By Olivia Scheck
MANHATTAN — A young entrepreneur's effort to take over suspended MTA bus routes came to a screeching halt Tuesday when a Manhattan judge signed a restraining order against him.
The city argued that allowing an unauthorized bus line would compromise rider safety.
The entrepreneur, Joel Azumah, 27, said he dispatched a fleet of 12 buses and vans to save commuters who were stranded by MTA cutbacks last month, replacing the X90 and QM2 and charging riders between $3 and $6 each.
But it wasn't long before the city put the breaks on the operation, sending Azumah two cease-and-desist letters and slapping him with a temporary restraining order on Tuesday, according to court documents.
"We are pleased that the court granted our request for a restraining order," the city Law Department said in a statement. "The operator has been running an unauthorized bus line, and safety is the city's paramount priority."
Azumah said he ignored the cease-and-desist letters but felt compelled to comply with the more recent order from a Manhattan Supreme Court judge.
The point at issue was whether Azumah's vehicles should be considered charter buses or public bus lines, which would require a franchise license from the city.
But Michael Pollo, a motor-carrier investigator for the New York State Department of Transportation, confirmed that a person in Azumah's position would need official permission from the state.
"If he's picking up people in New York and dropping them off in New York, he needs New York authority," Pollo said.
Azumah insists that his service falls into the former category since riders must print out membership passes from his website before they can ride.
But the Law Department called the passes a "sham," adding that the state had not authorized Azumah to operate a charter bus service.
Azumah claimed that such authorization was not necessary, though he said he was following their safety guidelines.
His version of the X90, which traveled down Upper East Side to lower Manhattan, transported 177 city workers before being shut down on Tuesday, he said.
The restraining order against him will run out on July 15, at which time the city will have to get a permanent injunction to keep Azumah's vehicles off the road.