April 9, 2018

As New York City moves forward with reforms to the commercial sanitation industry, a new report finds that crashes have doubled in the industry over the last two years. The report by safe streets and labor advocates reveals that the top 20 carters had 67 crashes, including five fatal crashes, in the last two years, up from 35 crashes during the previous two-year period. The new findings show that the industry is getting significantly more dangerous and undermining the progress that the City’s Vision Zero program is making to reduce traffic deaths.

The report is authored by ALIGN, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, Teamsters Local 813, and Transportation Alternatives, all members of the Transform Don’t Trash NYC coalition.

Private carters have also routinely failed government safety inspections of their trucks. During inspections in the last two years, 55% of trucks at the top haulers were taken out of service because they were deemed too unsafe to drive. The national average was just 21%. Faulty brakes were the most common violation.

“It’s troubling that private garbage trucks – which have always been the most dangerous vehicles on our streets – have been involved in twice as many crashes and deadly crashes over the past 24 months, bucking the positive trend toward safer streets in New York City,” said Justin Wood of New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. “Our waste system doesn’t need to be this dangerous.  The data from major West Coast cities shows private waste haulers can operate far more safely within a rational, efficient system that treats workers fairly and achieves our environmental goals.”

New York’s sanitation companies also lag far behind their private-sector counterparts in major West Coast cities as well as the New York City Department of Sanitation’s (DSNY) fleet of trucks. The DSNY has not had a fatal crash since 2014. Private carters in Los Angeles, Seattle, and San Francisco had just ⅓ of the crashes per driver of New York’s companies. All of these cities have already implemented extensive commercial waste reforms, similar to what New York is now pursuing.

“New York City’s private carting companies’ dismal safety record puts us all at risk,” said Maritza Silva-Farrell, Executive Director of ALIGN. “As long as carting companies push their majority black and Latino workers to the limits and engage in a race to the bottom, this is not going to change.  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.  This year, the city must reverse this trend.  By passing bold legislation that creates exclusive waste zones, the city can transform this industry – improving conditions for workers and safety on our streets.”

As fatal crashes in the private carting industry have been on the rise, deaths overall on streets have been dropping each year under Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative. Traffic fatalities have fallen from 299 in 2013, the year before de Blasio took office, to 214 last year.

“Private waste haulers are an unfortunate outlier in the effort to eliminate deaths and serious injuries on New York City streets. Their safety record was bad, and that it’s getting even worse is troubling, to say the least,” said Paul Steely White, Executive Director of Transportation Alternatives. “Vision Zero will remain out of reach if private waste haulers don’t take action to turn this trend around.”

“Worker rights are not a barrier to safer streets – they are an important part of the solution,” said Sean Campbell, President of Teamsters Local 813, which represents private sanitation workers in New York City. “Too often in the private sanitation industry, workers are toiling through shifts longer than 14 hours and are told to drive trucks that are not safe for the road. We want a safer industry for ourselves and everyone else traveling the streets.”

The Department of Sanitation is currently developing a commercial waste zone plan, with an expected release this summer. The policy would assign carters to specific zones of the city, significantly reducing truck miles and speeds, while allowing for stronger safety standards to be imposed. The coalition’s report includes several recommendations for how the waste zone plan can be tailored to maximize street safety benefits, including:

  1. Making zones exclusive to one hauler to realize the greatest reductions in miles driven by each truck and to slow speeds.
  2. Requiring safe operating practices and sufficient staffing to reduce driver fatigue.
  3. Incentivizing investments in safe vehicle design.
  4. Weighing safety track records when deciding whether to allow carters to participate in the waste zone system.

The full report is available here.