CHINATOWN — The New York City sheriff on Jan. 11 seized two buses operated by a scofflaw bus company that racked about $300,000 in parking and illegal loading and unloading fines — an aggressive action community leaders hope set a precedent for handling illegal bus activity in the future.
Neighbors cheered the seizures of buses from YEP Tour Inc., which was well known for skirting local laws.
"If the regulations and laws are being enforced on [bus companies] in a meaningful way and they are being punished in a meaningful way, then that is going to change the culture of busing in Chinatown, to make it essentially a culture that is safer for our neighbors and better for our businesses," said Community Board 3 Chairman Jamie Rogers of the enforcement.
YEP was forced to cough up a total of $15,000 on the spot — $11,000 in fines plus administration fees — in order to reclaim the buses when they were seized at the corner of East Broadway and Pike Street, according to State Sen. Daniel Squadron's office, which confirmed the company still owes roughly $300,000 in unpaid fines.
That intersection is often the site of unsanctioned parking, loading and unloading by the bus company, according to local advocates, who launched a petition last November asking the Department of Transportation to deny YEP a permit to operate in the area due to the operator's bad behavior.
The department is still reviewing YEP's application for a permit, according to DOT representatives.
Community Board 3 in November penned a resolution opposing the permit, which would allow YEP to legally load and unload at the intersection, noting the company had stubbornly continued to operate there despite lacking the authorization and despite accruing roughly $300,000 in unpaid summonses.
The board also maintained that allowing the bus company to operate at the intersection would harm locals' quality of life, safety and traffic in the surrounding streets.
The seizures were the first enforcement of a law penned and co-sponsored by Squadron in 2012 aimed at cracking down on buses blocking intersections.
The Intercity Bus law mandated that bus companies apply for permits to use designated bus stops with community input. It also requires companies to disclose information such as scheduling, the number of buses in the fleet, and the number of passengers each bus can hold.
But YEP had continued to disregard the law, pulling in and out of its makeshift Pike Street bus stop and clogging up already-congested Chinatown streets, according to advocates and the community board, and locals hope the recent enforcement puts an end to the illegal operations.
"We hope that the seizure of two YEP commuter buses by the NYC Sheriff's Office sends a strong message to all bus operators who continue to flaunt existing regulations," said resident leader Trever Holland of the Two Bridges Tower Resident Association in a statement.
According to Squadron's office, YEP promptly paid the necessary fines and the buses have been returned. The company is still not able to operate legally, however, as the DOT continues to review its permit application.
Though the community board and neighborhood groups have vehemently opposed the DOT granting YEP's permit, one community member argued the department should issue the permit so the company can operate within legal perimeters — but only if the operator shows some willingness to reform.
"If they abide by the rules, I would rather them get a bus stop than play a cat and mouse game with the enforcement agencies," said community board member and Chinatown resident Karlin Chan, noting the buses could potentially cause accidents by frantically trying to drive away from an illegal bus stop. "It may cause more problems if they play a cat and mouse game."
Chan also added he was relieved to see aggressive action taken against the company, which has been a nuisance for Chinatown residents.
"This is a great example for other companies that they can't skirt us," he said. "It sends a signal that we're serious about enforcement."
YEP could not immediately be reached for comment.