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Bronx Pol Wants City to Exempt Campaign Donor From Idling Law

DJ Transportation and three other companies want to be exempt from city idling fines.

A Bronx Assembly member testified in favor of exempting a transportation company from the city's 52-year-old idling law on Wednesday — but denied that the $23,300 in campaign donations that he's received from the company over the last decade influenced his decision to testify in its favor.

DJ Transportation is one of four companies seeking exemptions from city idling fines, which have exploded in number since 2019 thanks to a program that rewards citizens with a bounty if the Department of Environmental Protection agrees to issue a violation in response to their complaints.

Testifying at a DEP hearing on the proposed variance, Assembly Member Michael Benedetto echoed DJ Transportation's argument that state contracts require a certain temperature inside its buses while picking up students with disabilities. DEP has asked the state to align those contracts with city idling law.

"I know DJ Ambulette, I know them as good people ... who want to do right by the law and the students [and] clients they serve," Benedetto testified. "They seem to be between a rock and a hard place in trying to conform to temperature standards on the bus that must be maintained for their clients to be comfortable and to be in compliance with the IEPs [individualized education programs] that their clients have.

"I believe DJ Ambulette should be ... given a variance to let them have their buses idle to properly maintain their temperature on their buses," Benedetto added.

Assembly Member Michael Benedetto's May 29 testimony to DEP.

DJ Transportation, also known as DJ Ambulette Service, provides "ambulatory and non-ambulatory" transportation services, according to its website. City records show the company owes more than $65,000 in unpaid idling fines and late fees for dozens of violations.

Despite Benedetto's testimony, the company's variance application made no mention of student individualized education programs, but rather cited a requirement in its contracts with the state Office of People with Developmental Disabilities that bus interior temperatures must be between 60 and 78 degrees.

But anti-idling advocates and the DEP itself reject the company's position that it must run its engines in order to maintain those temperatures. Accordingly, DEP Commissioner Rohit Aggarwala asked the state in February to amend its contract "to explicitly provide that vehicles must comply with the city of New York's engine idling restrictions." [PDF]

DEP last year granted a total exemption from idling fines to armored car company Loomis after the firm committed to electrify its fleet by 2025. Yet unlike the other three companies with variance requests now under consideration, DJ has made no electrification pledge for the 218 buses it wants exempt.

"There are no comparable zero-emission vehicles that meet the operational specifications for the services," the company claimed in its variance application. "At present, a vehicle that holds a battery big enough to operate a complete day does not presently exist."

According to public records, DJ Transportation is owned and operated by the politically connected Squitieri family, whose trash hauling firm Sanitation Salvage shuttered after an explosive 2018 Voice of America/ProPublica series that also spurred the city's forthcoming commercial waste zone reforms.

ProPublica described the family as "major donors to the local Bronx Democratic Party machine." In addition to donations from DJ Transportation, Benedetto also received checks from Sanitation Salvage before it shut down, state campaign finance records show.

DJ Transportation most recently gave $3,000 to Benedetto for his 2024 re-election campaign. Asked whether the donations influenced his position and decision to testify, Benedetto called the question "insulting."

"The owners of the company did not contact me at all to testify. I heard this hearing was going on and I wanted to impart my feelings on this," he told Streetsblog. "Certainly, I have not been influenced by the contributions. They have been very kind to me over the years — and I will gladly admit that — but those contributions had nothing to do with my testimony today.

"I understand what they are facing," Benedetto added. "On one hand, you have the local community maybe suffering with the exhaust fumes. And on the other hand, you have the clientele on the buses, who have a legal document saying that the temperature must be maintained."

ProPublica's 2018 reporting revealed that one of the Sanitation Salvage's drivers fatally struck two people in a five-month span — including a co-worker who the driver falsely identified as panhandler who attempted to grab onto the moving truck.

Engine idling is another deadly aspect of motor vehicle use. Exposure to idling emissions can lead to early death, neurological impairment, reduced lung function and asthma. The emissions affect people inside and outside of vehicles; ironically, DJ Transportation announced plans two years ago to equip its fleet with indoor air filtration.

Anti-idling advocates called out the company's hypocrisy in written comments submitted in opposition to its variance request.

"Nobody should be forced to breathe polluted air, yet this is precisely the inevitable outcome of pervasive and needless idling," the New York Clean Air Collective wrote. "DJ has ignored anti-idling laws for decades and is now cynically using disabled clients as an argument to continue to evade its legal and ethical responsibility."

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