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Commercial Waste Zones

Exclusive: Sanitation Dept. Appoints Monitor for Carting Firm with Spotty Safety Record

But the move left some Council members confused as to why a company with a track record poor enough to warrant oversight is allowed to operate in the city at all.

Photo: NY1|

A Mercedes driver was killed in a crash with the driver of a Cogent truck earlier this year.

Amid charges that the private sanitation industry remains immune to safety reforms, the Department of Sanitation has appointed an independent monitor to oversee operations at a carting firm with a poor safety record — even before the agency launches its new commercial waste zone system this fall.

But the move left some Council members confused as to why a company with a track record poor enough to warrant oversight is allowed to operate in the city at all.

Former NYPD Internal Affairs Deputy Commissioner Walter Mack will monitor practices at Cogent Waste Solutions as the DSNY proactively seizes new powers granted to it under the city's Commercial Waste Zone program. Cogent was hit with hundreds of violations from the Business Integrity Commission late last year following an audit.

Walter Mack

Mack, who is also a former Chief of the Organized Crime Unit and a former Senior Litigation Counsel in the federal Department of Justice's Southern District of New York, will have the authority to investigate the two companies' compliance with "federal, state, and local laws, rules, regulations, including those related to safety."

One catch: His work can only begin four months before the beginning of trash pickups in zones where Cogent will operate: Brooklyn East, Brooklyn North, Brooklyn South and on Staten Island.

Mack's announcement will be made public at a City Council hearing on Monday morning, DSNY told Streetsblog.

The city's 20-district commercial waste zone initiative will begin with a single Queens zone in the fall. None of the zones in which Cogent will operate has a start date yet. Mack will also oversee operations at New York Recycling Solutions, which appears to be a new company that is working in partnership with Cogent. NYRS will operate in the Midtown South and Lower Manhattan zones, neither of which has a scheduled start date yet, either.

In a statement, DSNY Deputy Commissioner Joshua Goodman said the agency is exercising its new power against Cogent and its partner because the Business Integrity Commission probe "led DSNY to believe that closer independent scrutiny is warranted."

In addition, earlier this year, a Cogent driver allegedly made an illegal u-turn and fatally struck the driver of a Mercedes in southern Brooklyn, the Daily News reported. The truck in that fatal crash has been nabbed five times by city cameras for reckless driving since 2022, according to city records.

And according to federal records, Cogent truck drivers have been involved in six crashes in the last two years, killing one person and injuring four others. New York Recycling Solutions has no federal safety record on file with the U.S. DOT.

Cogent has also been sued multiple times since 2021 for alleged recklessness of its drivers:

  • In 2022, taxi driver Keith Rattan and Carlos Loureiro separately sued Cogent and one of its drivers for operating a sanitation truck with "carelessness and negligence" and causing a July 2021 crash on the Prospect Expressway that left Rattan with "physical pain and bodily injuries," causing him to become "sick, sore, lame, and disabled ... for a considerable length of time" and left Loureiro with "bodily injuries, some of which are permanent in their nature and effects." Those cases are pending.
  • In 2022, driver Kristen Nunez sued Cogent and one of its drivers for a December 2020 crash that left Nunez with basically the same legalese as above. Cogent settled that suit for an undisclosed amount.
  • In 2022, North Carolina resident Aja Jones sued Cogent and one of its drivers for a September 2021 crash on South Conduit Avenue in Queens that caused severe injuries due to "negligence" of Cogent. The case is pending.
  • In 2022, Diurky Serrano sued Cogent and one of its drivers for causing an October 2021 crash in Staten Island that left Serrano seriously injured. That case is pending.
  • In 2022, cyclist David Rodriguez sued Cogent and one of its drivers for causing an August 2020 crash on Linden Boulevard in Brooklyn that seriously injured Rodriguez. That case is pending.
  • In 2023, driver Jonathan Roman sued Cogent and one of its drivers for causing a September 2021 crash on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway that left Roman seriously injured. That case is pending. (Drivers of the truck in that case have been hit with six camera-issued tickets for reckless driving since that crash.)
  • In 2021, driver Carole Nicolas sued Cogent and one of its drivers for causing a June 2021 crash on Ocean Avenue in Coney Island that caused severe injuries. That case is pending.
  • In 2022, driver Jephte Saint-Brice sued Cogent and one of its drivers for causing an August 2022 crash on Flatbush Avenue in Downtown Brooklyn that left Saint-Brice severely injured. That case is pending.
  • In 2023, driver Nahida Begum sued Cogent and one of its drivers for causing a June 2023 crash that left her severely injured. The court papers alleged that Cogent's driver was speeding. That case is pending.
  • Early in 2024, Anthony Rich sued Cogent and one of its drivers for causing a July 2023 crash near Yankee Stadium that left Rich severely injured. That case is pending.

None of those allegations has led the city's Business Integrity Commission to pull Cogent's license to operate in the city, which it currently does under existing private carting rules — rules that will change once the long-delayed Commercial Waste Zone program goes into effect.

And that underscores the importance of the Commercial Waste Zone program, which was created because of the private carting industry's terrible safety record, as drivers rushed all over the city to pick up trash from businesses with little regard for distances between them. The new program has created smaller areas in which carters can operate.

Still, the fact that Cogent was able to win contracts in four zones, despite its checkered safety record remains a source of concern to the City Council's Sanitation Committee Chair.

"Before we discuss monitoring, we need to know how the city awarded a contract to a company with a history of endangering workers to begin with," said Council Member Shaun Abreu of Upper Manhattan. "The legislation that established commercial waste zones prioritized safety and efficiency, while also giving DSNY the flexibility to make decisions using their expertise. So it’s very important that we understand why there is a gap between the council’s vision and the mayor’s execution."

Abreu said he would use Monday's previously scheduled hearing on commercial waste zones "to get to the bottom of all of these issues."

And the committee's former chair also raised an eyebrow.

"If DSNY is appointing an independent monitor to a carter that they awarded a zone to, it calls into question why they were awarded in the first place," said Council Member Sandy Nurse. "DSNY assured myself and other elected officials that the final zones configuration would be something we can stand behind. I hope that remains the case and that this isn’t an oversight on their part."

The Sanitation Department has frequently said that any carter with an active license with the Business Integrity Commission is eligible to operate on city streets and also to compete for the commercial waste zone awards. In fact, firms with a license to operate can't be excluded.

"The ... contracts to operate within the Commercial Waste Zones were produced via a Request for Proposals process — meaning there was one set of evaluation criteria that had to be applied evenly to all eligible respondents," Goodman, the DSNY official, said. "Safety was absolutely one of the weighted factors across multiple categories, both in terms of past practice and ability to comply with the many, many new safety regulations that [are] part of this program, including mandatory trainings and equipment upgrades. Other factors included experience, capacity to provide services, technical planning, sustainability plans, customer service plans, pricing, etc.

"This program will force compliance with new rules to make the industry safer — and there will be consequences for lack of compliance," Goodman added. "These contracts give DSNY extremely substantial new oversight authority over this industry, and we fully intend to use that authority."

The Business Integrity Commission did not respond to a request for comment about its process in granting licenses, but it did send over a list of scores of companies that have been denied operating licenses in the past. And a spokesman for Cogent said the company could not comment yet, but would answer questions after Monday's hearing.

The City Council's Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management will hold a hearing on Monday at 10 a.m. at City Hall. Click here for more info. More information about the commercial waste zone program can be found here.

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