Crackdown on Private Sanitation Reveals Full Extent of Industry’s Horrors

Funny how Mayor de Blasio didn't see any problems with the industry until recently.

This is file art. But it remains evidence of an industry in trouble.
This is file art. But it remains evidence of an industry in trouble.

The punishment fits the slime.

In just the first two days of a weeklong crackdown on the private sanitation industry, the NYPD said it issued more than 620 summons to the companies and their drivers — a stunning figure that suggests far more needs to be done to rein in a rogue industry that is responsible for 26 deaths since 2014.

NYPD Transportation Inspector Thomas Chan said the numbers broke down to 163 moving violations and 458 criminal summonses — plus five trucks that were confiscated for being “not road safe.”

Streetsblog asked Chan if those numbers — 621 violations in two days! — suggest that the private carting industry is “reckless,” as Chief of Department Terence Monahan called it as the crackdown launched, but Chan would not characterize the industry.

But Transportation Alternatives Deputy Director Marco Connor was happy to find the right words.

“This proves what we’ve known all along: private waste trucks are deadly. The companies which operate them deploy trucks with faulty equipment driven by people working under poor conditions, and this puts all New Yorkers at risk,” he said. “Until this recent crackdown, the NYPD has failed entirely in its Vision Zero mandate to police these companies. We’d encourage the NYPD to continue to apply this data-based enforcement, which means focusing nearly exclusively on the driving and types of vehicles that cause the most loss of life and limb on our streets. This crackdown is as welcome as it is long overdue, and we can only applaud the NYPD if they consistently apply true Vision Zero-based enforcement.”

DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg chats with NYPD Transportation Inspector Thomas Chan on Wednesday. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg chats with NYPD Transportation Inspector Thomas Chan on Wednesday. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

The NYPD said it could not immediately provide a breakdown of those criminal summonses, but in the past, such non-moving violations have been written to repeat offenders and to people who have outstanding warrants on other charges — possible evidence that the private sanitation industry is failing to properly vet its drivers.

NYPD officers have been writing summonses to private carting companies — an increase this year of 182 percent over last year, according to Chan — but there have still been four fatalities this year linked to the industry.

And non-fatal crashes are up, too, Streetsblog has reported.

“This is a growing crisis,” Mayor de Blasio said during an otherwise unrelated press conference on Wednesday morning. “There needs to be stronger regulation, stronger enforcement.

“I’ve been pushing all our agencies to pick up the pace and intensify,” he added. “We’re looking forward to some legislation to strengthen the Business Integrity Commission to have even more power to enforce. But I think this is one of the examples of more and more consciousness, more information coming forward and folks recognizing, myself included, that there is a big problem here that was not there before.”

Streetsblog pressed de Blasio about stiffer enforcement by the Commission, which was initially set up to fight corruption rather than ensure safety.

“I’d like to see them have very clear direct enforcement powers with higher penalties,” Hizzoner said. “This has been the problem in a lot of areas dealing with the private sector — that a lot of the penalties are not strong enough or high-impact enough to change behaviors, so I’d like to see very stringent penalties.”

The mayor’s tough talk came after he admitted he “didn’t know a lot about the private carting industry” during his many years as a council member, public advocate and even during “the beginning of the mayoralty.”

“I hadn’t heard a lot of complaints about it over the years that I was in office,” he said.

He either wasn’t listening or he simply didn’t go out at night without his car.

“The communities that have been most effected like mine have been screaming at the top of their lungs,” said Council Member Antonio Reynoso, who represents Bushwick. “I guess he [the mayor] didn’t hear us, but it’s better late than never.”

As any night owl will tell you, after midnight, the streets of New York City are often amok with rogue carting drivers, as this video and this video show, plus tens of thousands of other drivers speeding with abandon. On the plus side, the NYPD has written 116,429 speeding summonses so far this year, up from 113,861 at this point last year and 59,495 over the same period in 2011.

DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg used such numbers to again call for a wider speed camera system instead of the current 140-zone camera program that can only operate during school hours.

— with David Meyer