CHINATOWN — Twenty-six low-cost curbside bus lines with routes that go through New York City's Chinatown were shut down Thursday by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
The action, the largest in the department’s history, has ceased the operations of Apex Bus, Inc., I-95 Coach, Inc. and New Century Travel, Inc., that ferry 1,800 passengers daily along 26 East Coast routes. The move comes after two accidents involving low-cost bus lines last year left 17 people dead.
"This crackdown is a victory for transportation safety and a victory for passengers," U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in Chinatown. "Shutting them down will save lives."
Apex owners did not immediately return a call for comment and staff at the office refused to answer questions.
The U.S. Department of Transportation has been cracking down on safety issues surrounding the low-cost carriers that operate without a terminal, unlike traditional companies such as Greyhound. However, this is the first time the DOT's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration [FMCSA], which conducted the yearlong investigation into the bus carriers, slapped individual owners — not just their companies — with cease-and-desist orders.
In previous instances when bus companies were shut down, the same operator, drivers and equipment would reappear under a different company name, according to U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer. He said authorities would now be able to trace company names, owners and their staff if they attempt to open as another bus line with the new FMCSA rule that was enacted Thursday.
"It will serve as a warning to unscrupulous bus carriers," said Schumer. "You will be caught and shut down."
Schumer, who LaHood described as a "champion of transportation safety," is currently working on legislation that would increase fines for carriers operating without a DOT permit from $2,500 to $25,000. It would also allow for safety inspections of vehicles en route to their destination.
"Because they have no terminal there is no authority to stop them on route," said Schumer of the current law. He is also hoping a rating system, similar to the health inspections that rates the New York City restaurants, will allow consumers to make an informed choice.
For now, thousands of passengers could be stranded, with many still turning up to shuttered terminals unaware of the department's crackdown.
Alberto Babon, 50, of Woodside, booked a ticket with Apex Bus only 24 hours ago. He arrived at its small office on Allen and Canal streets to find doors shut.
"This was the first time I ever bought a ticket," said Babon, who was to travel to Virginia for a family emergency.
He was also unaware of the dangerous reputation of some of the bus carriers.
"Now that I have heard [of the safety issues] I wouldn't have done it," he said.