Five Killed in Pennsylvania Bus Crash; Operator Uses Lower East Side Curbside Location

Bus stop at 59 Canal St., The bus in this photo is operated by a different company with no apparent ties to the crash in Pennsylvania.

Bus stop at 59 Canal St., The bus in this photo is operated by a different company with no apparent ties to the crash in Pennsylvania.

A tour bus crashed early this morning on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, about 35 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, killing 5 people and sending 60 others to area hospitals. The company running the New York-Ohio discount service operates from a curbside location at 59 Canal St. (Allen Street) here on the Lower East Side, among other locations.

News helicopters showed images of the bus tipped over on the side of the road, along with two tractor-trailers, a FedEx truck and a passenger vehicle. Signage on the side of the bus reads, “Ohio Coach.” A reporter for The New York Times called the Canal Street location and was referred to another company, Z & D Tour, Inc. The owner, Chen Dan Yu, told The Times that Ohio Coach sold tickets for Z & D Tour. He said 56 passengers boarded the bus.

Z & D Tour is one of two operators authorized to use the intercity bus stop at 59 Canal St., although the City of New York’s permit database only lists one company at the address, Virginia Seagull Travel. According to federal records, Z & D Tour has not reported any crashes in the past two years.

The roadway was wet at the time of the crash, but officials said it’s too early to know exactly what caused the accident. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is sending a team to the crash site. As of early this afternoon, the names of those killed had not been released. All of those injured are expected to survive, although two were listed in critical condition.

Over the years, several Chinatown/Lower East Side-based bus carriers have been involved in fatal crashes. Some of those tragedies led to the enactment of a bus permit system in New York City, but the law has failed to tame the lightly regulated intercity bus network that stretches up and down the East Coast and beyond.

UPDATE 1/7/20 New details from the NTSB. Contrary to early reports, the bus originated in Queens and made stops in Manhattan and Hackensack, New Jersey before continuing on to Pennsylvania. The tickets were sold out of the Canal Street office.

The driver, 58-year-old Shuang Qing Feng, was thrown from the bus due to the collision and was among those killed. Federal investigators say the driver lost control of the bus and it struck a concrete median barrier,  The FedEx truck then hit the bus, as well an a UPS truck.

The Columbus Dispatch spoke with a passenger on board the bus, Lamar Brady, of Columbus, Ohio. Brady said it seemed to him the driver was traveling too fast as he moved to pass slower moving vehicles. Federal officials are still trying to determine if the bus was speeding.  The driver had a satisfactory rating and recently passed his national compliance review. The bus was inspected last month without any issues, but it was not equipped with seatbelts. “When you see accident after accident where a death or serious injury could’ve been prevented by a seat belt … it’s frustrating and it’s devastating,” said Jennifer Homendy of the NTSB.

Dru Carey, an attorney for Z and D Tour told KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh, “We want to extend our deepest condolences to the families involved in this accident. Our greatest priority is safety. Z and D has always had a good record on safety and we continue on that precedent.”

In addition to the bus driver, 9-year-old Jaremy Vazquez of Brooklyn and 35-year-old Dr. Eileen Zelis Aria of the Bronx were killed.  The other victims were Daniel Kepner, 53, and Dennis Kehler, 48, both UPS employees.

 

 

Schumer Demands Enforcement of Law Mandating Intercity Bus Safety Ratings

Passengers board a Yep Tour bus on Pike Street; Sept. 25, 2017.

Passengers board a Yep Tour bus on Pike Street; Sept. 25, 2017.

After a deadly intercity bus crash in Queens last month, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer is urging the federal government to fully implement a bus safety ratings system. As he explained in a recent letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation, a 2012 law requires bus carriers to post safety ratings on buses and at ticket counters. The law has never been enforced.

On Sept. 18, a driver who had been fired by the MTA, crashed a bus in Flushing, killing three people including himself. The operator, the Dahlia Group, has a checkered safety record. The company operates in violation of state law, without a permit, in Queens and on the Lower East Side.

Schumer, the Senate Democratic Leader, put out a statement yesterday:

On the heels of the terrible Dahlia crash and new information that shows there are other bad actors out on the streets, some worse than Dahlia, your gut reaction is to ask what more can be done to prevent these kinds of crashes and improve the culture of safety… But in this case, we have a law I passed in 2012 that can not only help solve this problem, but can better inform the public, too. That is why I am asking the federal Department of Transportation to hit the gas on a federal letter-grade system for private bus companies. The companies that spend money to ensure a culture of safety will rise to the top, and the bad actors who disregard the value of safety and human life will fail to survive unless they improve. We need a federal letter grade system for bus safety that mirrors the one we have for New York City restaurants because the public is in the dark on just who is violating the law and how dangerous their charter may be.

An article in the New York Times last week, singled out Yep Tour, Inc., another discount operator, which picks up passengers on Pike Street on the Lower East Side. “Yep has been hit with 210 safety violations in just the past two years,” reported the Times, “34 of them for unsafe driving, according to records from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.” The story noted that the city’s Department of Transportation issued a six-month permit for Yep, after the company filed a federal lawsuit. Community Board 3 was strongly opposed to granting a permit to Yep because it flouted state law for years, ignoring a requirement to obtain a permit.

In Schumer’s press release, he referred to, “a New York State Senate report released this past week showing that nearly half of the private bus charter companies in New York City had unsafe driving violations.” The report identified the 10 companies with the worst safety records. At least five of the firms operate on the Lower East Side/Chinatown.

