NOLITA — Drivers with a network of commuter vans that carry Chinatown residents from Manhattan to Flushing and Sunset Park say they are unfairly "targeted" by the NYPD even though they're not breaking any laws.
The van companies — TransExpress, BQE and J&E Transportation — have been operating throughout the community for more than 16 years, according to TransExpress employee Bernard Hui.
They pick up passengers at Confucius Plaza and on Division Street, at places denoted by specific signage, and at the corner of Elizabeth and Hester streets. There's no sign at that corner, though, and they get "a tremendous amount" of tickets from the NYPD for things like illegal pick-up — even though they have a "convenience permit" from the Department of Transportation to pick up there, Hui said.
"They’ve been harassing us for quite a few years," Hui told those present at a Community Board 2 transportation committee meeting last week. "It’s gotten worse and worse."
All of their drivers are licensed by the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission and each ride costs $2.75, the same as an MTA subway or bus ride, Hui said. The van service runs for about 18 hours, starting at 5:30 or 6 in the morning.
Hui said the city granted them the permits to operate because they're providing a badly-needed service to the local community. They shuttle roughly 1,800 people per day from Chinatown using their fleet of more than a dozen passenger vans which fit approximately 15 passengers apiece. The entire company services some 4,800 people per day, Hui said.
"We are granted this location because there is not enough [public transit] service to accommodate the elderly, the children," Hui said. "Obviously we also transfer regular individuals as well, but there's not enough service for them either. It’s not convenient."
Hui and the other van drivers want the city to put a sign on Elizabeth Street and Hester Street in the hopes that the signage will convince the NYPD officers that they can't keep issuing tickets there.
Hui came to the meeting armed with 21 letters of support from local businesses, per a request from DOT. The committee chair, Shirley Secunda, also read out a letter from Margaret Chin's office saying that on July 10, a DOT program manager said the agency had completed a survey and concluded in favor of the requested pickup/dropoff sign.
One committee member, Alex Meadows, asked why, if the service is approved by the DOT, they can't get DOT's help with the NYPD issue.
"That won't work," Hui insisted. "That doesn't help."
When Meadows asked why, Hui responded, "Because the NYPD does what they want to."
The NYPD's public information office did not immediately provide a response to an inquiry about the issue.