Advocates called for fundamental reform of the private carting industry following a garbage truck crash in Midtown on Monday night. According to news reports, a truck operated by Five Star Carting hit and seriously injured a cyclist on 5th Avenue at around 10 PM. The crash came hours after the NYPD announced a weeklong crackdown on traffic violations and unsafe vehicles in the private carting industry.
“Five Star Carting seriously injuring a cyclist in midtown on the same night as a citywide crackdown on dangerous private sanitation trucks is a tragic reminder that fundamental reform of a broken system can’t come soon enough,” said Justin Wood of New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. “While increased NYPD enforcement of traffic laws is a positive development, a single safety initiative will not change the irrational, long routes and inhumane 14-16 hour shifts that private sanitation companies pressure their workers to complete. Only a zoned waste system with efficient, dense customer routes and strong protections for workers will force irresponsible corporations to either reform their practices or leave the industry.”
“The private carting industry is unsafe for its workers and everyone else on the road, and the root of the problem is companies that demand more work than their employees can complete during a shift without breaking the law,” said Sean Campbell, President of Teamsters Local 813. “At many private carters, when workers report bad brakes or bald tires, they are told to take the truck out anyway or risk losing their jobs. The City shouldn’t wait to catch them in the act – every truck should be inspected before it hits the road. The Teamsters will support any worker in the industry who is punished by their employer for refusing to violate traffic laws.”
The Department of Sanitation is expected to soon announce the details of a long-awaited transformation of the private carting industry though a commercial waste zone system. Private carters would be held to high safety and environmental standards in exchange for the right to collect in a given zone of the city. Advocates are calling for the city to allow just one carter in each zone to maximize accountability and slow down trucks.
“The private carting industry needs comprehensive reform that respects our workers and communities,” said Maritza Silva-Farrel, Executive Director at ALIGN. “Sanitation companies must be held accountable to labor and environmental standards through an exclusive commercial waste zone system. We’ve been saying this for years: this industry needs long-term solutions, not just patches.”
“Last night, another private waste truck crashed – this time causing serious injury to a fellow New Yorker on a bicycle,” said Eric A. Goldstein, NYC Environment Director at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Such mishaps have become all too common in a city where private sanitation trucks drive more than 25 million miles every year, criss-crossing the city in an irrational routing system that generates pollution, wastes energy, and engenders pedestrians, motorists, and sanitation workers themselves. The commercial waste carting system is completely broken and only comprehensive reform – including implementation of commercial waste zoning – can bring an end to the multiple problems in this troubled industry.”
Five Star is one of the largest private waste corporations in New York City and is now owned by GPB Capital, a private equity firm that is under investigation in Massachusetts for risky investment sales practices. It is also one of the most hazardous for its employees and the public alike.
According to federal safety data, more than half of the Five Star trucks inspected in the past 24 months have been ordered out of service due to serious safety violations.
“Yet another crash by this out-of-control industry shows the desperate need for reform. Hundreds of these dangerous vehicles bombard low-income communities and communities of color in North Brooklyn, the South Bronx, and Southeast Queens every day,” commented Eddie Bautista, Executive Director of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance. “Exclusive commercial waste zones will dramatically cut the number of truck trips across the city, lessening the particular burden for environmental justice communities.”
“Yesterday’s tragic crash was predictable: private waste carters are the deadliest drivers in New York, and pose a danger to pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers alike. While half-measures like the reported NYPD crackdown are welcome, it’s clear at this point that the private carting industry isn’t going to reform itself. Measures like smart investment in street design, reforming the private carting industry, and consistent, effective enforcement to stop dangerous driver behavior, are urgently needed, because they will instead compel safety as a priority. That is the only way we’re going to fully realize Vision Zero in New York City,” said Marco Conner, deputy director of Transportation Alternatives.
In 2015, two Five Star workers testified in front of the City Council about dangerous working conditions and low wages at the company. Five Star’s owners then fired them, and the employees were only rehired after workers, advocates, and elected officials held a rally at the company offices.
Neighbors of a waste transfer station owned by Five Star’s parent company have filed a lawsuit claiming that the company’s trucks create safety and health hazards for local Bushwick residents on a nightly basis. In 2016, local residents compiled video footage of the facility and found over 1,200 violations of City law in a single week.
“Unfortunately, this tragedy is no surprise to those of us who live in the neighborhood around Five Star’s transfer station and headquarters in North Brooklyn,” said Ben Weinstein of Cleanup North Brooklyn. “This company, and many private carters like it, regularly drive the wrong way down one way streets, blow through stop signs, and drive on the sidewalks to get where they’re going faster. They have created an atmosphere so dangerous, our residents cannot allow their children to play outside because Five Star carting will do anything necessary to put their profits before the safety of our community. Any additional tragedy is another too many. Five Star Carting must be held accountable for their poor safety standards, and disregard for city regulation, immediately.”
Five Star is one of the largest members of “New Yorkers for Responsible Waste Management,” an industry trade group solely dedicated to defeating the City’s planned reform. Waste industry payments to lobbyists are on track to double since the City announced its intention to reform the commercial waste system.