STATE SENATE REPORT – TOP 10 WORST BUS COMPANIES (SAFETY)

  1. SAGBUS (Flushing): 4 unsafe driving violations
  2. Yep Tour, Inc. (Massachusetts): 34 unsafe driving violations*
  3. No. 1 Bus Tour (21 Allen St.): 9 unsafe driving violations*
  4. Safari Tour, Inc. (Brooklyn): 3 unsafe driving violations
  5. SOE Tour, Inc. (Massachusetts): 11 unsafe driving violations
  6. K Line Tours, LLC (Yonkers): 5 unsafe driving violations
  7. Dahlia Group (Flushing): 7 unsafe driving violations*
  8. Eastern Coach (Massachusetts): 15 unsafe driving violations*
  9. Victoria’s Transportation Co. (5 Division St.): 12 unsafe driving violations*
  10. Jet Tours USA (New Jersey): 4 unsafe driving violations

[*Known LES/Chinatown operators]

It should be noted that the State Senate report was issued by the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), a group that caucuses with Republicans in Albany. Republican opposition forced former Sen. Daniel Squadron and former Assembly member Sheldon Silver to water down their intercity bus regulation law enacted several years ago. Now the IDC is proposing increased fines against unsafe bus operators.

In his years in office, Squadron struggled to implement the law, which was meant to address both safety and quality of life issues caused by the unruly discount bus industry. Before resigning this past summer, he led a task force that worked with local law enforcement agencies to go after rogue bus operators. Now State Assembly member Yuh-Line Niou (Silver’s successor) tells us she prepared to reactivate the task force. In a statement. she said:

The recent intercity bus crash in Queens highlights the need to increase oversight over this industry. On the Lower East Side and Chinatown, we are far too familiar with intercity buses and the impact they can have on our neighborhoods. That is why I look forward to regrouping the intercity bus task force, whose purpose was to increase coordination among government agencies overseeing this industry. It is critical that we tackle the transit and parking challenges brought on by these buses, as well as the safety issues highlighted by the incident in Flushing. I look forward to working with Community Board 3, our local police precincts, the City Sheriff, DOT, DOF and other stakeholders as we look to improve enforcement and safety around intercity buses.

More to come…

Leader of Gun Smuggling Ring Sentenced; Chinatown Buses Used to Transport Weapons

Quincy Adams.

Quincy Adams.

One of the leaders of an illegal gun running operation that used Chinatown buses to transport weapons from southern states has been sentenced to 25 years in prison.

A judge in Brooklyn slapped Quincy Adams with the stiff sentence on Friday after a month-long trial. He was charged with four counts of “criminal sale of a firearm.” Back in 2014, eight people were arrested and more than 70 guns seized as a result of “Operation Midnight Run,” a joint investigation by the New York State Attorney General and the NYPD. Authorities said those arrested purchased weapons at gun shows in Florida and stashed them aboard discount bus carriers bound for Manhattan’s Chinatown.

In a statement, Attorney general Eric Schneiderman said, “Gun trafficking rings drive the gun violence epidemic that is destroying lives in New York and across the country… Even as we work to make our own communities safer, our efforts are undermined by illegal guns that pour in from other states with weak laws. If you traffic deadly, illegal weapons into New York, we will catch you – and prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law.”

Five other defendants pleased guilty to various gun charges. Their sentences ranged from just over a year to 15 years.

Brooklyn DA Busts Alleged Gun Ring That Used Chinatown Buses

Chinatown Bus Operator, Yep Tours, Under Fire After Deadly Hit-and-Run in Philadelphia

Putting 311 to the Test: What Really Happens When You Try to Complain About an Illegal Bus?

More Intercity Bus Stop Applications Coming Up in June

Department of Transportation Approves Intercity Bus Permits

In recent weeks, the Department of Transportation has signed off on a number of new intercity bus stops in Chinatown and on the Lower East Side.

Followup: New Lower East Side Bus Stop Applications

Here’s some more information about those proposed interstate bus stop applications we mentioned yesterday.

Chinatown Bus Business: Is There a Saturation Point?

We have more now on the continuing struggle to control the interstate bus business in Chinatown and on the Lower East Side.

Interstate Bus Stops Proposed at 160 East Broadway, 59 Canal

Four more bus permits will be considered by Community Board 3 in the coming month.

CB3 Rejects Chinatown Bus Permit Applications

Community Board 3 last night rejected three requests from interstate bus companies to add or expand bus stops in Chinatown and the Lower East Side.

Yo! Bus, Four Other Bus Stop Proposals Weighed by CB3 September 10

If you’re concerned about the proliferation of “Chinatown buses,” it might not be a bad idea to drop by Community Board 3’s transportation committee meeting Tuesday, September 10.  That evening, the panel will hear proposals to add a new bus stop or expand service at five locations throughout the neighborhood.

In Defense of Fung Wah Bus Company

From The Lo-Down‘s inbox today: Reason magazine has published an interesting read on the demise of Chinatown bus company Fung Wah, which was shut down by federal regulators earlier this year.

CB3 Expresses Concerns About Proposed Bus Permit Rules

Yo! Bus was granted a permit for a stop on Pike Street. Photo: March 2013.

Yo! Bus was granted a permit for a stop on Pike Street. Photo: March 2013.

The NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) held a public hearing yesterday regarding its proposed rules for a new interstate bus permit system.  It’s been nearly a year since a state law authorizing the system was enacted.   Last month, the DOT issued the proposed rules bus companies will be required to obey.

In brief, they spell out the process to be followed anytime an interstate bus carrier wishes to apply for a permit.   The companies would not be allowed to drop off and pick up passengers in any unapproved location (that, of course, happens all the time now).   If they failed to adhere to the rules or if, for example, a driver is involved in a fatal accident, the permit could be revoked.  The law requires the city to “Consult” with local community boards about the locations of new stops and restrictions on the permits.