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.
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.
Yep Tours loads passengers on Pike Street, July 2015.
As we first reported this past Wednesday, a Chinatown/Lower East Side bus operator called Yep Tours is taking the City of New York to court. In a federal lawsuit filed Feb. 14, the Massachusetts-based firm alleges that the city administration is violating its constitutional rights. Today we have more details from the suit, which could have major implications for New York’s intercity bus law.
According to the complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York, Yep Tours is seeking $1 million in damages from the city. Defendants named in the suit are the Department of Transportation, the Department of Finance and NYC Sheriff Joseph Fucito.
Yep’s lawyers cite the equal protection and due process clauses of the 14th Amendment and the interstate commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution.
They describe the company as, “a minority owned business that brings over a million people into the city each year” and that, “has a tremendous impact on the New York City economy.” Since 2013, when Yep was incorporated, the suit notes, its owners have, “applied numerous (more than 40) times for numerous bus stops and has been denied each time with nothing more than an arbitrary reason of ‘inconvenience.’”
Photo via NYC Sheriff Twitter feed. January 2017.
As previously reported, the city sheriff confiscated several Yep buses, citing the company’s failure to pay thousands of dollars in fines for operating without a permit. As described in the complaint, two buses were seized “on or about Jan. 17.” On Jan. 31, the city obtained a judgment against Yep for $127,000 and made plans to sell the buses at auction Feb. 16. “As of the date of this complaint,” the lawyers wrote, “(the) plaintiff YEP Tour(s) cannot operate in New York City as there are tow orders issued by defendants against all of their buses.”
In 2012, the governor signed legislation authorizing the city to set up a permit system which required intercity operators to load and unload passengers only from approved locations. The law was championed by State Sen. Daniel Squadron and former Assemblyman Sheldon Silver, after years of complaints from residents about the unregulated Chinatown bus industry.
Yep is now arguing that the local legislation, or at least the way it has been implemented, conflicts with the company’s rights under federal law:
The Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution prohibits states from enacting legislation that protects its own citizens from competition from citizens of other states, that regulates conduct wholly outside of the state’s borders, or that places an undue burden on interstate commerce… The New York City ‘Bus Stop’ Permit System for the Intercity Bus Industry as implemented by defendants… violates the Commerce Clause because they are protectionist measures intended to benefit New York based transportation companies at the expense of YEP TOURS.
The lawsuit alleges that the city has discriminated against Yep because it, “operates from a minority neighborhood and more than 80% of (its) clientele are minorities.” As evidence, the company says the city has awarded more than 40 permits to Hampton Jitney and to “7 Bus,” describing these operators as, “companies that only transport passengers to-and-from New York City to the Hamptons.” Yep alleges that DOT is, “unfairly selective as to which companies are receiving bus stop permits.”
The lawyers are asking the court to, “declare the New York City ‘Bus Stop’ Permit System… invalid.”
The city’s law department did not respond to a request for comment about the Yep lawsuit. As we reported last week, DOT has granted Yep a six-month permit on the west side of Pike Street, apparently as a result of the federal lawsuit. It was a reversal of a February decision to reject the application.
In a resolution approved this past November, Community Board 3 urged the city to deny the Yep permit. The resolution cited more than two years by the company of operating “contrary to New York City regulations.” It noted that Yep had failed to pay many thousands of dollars in fines and stated that, “its actions have demonstrated that they view enforcement actions by the NYPD… as a ‘cost of doing business,’ and that the company has a complete disregard for the concerns of the Police Department and its adverse impact on the community in which it operates.”
According to the most recent city listings, there are 17 approved bus stop permits on the Lower East Side and in Chinatown. Local elected officials have always acknowledged the importance of the intercity bus industry to the economy of Chinatown. Squadron and the community board, however, have pressed for aggressive enforcement from the NYPD because, “bus companies (were) thumbing their noses at the rules established by the DOT.”
This coming Wednesday night at 6:45 p.m., CB3’s transportation committee will discuss how it deals with applicants for bus stops that have an “accumulation of violations.”
Pike Street at East Broadway.
There’s a new development in the long, strange battle between Yep Tours, a Chinatown bus operator, and the Lower East Side community.
At last night’s meeting of Community Board 3, District Manager Susan Stetzer reported that the city’s Department of Transportation (DOT) has reversed course, granting Yep Tours, Inc. a six-month permit for a bus stop on the west side of Pike Street, at East Broadway. Back in February, DOT rejected the company’s application.
