The Growth of Impunity in Public Transportation Service

In a society where most citizens are simply puzzled by the constant erosion of their time and rights by crooked leviathan corporations and incompetent government agencies, an occasional outrage stands out. Such an outrage occurred several days ago when three members of the New York City Council — Daneek Miller, Peter Koo and Donovan Richards – responded to a NYCTA bus driver severing the leg of a 15-year-old Brooklyn girl crossing the roadway, with the right of say – by introducing a bill that would exempt this bus driver from being prosecuted — even though he failed to yield to the pedestrian when she was walking within a crosswalk.

Violent criminal acts like this are all too common. Last year, MTA bus drivers struck and killed nine pedestrians. Eight out of those nine times, the bus driver failed to yield when the pedestrian had the right of way. Of course, the colossal incompetence of other NYC public agencies hardly helps. In a 2009 report by the New York City Department of Transportation, based on a study of 7,000 vehicle-pedestrian accidents in Manhattan, the Department concluded that it was safer for pedestrians to J-walk than to cross at intersections!  Of course, while this recommendation may make some sense in comparing a minor cross-street with one travel lane and traffic traveling in only a single direction, it is hardly true when crossing a major avenue with six lanes, often three in each direction. Of course, this point was never made in the Report, and this profoundly-dangerous recommendation was echoed in at least two summaries of the Report published in the New York Times.

What makes the latest bill’s proposal so interesting is that a common motorist, held, by law, to “an ordinary duty of care,” can be prosecuted for vehicular homicide when killing a pedestrian, and occasionally serve a long, multi-year jail term for the crime – even though charges are brought far less often when a motorist merely mutilates a pedestrian or bicyclist. In contrast, the NYCTA, and all its vehicles, are classified, by law, as “common carriers,” and as a result, are held, as a matter of law, to “the highest standard and duty of care.” In this context, the bill proposed by City Councilpersons Miller, Koo and Richards is an outrage. It is a clear and simple attempt to remove any realistic accountability from the NYCTA’s drivers for their actions. In fact, this impunity barely even saves the taxpayers any money – which would be the cost of prosecution. The cost of actually incarcerating such an individual would be borne largely by the State of New York, not the City. In contrast, the NYCTA would still be subject to a civil suit if and when such an accident occurs. So this bill would not even save the City any serious money. So one can only wonder about the organizations applying pressure to these three council persons, much less their integrity in responding to it. An easy guess would be the MTA Driver’s Union. But that is only a guess. I have no proof, and the information I examined about this legislative effort did not seem to care where the impetus for this measure came from. 

Voters rarely make mental (much less physical) notes about decisions their appointed officials make, and when it comes time for re-election, even the most outrageous travesties are long forgotten. But in my opinion, the effort to create and pass this bill is so offensive that, by itself, it justifies ridding the Council of these members. And the fact that they will not likely be removed is just more evidence of the real agenda of current Mayor DeBlasio or the borough representatives who may have appointed these three individuals to the council. Major DeBlasio cannot, or at least should not, be unaware of or unsupportive of this effort: Among others, his Commissioner, Polly Trottenberger, a former policy official of the U.S. Department of Transportation, is an appointee to the NYCTA Board. In simple terms, unless the Mayor effects a majority on the City Council to kill this measure, he is effectively supporting it.