

  • Nick Bedell

    You have perhaps missed the point. The MTA orders bus operators into crosswalks and the law says they cannot. If they obey the law they jam up the commutes of thousands but are sure not to get arrested if in the very rarest and unlikeliest of cases they injure someone. But they face severe penalties from the Mta if they obey the law – denial of service comes with discipline and potential termination. What would you do given that Hobson’s choice? The problem is the policy and the law contradict and the b/o gets fucked

  • Andrew

    Utter nonsense. The MTA most assuredly does not order bus operators into crosswalks that are occupied by pedestrians crossing the street with the light. Yielding to pedestrians is not denial of service, and no bus operator has ever been disciplined or terminated for waiting for pedestrians to cross before completing a turn.

  • Nick Bedell

    A bus operator has a paddle or schedule that lays out the day’s work. It is a schedule they are expected to keep as a condition of their employment. Yes you are right they have not been disciplined for waiting for a pedestrian who has the right of way, but when they have for a whole slew of things that result if they do as the law says they should. Wig all TWU b/io’s do as the lAw requires and waits for a clear intersection NYC will see traffic at a standstill every single day. That the Mta will discipline them for. So what to do? they enter. Rods walks with all due care hope a pedestrian isn’t caught in their blind spot and use their professing skills to navigate a thousand unsafe turns. Ever wonder why all bus fatalities are in the outer boroughs and not in Manhattan? Same bus same training same union?

  • neroden

    NYC *always* has traffic at a standstill every single day. It’s NYC. There’s a permanent traffic jam. This is news?

    No bus driver gets “disciplined” for this. That’s bullshit.

  • neroden

    Their concern that killers might actually be prevented from killing — or even arrested for the killing?

    That’s not a valid concern.

  • neroden

    I cannot imagine why the TWU Local 100 is electing their awful, awful leadership. Donahue’s “kill the pedestrians” voice is not the voice you want representing you. In any situation.

  • scastro87

    Well they wouldn’t be treated as “killers” either way, but yes that is what the union is worried about.

  • Nick Bedell

    Did you read the article – this was not a regular NYC traffic jam this was epic. In Brooklyn when TWU again asked operators to do as the law would have them – the delays on Fulton street through downtown Brooklyn were over three miles long with over 50+ buses at a standstill for most of the morning rush. If the b/o does what the MTA wants it takes twenty minutes to get through Fulton and into downtown Brooklyn, if they do what the law wants, two hours. Cannot have policies in place that are so severely at odds with each other. Ever wonder why there are no fatalities in Manhattan? Same bus, same training, same Union.

  • So glad I found this fascinating blog. My anecdotal observation is that there is no punishment for aggressive driving in NYC. A few months back, a turning motorist very narrowly missed impacting me as I made my way through the crosswalk. So intent was he to cut me off that he passed through the opposing lane.

    Yes, statutes say that motorists must yield, but what constitutes a *failure* to yield? Is it only a failure if the motorist impacts a pedestrian with the RoW? What if the motorist is reckless, though injures no one? Law enforcers have wide latitude here and should be cracking down on this.


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