CB3 Panel Pushes Back Against Yep Lawsuit, Temporary Bus Permit

Passengers wait to board a bus run by Yep Tours on Pike Street, 2015.

Passengers wait to board a bus run by Yep Tours on Pike Street, 2015.

Community Board 3’s transportation committee last week approved a strongly worded resolution in response to a federal lawsuit by Yep Tours, Inc. against the City of New York. It urged the Department of Transportation to revoke a temporary permit awarded to Yep on Pike Street.

Yep filed the lawsuit Feb. 14 after city officials rejected its bus permit application. The legal move also followed the seizure of three Yep buses by the New York City Sheriff. The city’s finance department had obtained a judgment against the Massachusetts-based bus operator for unpaid fines. In the complaint, Yep called on U.S. District Judge John Koeltl to declare New York City’s intercity bus law unconstitutional. The company asked for $1 million in damages, claiming racial bias against the “minority-owned” company and discrimination against an out-of-state firm.

Court documents show that Judge Koeltl delayed a hearing on a preliminary injunction, and strongly encouraged the city to grant a six-month permit while the legal case proceeds. The approval did not sit well with members of the community, who have been battling Yep for several years.

Chad Marlow, chairperson of the transportation committee, noted that the community board was not named in the lawsuit, but argued that a response from CB3 was necessary. The board spent several years advocating for intercity bus regulation. State Sen. Daniel Squadron worked with CB3 to craft a bill that became law in 2012. For this reason, said Marlow, the lawsuit “casts aspersions on us,” and threatens a regulatory system the community board has championed.

[The community board has an advisory role to play in reviewing bus applications but the Department of Transportation has the sole authority for awarding permits.]

A Yeo bus was seized in January. Photo via NYC Sheriff Twitter feed. January 2017.

A Yeo bus was seized in January. Photo via NYC Sheriff Twitter feed. January 2017.

While Yep claims its applications have been dismissed in an “arbitrary” manner, the resolution states that the community board’s rejections were based on the bus company’s illegal operations without a permit, among other factors. “Yep’s… ongoing disregard for the law and local law enforcement,”  wrote the transportation committee, “was exemplified by the statement of its attorney, at CB3’s November 2015 meeting, that Yep Tours, Inc. would continue to unlawfully operate its buses if it was denied a permit by the New York City Department of Transportation.” 

In its lawsuit, Yep alleged that the city has violated the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution by showing a preference for in-state companies. But the CB3 resolution states that, “a majority of bus stop permits have been granted to lawfully operated companies that provide service between New York City and non-New York State locations.” 

The claim from Yep of discrimination against a minority-owned firm that serves largely Chinese passengers was called by the committee, “a baseless and irresponsible allegation of racism that intentionally fails to recognize that CB3 and the New York City Department of Transportation have supported and granted scores of designated bus stop permits to minority owned companies to operate in the same Chinatown neighborhood in which Yep Tours, Inc. was seeking its bus stop.” 

The resolution’s sharpest language was reserved for the agreement between Yep and the city’s law department for a temporary permit:

…The granting of the designated bus stop permit to Yep Tours, Inc. severely undermines the work of every governmental, community, and law enforcement collaborator on the intercity bus issue in our district… the granting of the designated bus stop permit to Yep Tours, Inc. undermines the efforts of law abiding intercity bus companies who play by the rules and are seeking to improve the reputation of their industry… CB 3 disapproves of the decision to agree to and cause a designated bus stop permit to be issued to Yep Tours, Inc., which inexplicably responded to Yep Tours, Inc.’s highly questionable lawsuit by granting the company a designated bus stop permit it had not previously held and was repeatedly denied. 

The resolution concluded:

CB3 rejects and condemns any allegations by Yep Tour, Inc., in its lawsuit against the City of New York, that assert the decision to deny Yep Tours, Inc. a designated bus stop permit was based upon racial bias, a bias against bus companies that operate outside the State of New York, insofar as (1) none of CB3’s rejections of Yep Bus Tour’s designated bus stop permit application were based upon race or a preference for in-state bus operators or operations, and (2) Yep Tours, Inc.’s record as a bus operator with little respect for the law or the community in which it wishes to operate provides more than adequate grounds for denying the company a designated bus stop permit, and… that CB 3 calls upon the Law Department and the Department of Transportation to revoke or not renew Yep Tours, Inc’s designated bus stop permit at its first opportunity to do so.

For several years, the SPaCE Block Association has been battling Yep and other illegal operators along Pike Street, East Broadway, Canal Street and Division Street. They cheered the city sheriff’s crackdown and were dismayed when Yep got its way, at least temporarily, by filing a federal lawsuit. During the meeting, SPaCE President Emma Culbert said, “It’s major green light to these guys (meaning all bus operators) that they can behave exactly how they want to behave. It’s an absolute slap in the face to the people who live in this area, who have investments in this area, who run businesses in this area.”

A couple of committee members, however, pushed to soften language in the original resolution explicitly criticizing the city’s law department. David Crane, a former committee chairperson said of the resolution, “it won’t make us friends” (within the city administration). Another member, Karen Blatt, said, “I feel that this resolution unfairly blames the law department.”

Marlow argued that it’s important to send a message to the judge that the local community is a “stakeholder” in the case, even if it’s not a defendant. While acknowledging the city’s concerns about being sued, Marlow said other factors need to be considered as well, otherwise, “it’s the people with the money and the ability to sue who end up getting their way.” Marlow also said, “City agencies, law enforcement agencies have been nothing but cooperative and generous partners” in helping to tame the Chinatown bus industry. The resolution, he argued, would make it clear to city officials that the community remains committed to supporting their enforcement efforts. 

A somewhat toned down resolution was approved by the committee. The full board will consider it later this month. You can read the full text below.