Yep Tours has been operating illegally from the area for many months, in violation of a state law requiring intercity bus operators to load and unload passengers only from permitted locations. In November of last year, CB3 voted to oppose the permit, writing in a resolution that, “the company has a complete disregard for the concerns of the Police Department and its adverse impact on the community in which it operates.”
Photo via NYC Sheriff Twitter feed. January 2017.
The NYC Sheriff seized several Yep buses earlier this year when the company failed to pay thousands of dollars in fines. State Sen. Daniel Squadron, who sponsored the 2012 legislation implementing the permit system, has pressed law enforcement agencies to crack down on illegal operators.
At last night’s meeting, Stetzer said DOT has decided to approve Yep for a six-month permit, under which time the company’s operations would be evaluated. We contacted the agency last night for further information. A spokesperson referred us to the city’s Law Department (this story will be updated if/when city lawyers reply).
Several weeks ago, an attorney representing Yep Tours spoke by telephone with CB3’s Stetzer and Senator Squadron, expressing dismay that the permit had not been approved. Stetzer explained that, in voting against the application, the community board followed a longstanding policy of wittholding support from applicants with, “an adverse history” in the community.
This morning a spokesperson for Senator Squadron indicated that he has “serious concerns” about the decision allowing Yep to operate on Pike Street. His staff is gathering information and studying the situation before responding fully.
The SPaCE Block Association has spent months battling against Yep. This morning, the organization’s president, Emma Culbert, said:
The DOT’s granting of an intercity bus permit to an egregious operator who has been doing business illegally on the Lower East Side for three years is atrocious. The DOT has set the bar very low for how intercity buses can behave. It is clear that the quality of life and safety of the residents and other business owners in our community are of no concern to the DOT. The intercity bus industry is a highly unregulated yet major transportation industry, which is rife with gun running and counterfeit goods transportation. Further, despite claims to the contrary, traffic enforcement has been non existent as it relates to intercity bus permits in the last few months. One can only wonder who is getting paid off. DOT’s allegiance is obviously not to the residents of this city. Shame on the Department of Transportation.
We have contacted Yep Tours for its perspective on these latest developments but have not received a reply as of yet. Community Board 3’s transportation committee is planning to take a new look at the Pike Street license next month.
UPDATE 4:19 p.m. We have confirmed that Yep last month filed a lawsuit in federal court against DOT, the NYC Sheriff and the Department of Finance. Documents filed with the court show that the parties negotiated a settlement for a temporary bus stop. An attorney for Yep declined to speak about the case.
Click here for more details about the lawsuit.
Forsyth Street at East Broadway, Feb. 2. Photo by bialystoker_les.
New York City law enforcement authorities have been cracking down on Yep Tours, an intercity bus company operating illegally from the eastern end of Chinatown. Now the city’s Department of Transportation has delivered another blow to the Massachusetts-based carrier.
Once again last night, the NYC Sheriff was on the scene in the area near the Manhattan Bridge. In recent weeks, the cops have seized at least a half-dozen buses because Yep has failed to pay hundreds-of-thousands of dollars in fines for loading passengers without a permit.
Now Community Board 3 District Manager Susan Stetzer tells us the DOT has rejected an application for a permit at 2 Pike St. A DOT spokesperson confirms the denial.
During the fall, CB3 passed a strongly worded resolution opposing the application. The board, and members of the SPaCE Block Association, argued that the company should not be rewarded for violating city regulations.
A 2012 state law, pushed by State Sen. Daniel Squadron, set up a permit system for intercity buses, requiring operators to obtain permits and to load in designated areas. Enforcement has been a struggle, but authorities now appear to be making some headway.
Pike Street at East Broadway, Wednesday evening.
Earlier this week, city officials finally succeeded in putting some teeth in the state’s intercity bus law. This was the scene on Pike Street Wednesday evening. The city sheriff seized two buses operated by Yep Tours, a company that has been operating illegally from this area for a few years.
According to State Sen. Daniel Squadron, the seizure occurred because Yep had failed to pay $11,000 in fines. Squadron pushed through legislation in 2012 allowing New York City to regulate intercity buses (bus operators must apply for permits and only load passengers in approved locations). Even though police have gone on a ticket-writing frenzy, Yep has refused to pay. Since the company is based in Massachusetts, New York City and state officials have been somewhat limited in their ability to crack down on the rogue company.
It was quite a scene on Pike Street, we’re told. Yep actually owed $15,000 ($11,000 in fines and $4,000 in administrative fees). As the sheriff was seizing the buses, Yep employees came up with the entire amount in cash. The buses were then placed back in circulation.
