Fleets of privately-owned garbage trucks race through New York City’s streets every night. It’s clear to many onlookers that several of these vehicles are in poor repair. Some are routinely declared unsafe and pulled off the road by government regulators, only to resume their routes a few days later with dubious – if any – repairs being made.
New York City’s Department of Sanitation is among the most respected in the country and collects 10,500 tons of refuse each day from city residents and institutions. City sanitation employees are unionized. They work no more than eight hours a day, are paid close to $80,000 a year, and enjoy enviable benefit packages.
By comparison, the private carting industry in New York City is largely unregulated and comprised of more than 100 large and small carting companies. They compete to pick up the refuse from 100,000 businesses. In one night, as many as 20 trucks from 20 different companies may visit the same city block, bringing with them all the same emissions, traffic, and safety concerns.
Private haulers counter that between the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the state Department of Environmental Conservation, the city’s Department of Transportation and its Business Integrity Commission, private carting firms are highly regulated and must follow rigorous safety protocols. But industry critics say such claims are hollow, that emission, traffic and safety enforcement is lax, and much of the industry’s regulation is self-reported.
One prominently mentioned carrier is a New Jersey company with more than 30 trucks operating in the city. In the past two years, Century Waste trucks have failed virtually two-thirds of government inspections, according to a review of city and federal records by the watchdog ProPublica. Faulty brakes, axles, steering mechanisms, and other vital components that make these vehicular behemoths safe have all been found faulty — in some instances, dangerously so.
The company’s safety record has come under further scrutiny after a wheel recently flew off a Century Waste truck and killed a 64-year-old motorist and NYPD civilian employee. At the crash site, police accident investigators further inspected the truck that lost the wheel and wrote it up for 16 “unspecified equipment violations.”
New York City’s Business Integrity Commission (BIC) licenses and oversees private garbage companies which cart trash from businesses in the city. In a recent statement, the BIC said its authority on the safety of private trucks is “limited.”
“BIC doesn’t have the authority to revoke or immediately suspend a license…or any other safety concern not explicitly under our authority,” said Commissioner Dan Brownell. He adds that the BIC is working to draft legislation that will expand its authority to include more safety issues. The Commission says the BIC has “requested” Century Waste to “re-inspect all their trucks immediately” and report back.
But the Commission’s position of having “limited authority” has recently been called into question from elected officials and safety advocates. That’s because New York’s administrative code governing the agency’s authority and responsibilities includes “compliance with safety and health measures” as one of the Commission’s explicitly stated “powers and duties.”
And if that’s not enough, a section of the administrative code also says the agency may “immediately suspend” a license or registration if a company “creates an imminent danger to life or property.”
“Reckless disregard for safety seems to be the rule, not the exception, among private carters,” City Councilman Justin Brannan said in a statement about the crash, which took place in his Bay Ridge district. He and other city politicians continue calling for comprehensive reform of the carting industry.
The latest fatality linked to private carting trucks should be the last straw for the mayor and city council to re-affirm to the BIC that it has the tools it needs to bring private carting companies to accounts.
If you or a loved one has suffered an injury involving a sanitation truck and want to learn more about your legal options, contact Kaplan Lawyers PC today.