Because there's never a bad time to caricature Mayor de Blasio's gangly physique, the Transport Workers Union has taken out ads in city newspapers denouncing the arrests of bus drivers under a new law that is part of the mayor's Vision Zero road-safety initiative. Bus drivers have accounted for six of the 23 arrests made since the Right of Way law passed last summer, making failure to yield to a pedestrian an arrest-able offense, punishable by as much as $250 and 30 days in prison when there is an injury. To put those 23 arrests in perspective, 269 people died in crashes in New York last year, including 144 pedestrians.
The union is demanding that bus drivers be exempted from enforcement of the law, arguing that repositioning mirrors to take up less of drivers' field of vision, adding pedestrian sensors to buses, and redrawing bus routes to minimize left turns would do more to make streets safer.
De Blasio responded to the campaign by saying that bus drivers aren't being singled out, and that it's on all drivers to yield to pedestrians.
"If the officer at the scene determines that it was an avoidable accident and it would merit arrest for a civilian, there would be an arrest even for a public employee," de Blasio told CBS2.
A spokesman for the Mayor's Office noted that all six of the pedestrians hit by bus drivers who wound up in cuffs were in the crosswalk, with the light, and that all but one of the victims were seniors who died as a result. TWU Local 100 president John Samuelson—who told CBS2 "bus operators should not be held accountable, should not be criminalized"—said that the mayor is totally misinformed about the crashes,
noting that charges against drivers Reginald Prescott and Francisco DeJesus have since been dropped, and claiming that driver Reginald Prescott was only going 3 miles per hour at the time of the fatal crash he had in East Flatbush.
"To say that the accidents were preventable, de Blasio is actually just talking out his ass," Samuelson said. "The accidents were absolutely preventable. They were preventable through the mitigation of blind spots on the buses."
An MTA spokesman said that bus drivers are trained to move in their seats specifically to negotiate the blind spots, but that the agency is looking at mirror adjustment "on a fleet-by-fleet basis." The spokesman noted that the problem is not unique to New York City buses.
"All vehicles—cars and buses—have partially obstructed views and the buses that comprise our fleet are operated by other transit agencies throughout the country," Adam Lisberg said. A recent PIX11 report touched on the issue of blind spots in a visit to a bus-driving simulator at an MTA training facility in the Bronx.
The DOT is working to identify intersections where buses are more likely to run afoul of pedestrian crossings, but physical fixes are a complement, not a replacement for arrests, the mayoral spokesman said.
The Daily News notes that the families of people killed by drivers are none too happy with the ongoing campaign to let bus drivers off the hook for alleged reckless driving.
The parents of 23-year-old Ella Bandes, who was killed in 2013 when a bus hit her at Myrtle and Wyckoff Aves. in Bushwick, Brooklyn, back the mayor’s efforts to tame the streets.
Judy Kottick, Ella's mother and a member of Families for Safe Streets, said the law helps make bus drivers more cautious.
"It would be a huge slap in the face to us to think that bus drivers should be exempt from the law," she said.
Asked how he would respond to the family member of a crash victim who sees the union's efforts as valuing the livelihoods of drivers over the lives of pedestrians, TWU spokesman Jim Gannon said that the two are separate considerations.
"Any family member whose member of their family is hurt or killed in an accident, we totally understand the tragedy of it," he said. "The issue is still a concern to our members. and we feel that the Vision Zero initiative is unfair on certain levels to bus operators and we’re going to represent and protect them to the best of our ability."
The full text of the cartoon ad (there are several ads) reads:
As the City Council debates to decriminalize public urination and fare beating on our subways and buses — despite the fact that fare disputes lead to assaults on our Bus Operators — your Vision Zero campaign criminalizes the working men and women Bus Operators of TWU Local 100 for simply doing what NYC and the MTA order them to do everyday. So now public urination and fare beating are no big thing, but Bus Operators are criminals? Not very "progressive" of you, Mayor DeBlasio.
MTA Bus Operators, and all transit workers, are pillars of NYC's minority and blue-collar neighborhoods. They safely carry more than two and a half million passengers every day over the most difficult routes in the world. They do their jobs driving buses with multiple blind spots, on routes requiring dangerous left turns with no dedicated left turn signals.
And when a tragic right-of-way accident occurs, through no negligence by a Bus Operator, you and the so-called progressives on the City Council think it is necessary to arrest and humiliate them? This could not possibly have been the intent of the Vision Zero right-of-way law.
Let's be clear. The fact is your Vision Zero law has succeeded in criminalizing an entire class of hard working, law abiding unionized workers and you are wrong for doing so. Not very progressive, Mayor DeBlasio.
For more context on the carnage taking place in the city's streets, check our Vision Zero archives.
Update 3:55 pm:
Updated to include information from the MTA, and to reflect that the Brooklyn DA's Office has not dropped charges against two bus drivers, as TWU president John Samuelson had said.
Update 4:05 pm:
The MTA now says it is in fact looking at mirror adjustment as an option.