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City Targets Chinatown Buses but Leaves Hamptons Buses Alone: Lawsuit

By Allegra Hobbs | March 31, 2017 4:55pm | Updated on April 3, 2017 8:33am
 The sheriff seized three buses operated by YEP Tour Inc. on Thursday.
The sheriff seized three buses operated by YEP Tour Inc. on Thursday.
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Courtesy of NYC Department of Finance

CHINATOWN — The city’s transportation department has been discriminating against Chinatown bus operator Yep Tour, Inc. — denying its repeated requests for a bus stop permit for its millions of "minority" riders each year, while allowing dozens of permits for bus companies that serve riders going to the Hamptons, the company claims in a federal lawsuit.

The controversial carrier — which recently had several buses confiscated over fines for operating illegally at Pike Street and East Broadway — claims in its lawsuit that the city's Department of Transportation denied its permit because it operates out of Chinatown and largely serves minorities.

"Defendants have arbitrarily and purposely denied plaintiff a bus stop on the basis that plaintiff operates from a minority neighborhood and more than 80% of plaintiff’s clientele are minorities," reads the lawsuit filed against the City of New York, the Department of Finance, the Department of Transportation and Sheriff Joseph Fucito, who has been enforcing the law. 

News of the lawsuit and the temporary permit were first reported by The Lo-Down.

Since the 2013 intercity bus law made it illegal for buses to park, load or unload without a permit, Yep has applied for bus stop locations in Chinatown, according to the lawsuit and accompanying emails between Department of Transportation and Yep representatives. 

But each time, the city refused, stating the desired locations were already in use and couldn’t handle more traffic, according to the emails. 

The company — which describes itself as a "minority run" business that serves more than a million riders a year — continued to operate, prompting the city sheriff to confiscate several buses and the city to slap them with hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines. 

"Defendant continues to profit from the numerous fines levied against plaintiff, in excess of $500,000, for non-compliance with the very ‘bus stop’ law for which it has continuously denied plaintiff’s applications,” reads the complaint.

Yep has one approved bus stop in Bay Ridge at 6010 Eighth Ave., according to the DOT’s list of approved intercity bus stops. Its bids for stops in Manhattan have been repeatedly denied.

By comparison, the Hampton Jitney has more than 40 bus stop locations throughout the boroughs, Yep wrote in its lawsuit.

The local community board, which had penned a resolution asking the transportation department to deny Yep a permit for a bus stop, and State Senator Daniel Squadron, who penned the intercity bus law in 2013, cheered the beginning of a newly aggressive crackdown on the company in January, when the sheriff seized two two of its buses in connection to roughly $300,000 accrued in fines. 

Another bus was seized weeks later, and three more were seized in February

The buses had been operating at the corner of East Broadway and Pike Street, where the company had most recently applied for a bus stop but was issued a denial by the transportation department.

It had previously applied for permits at a number of other neighborhood locations on East Broadway Pike Street, and Allen Street going back to August 2014, and had been denied each time. 

In the wake of the lawsuit, which demands $1 million in damages, the city has announced it may allow a temporary six-month permit for Yep Tour Inc.'s buses to operate at Pike Street and East Broadway as part of a settlement agreement.

The parties have also worked out a payment plan through which the carrier will regain a bus still being held, the rep said. 

Attorneys for the bus company declined to comment on the case.

The attorney representing the Department of Finance, the Department of Transportation and Sheriff Joseph Fucito did not respond to a request for comment, A city law department spokesman said that the parties are continuing settlement discussions. 

Community Board 3 Chairman Jamie Rogers said the board was "disappointed" by news that the city had approved a temporary bus permit and plans to discuss it at an upcoming transportation committee meeting. CB3 previously blasted the bus company for creating unsafe conditions by blocking traffic.

Karlin Chan, who lives in the neighborhood and had argued on behalf of giving Yep a permit so they could act legally, said it's better to let Yep operate within the law rather than continually denying it a method of legal operation.

"It's better to have them with a bus stop permit, a legal stop so they have stipulations," Chan said. "It's the lesser of two evils, basically. It’s safer for the pedestrians, instead of playing the cat and mouse game."