Private sanitation trucks that crisscross NYC between downtown business districts and outer borough transfer stations have been caught operating with hundreds of maintenance violations that increase the likelihood of a crash, according to a report released yesterday by the Transform Don't Trash NYC coalition with Transportation Alternatives.
Over the last two years, trucks operated by the 20 largest private haulers in NYC were involved in 35 crashes, two of which were deadly (though neither was credited to a maintenance issue). They racked up 400 violations in the same time period, according to federal inspection reports, 384 of which have been attributed to maintenance issues: from faulty brakes and low-tread tires to busted headlights and turn signals. Inadequate supports for the trucks' lifting mechanisms often spill trash and other cargo on the street, leaving slick smears.
When vehicles are banned from the road for mandatory repairs, the report alleges, work is often shoddy and insufficient.
Large vehicle fleets—commercial sanitation trucks, but also buses and taxis—account for about 20% of crashes that result in a pedestrian's serious injury or death, even though they only make up about 6% of vehicles on the road, according to the city.
The new report, which excludes statistics on the NYC Department of Sanitation's fleet of trucks, was backed in part by the Teamsters Local 813, the union representing private sanitation workers in NYC. The Teamsters are longstanding critics of non-union sanitation haulers, and have endorsed other reports condemning the industry's safety measures and environmental impact.
Carl Orlando, 24, a construction worker, worked for seven different private haulers between 2011 and 2015. A supporter of the Teamsters—none of the private haulers he worked for recognized the union—he says he was wrongfully terminated from the last hauling company he worked for after a dispute over alleged wage theft.
"One day last February I was driving from Manhattan to the dump in Greenpoint," he recalled on Thursday. "I was on the Metropolitan Avenue bridge and I went to hit the brakes, and the car didn't stop. I made the decision to crash into a telephone pole. It turns out the brake line had frozen." He alleges that the hauler, Queens County Carting, had failed to winterize the vehicle.
In order to keep safety-compromising violations in check, Transform Don't Trash NYC is reiterating its call for a zoning system that would confine private waste management companies to geographic zones. Commercial waste zones would decrease truck traffic, they argue, as trucks would no longer cover long, winding cross-borough routes. The report also calls for mandatory seat belts for sanitation workers, and a database for keeping track of all sanitation truck-involved crashes.
Reached for comment, DSNY spokeswoman Belinda Mager confirmed that the department is conducting a study on the feasibility of commercial waste zones, adding that, "we work with our public and private sector peers in New York and across the country to share best practices."
Mayoral spokesman Austin Finan added in a statement, "We are always looking for ways to improve the safety of the vehicles on our streets and look forward to reviewing the group's recommendations."
By 2024, all private and public sanitation trucks in NYC will be equipped with side guards—panels that are designed to prevent pedestrians and cyclists who are struck by trucks from being trapped underneath them.