Action Carting, the private trash hauling company whose driver killed cyclist Neftaly Ramirez, 27, in Greenpoint on July 22 holds five active contracts with city agencies totaling more than $74 million. Ramirez was the fifth person struck and killed by an Action Carting driver in NYC in the past decade, yet the city government has no protocol for penalizing or otherwise holding the company accountable.
Drivers for the Newark-based company have killed three pedestrians and two cyclists, including Ramirez, on city streets since 2008, DNAinfo reported last month. In the last 24 months, Action Carting drivers were involved in seven crashes involving pedestrians, resulting in eight injuries, according to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration records. In that same period, the FMCSA says 44 percent of Action vehicles were taken out of service due to safety violations — more than twice the national average.
The company has five standing contracts with city agencies — three with DOT adding up to about $2 million and two with the Department of Environmental Protection worth about $35 million apiece. All but one of those — an $800,000 contract with DOT — were signed during the de Blasio administration.
Streetsblog reached out to City Hall and DEP to ask how doing business with Action squares with Mayor de Blasio’s “Vision Zero” agenda, and whether protocols are in place to hold companies with city contracts accountable when their drivers injure or kill people. We also asked City Hall and the Business Integrity Commission, the city agency that regulates the trash hauling industry, whether the commission has a procedure for penalizing companies involved in collisions resulting in injuries or fatalities.
Both City Hall and the BIC, where Action Carting CEO Ron Bergamini sits on an advisory board, avoided the question in their responses.
“We reject the notion that injuries and fatalities caused by private carting vehicles are inevitable. This industry can and must become safer,” City Hall spokesperson Natalie Grybauskas said in a statement. “The city has stepped up proactive education and enforcement, and more importantly, we’re transitioning to a new zoned system that will dramatically reduce the presence of these vehicles on our streets.”
Grybauskas also noted City Hall and BIC’s efforts to accelerate and incentivize companies’ efforts to equip their trucks with side-guards.
Those are important policy initiatives that will make the carting industry and its vehicles safer, but they don’t address the question of how to respond when a specific company compiles a history of deadly driving like Action Carting. Five fatal crashes in less than 10 years have not triggered investigations into potentially dangerous corporate practices or threatened the company’s business with the city.
Action Carting operators work between 12 and 14 hour shifts, according to one former driver who spoke to Streetsblog on the condition of anonymity, which is standard in the industry. Federal rules limit the amount of hours they’re allowed to work, but managers expect routes to be completed within the allotted time, forcing operators to go whole shifts without a break.
“These guys get a lot of pressure from supervisors to rush rush, to hurry up, to get the work done, because they’re only allowed to drive a certain amount of hours per week,” he said. “They tell you to take a break, but the problem is, if you take that half-hour break, you’re not going to finish the work, and then, at the end of the shift, [managers] are complaining.”
In some respects, Action pays more attention to safety than other private trash haulers, he said. The company requires workers to attend monthly safety trainings, which is unusual in the industry. “They really want safety to be a part of their business,” he said. “If [a deadly collision] happens to companies that preach safety and teach their drivers and workers safety, imagine what happens at companies that don’t do any of this.”
The July 22 crash that killed Neftaly Ramirez was a hit-and-run, and neither NYPD nor Action have identified the driver. “I’m shocked,” the former Action driver said. “I’m pretty sure the coworkers gotta know who it was.”
Brad Aaron contributed reporting for this post.