Private carting trucks usually operate in the dead of night on nearly empty streets, collecting garbage from stores, restaurants and other commercial clients. But these days, the trash haulers have plenty of company on the streets now that the New York Police Department (NYPD) has started a major crackdown on private sanitation vehicles.
The week-long crackdown, which began on Oct. 28 and is taking place all over the city, was inspired by a previous initiative that took place in the 62nd Precinct (Bensonhurst-Bath Beach-Mapleton) in which cops conducted spot inspections of private carting trucks and found numerous safety violations, according to the NYPD.
Many of the trucks had faulty brakes, were leaking fuel and had broken lights, NYPD officials said.
The truck drivers also had a nasty habit of running red lights, police said.
The eye-opening inspections, which took place over a period of weeks in the 62nd Precinct and in Manhattan’s 19th Precinct, led the NYPD to spend a week conducting an all-out crackdown on the trash haulers in every part of the city.
“In the middle of the night, trash trucks seemingly roll around with impunity. They often run red lights, cut off drivers, operate in bike lanes, and travel on the incorrect side of the road or go the wrong direction down one-way streets. When we do stop those trucks, they routinely have numerous equipment violations,” Police Commissioner James O’Neill said in a statement.
The NYPD is working in partnership with the New York City Business Integrity Commission on the crackdown.
As part of the effort, the NYPD and the Business Integrity Commission are putting at least one vehicle on the streets in every precinct during overnight hours. The city is also deploying NYPD highway units, the Strategic Response Group and the specialized Motor Carrier Unit to inspect private sanitation trucks.
“Drivers can now expect to see the NYPD out in full force, ensuring that these companies and their truck operators adhere to the letter of the law,” O’Neill stated.
The crackdown is part of the de Blasio administration’s Dusk and Darkness campaign, an annual effort that coincides with the end of Daylight Saving Time and falls under the city’s Vision Zero program to increase safety on streets.
In the first three nights of the crackdown, the NYPD inspected 128 trucks and issued 163 moving summonses and 458 criminal summonses. Police also towed five trucks that were deemed not road-safe, officials said.
The problems presented by private trash companies has been a longstanding concern in the neighborhoods covered by the 62nd Precinct, according to Marnee Elias-Pavia, district manager of Community Board 11, which shares the same territory as the precinct.
“It’s a big concern in our commercial areas,” Elias-Pavia told this newspaper. “The board has received complaints from residents about the trucks being on the wrong side of the street.”
Community Board 11 has several shopping areas, including 86th Street, 18th Avenue, Bay Parkway and Kings Highway.
Elias-Pavia said that while her community board did not request a crackdown, the board is relieved it is taking place.
A police official at the 62nd Precinct who deals with traffic issues said the precinct decided to conduct spot inspections after hearing complaints from community residents and hearing reports from cops who observed potentially unsafe conditions on the streets at night.
“We at the 62nd Precinct like to take a proactive approach to things,” he told this newspaper.
Observing how private carters and other truckers operate was an eye-opening experience, he said. “In the case of the private carting companies, we observed the drivers not coming to a full stop at an intersection or no stopping at all at a red light,” he said.
Meanwhile, transportation safety advocates are calling on the city to go further and to totally revamp the rules governing private carting companies.
“While increased NYPD enforcement of traffic laws is a positive development, a single safety initiative will not change the irrational, long routes and inhumane 14-16 hour shifts that private sanitation companies pressure their workers to complete,” Justin Wood, of New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, said in a statement.
Wood spoke out in the wake of an Oct. 29 crash in which a private carting company truck struck and seriously injured a bicyclist on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.
Private carting companies have been involved in 26 fatalities since 2014, according to the de Blasio administration.
In August, a truck belonging to a private carting company, Century Waste Services, was involved in a fatal accident on the Gowanus Expressway, when its tire came off and flew into the windshield of a car traveling in the opposite direction, killing its driver. Over the past two years, Century Waste was issued over 75 violations for unsafe conditions, records show.
Part of the reason for the dangerous conditions is the way private sanitation firms operate, according to Sean Campbell, president of Teamsters Local 813.
“The private carting industry is unsafe for its workers and everyone else on the road, and the root of the problem is companies that demand more work than their employees can complete during a shift without breaking the law,” Campbell said. “At many private carters, when workers report bad brakes or bald tires, they are told to take the truck out anyway or risk losing their jobs.”
Campbell called on the city to inspect trucks before they hit the streets for their shifts.
The Department of Sanitation is busy developing a proposal to create a network of commercial waste zones around the city that the private carting companies would have to operate under.
“Only a zoned waste system with efficient, dense customer routes and strong protections for workers will force irresponsible corporations to either reform their practices or leave the industry,” Wood said.
“This industry is in dire need of improvements, in terms of both safety and efficiency,” Business Integrity Commissioner Daniel Brownell stated.
New Yorkers for Responsible Waste Management, an industry organization representing private carting companies, did not return messages from this newspaper.