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NYC’s Private Trash Truck Mayhem Goes From Bad to Worse

This is file art. But it remains evidence of an industry in trouble.

The private sanitation industry's terrible traffic safety record on NYC streets is getting even worse, according to a new report from the labor/environmental coalition Transform Don't Trash NYC [PDF].

The number of crashes in the city involving the 20 largest private trash truck operators nearly doubled in the two-year period ending February 28 compared to the previous two-year period. More people are losing their lives in these collisions too.

Drivers with these 20 private carters have been involved in 67 traffic crashes since March 2016, including five fatalities, according to data from U.S. Department of Transportation. That's up from 35 crashes and two fatalities in the two-year period beginning March 2014.

The increase in crashes underlines the urgency of enacting reforms to cut down on excessive trash truck mileage and make the industry safer for workers and the public at large, advocates say.

Private carting companies collect commercial waste -- not the residential and municipal trash collected by the city Department of Sanitation. Contracts are negotiated one client at a time, and clients tend to be spread across the city, leading to long, exhausting routes. The results are deadly: Drivers for commercial trash carting companies have killed at least 43 people on NYC streets since 2010, according to city data. Sanitation department drivers, on the other hand, have not been involved in a fatal crash since 2014.

New York City's 20 largest private sanitation companies were involved in nearly twice as many crashes in the most recent two-year period compared to the previous two years. Chart: Transform Don't Trash NYC

The Transform Don't Trash coalition wants the city to switch to a "zone-based" system where companies compete for all the business within specified geographic areas, and to make companies' safety records a high priority when selecting bids to haul trash for each zone.

In 2016, the de Blasio administration announced its intent to institute zone-based waste collection along the lines recommended by the coalition. The reforms could reduce private carting mileage by 49 to 68 percent, cutting greenhouse emissions, improving working conditions, and preventing injuries and fatalities in the process. City Hall is expected to release a detailed implementation plan sometime this year.

These changes are running into significant opposition from the private carting industry, and advocates want to make sure the city sticks to its plans.

The recent increase in crashes and fatalities involving private carters fortifies what was already a strong case. The number of crashes per driver in NYC's commercial carting industry is now three times higher than in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle, cities that have already enacted versions of zone-based contracting.

NYC private haulers had their trucks taken out of service after safety inspections at significantly higher rates than the national average. Image: Transform Don't Trash NYC
NYC private haulers had their trucks taken out of service after safety inspections at significantly higher rates than the national average. Image: Transform Don't Trash NYC
NYC private haulers had their trucks taken out of service after safety inspections at significantly higher rates than the national average. Image: Transform Don't Trash NYC

New York's private hauling industry also performs significantly worse than average on vehicle safety. From March 2016 through February 2018, 55 percent of vehicles belonging to the 20 largest carters that were inspected were taken out of service for violations like faulty brakes or lights -- more than double the national average.

"It’s shocking that in 2018, more than half of inspected trucks are taken out of service, and that the number of crashes is continuing to rise," said Maritza Silva-Farrell, executive director of the labor and environmental justice group ALIGN-NY. "By passing bold legislation that creates exclusive waste zones, the city can transform this industry – improving conditions for workers and safety on our streets."

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