StreetsPAC's Testimony to City Council on Exclusive Commercial Waste Zones

StreetsPAC earlier today gave the following testimony at the New York City Council Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management's hearing on a bill that would remake the way commercial waste is collected in the city, with significant implications for improved street safety:

As advocates for improving the safety of the city’s streets, we support the passage of Intro 1574, which would adopt exclusive Commercial Waste Zones in New York City.

As the analysis conducted for the Department of Sanitation’s Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement made clear, an exclusive waste zone program will lead to the largest possible reduction in vehicle miles traveled by commercial waste haulers, reducing overall VMT by approximately 60% versus the current non-zoned system. That equates to a reduction of nearly three million vehicle miles traveled annually.

This is critically important from the standpoint of safety, since drivers of commercial-waste vehicles have killed more than two-dozen people on New York City’s streets over just the past five years. The current system, in which different carting companies drive routes that can crisscross the entire city, leads to some of the most reckless driving behaviors one can imagine: blatant running of red lights, wrong-way operation, backing up through intersections, and hazardous speeding. Anyone who’s walked a street late at night in the city has witnessed this firsthand.

But private sanitation drivers don’t set out to be a menace. That type of driving behavior is fed by the current dysfunctional system, in which overworked crews zigzag across the city in a nightly race to complete their haphazard, disjointed routes, frequently working 12- or 14-hour shifts. An exclusive zone system will greatly rationalize this current, dangerous mess.

Moreover, the reduction in VMT will be even more pronounced in the densest parts of the city. An exclusive-zone plan would reduce VMT in Midtown Manhattan by more than half versus a non-exclusive, multi-hauler arrangement.

This further reduction in VMT from an exclusive-zone system will provide important benefits aside from improved safety. Reduced VMT will mean better air quality and lower greenhouse-gas emissions, and the more streamlined routing of trucks will lead to reduced noise levels. Crucially, worker safety will also be optimized under an exclusive-zone system.

Finally, exclusive zones will require fewer trucks and less fuel, leading to significant cost savings for the commercial haulers awarded exclusive-zone contracts, savings that can be passed along to customers, helping to offset concerns about increased costs due to reduced competition – which the city can and must manage through better regulation.

The long-term stability created by an exclusive-zone system will best enable private haulers to amortize investments in newer, cleaner, and safer trucks and technology, thanks to the stable customer base, predictable revenue stream, and long-term, enforceable contract with New York City that such a plan will create. While we’re here today because of what an exclusive-zone system will mean for life and limb, these other benefits are substantial and meaningful.

We urge the Committee on Sanitation, and the full Council, to pass Intro 1574.

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StreetsPAC supports candidates for public office who will champion Safe, Complete and Livable Streets.