In an interview this afternoon, Sen. Squadron said a “working group” has been meeting for several months to fix the enforcement issues with the bus law. Participants have included representatives from Community Board 3, the NYPD (including the 5th and 7th Precincts) and the city’s Department of Transportation. He praised the precincts for working diligently to ticket bus operators breaking the law.
Squadron called the enforcement action the “tip of the iceberg,” which will send a strong message to other bus operators that they must follow the rules. “There is a new sheriff in town,” said Squadron, “and it’s the same New York City Sheriff doing great work.” [He couldn’t help himself.] “It’s proof that a good law needs good enforcement.”
In October, Yep applied for a permit to operate from from the median on the west side of Pike Street, near East Broadway. The community board opposed the application, citing the company’s long history operating illegally on the Lower East Side. Today a spokesperson for the city’s Department of Transportation said the application is still under review.
The SPaCE Block Association has been instrumental in lobbying against a permit for Yep Tours. In an online petition, the group argued that approval of the application, “would make an unambiguous announcement to all other non-permitted intercity bus companies that if they create a massive presence, have zero regard for the highly residential community they operate within, while not paying their fines, then eventually, they too will get a permit.”
We have contacted Yep Tours and will update this story if the company responds.
A bus operated by Yep Tours illegally loads passengers on Pike Street this week.
It will soon be up to the city’s Department of Transportation to decide whether Yep Tours’ will get its way on the Lower East Side.
We’ve been telling you about this Massachusetts-based intercity bus operator for a few years now. The company illegally uses spaces on both sides of Pike Street at East Broadway to load and unload passengers. Earlier this week, Yep went before Community Board 3’s transportation committee, which rejected an application for a permit on the west side of Pike Street. The full board is expected to back the committee’s decision this coming Tuesday evening.
We reached out to State Sen. Daniel Squadron, who pushed through legislation a few years ago meant to regulate the Chinatown bus industry. Here’s what he had to say:
Unfortunately, after thumbing its nose at the community for years, ‘Yep Tours’ showed up with a presentation that was long on obfuscation, and short on commitments to protect the community. ‘Yep’ is another example of the need for stronger enforcement of my law that mandates permits for intercity buses, passed in 2012, with the support of CB3, the City, and colleagues. That’s why I formed a working group with CB3, the NYPD including the 5th and 7th Precincts, the Department of Finance and Sheriff’s Office, and Department of Transportation to solve enforcement issues. I thank the agencies for their ongoing commitment.
The draft resolution to be considered by CB3 next week notes that Yep was denied for a license last year, “for reasons including but not limited to operating contrary to New York City regulations for at least two years.” It also states that Yep has collected $300,000 in fines, which it has not paid. The resolution adds, “The Fifth Precinct has communicated to CB3 that it is concerned the authorization of the Pike Street stop for Yep Tours, Inc. would create additional issues for the community’s quality of life.”
The SPaCE Block Association has been campaigning against Yep Tours. More than 200 people have signed a petition urging the denial of a bus permit on Pike Street.
The community board will issue a recommendation next week. It is up to the NYC Transportation Department to approve or deny the permit.
A Yep bus operating illegally on Pike Street, July 2015.
Community organizers have started an online petition in their campaign to stop Yep Tours, a Chinatown bus operator, from obtaining a permit at 2 Pike St.
The company is scheduled to go before Community Board 3 later this month to request the permit for a space previously used by Yo! Bus, which ended its service in December of 2015. Yep Tours operates illegally from the location now (using it as a layover spot), as well as from a stretch of Pike on the west side of the street. Last summer, the city denied a Yep bus permit on Madison Street after the community board voted against it.
More from the petition started by the SPaCE Block Association:
We call upon Manhattan Community Board 3 and the New York City Department of Transportation to deny the intercity bus company, YEP Tour Inc., an intercity bus permit to operate at 2 Pike St. To date, YEP Tour Inc. has operated egregiously, while flagrantly disregarding the law. Daily for the last 2 years, they have simultaneously operated 5 buses, illegally picking up and dropping off passengers and illegally parking in and around the intersection of Pike Street and East Broadway in Manhattan. YEP Tour Inc. has been fined thousands of dollars which they have not paid. They have regularly created a major commotion and nuisance for both local residents, business owners, and transient citizens. Approval of an Intercity Bus Permit for YEP Tour Inc. would make it very clear that the DOT and our elected politicians do not represent the people for whom they have been hired and elected to serve. Further, it would make an unambiguous announcement to all other non-permitted intercity bus companies that if they create a massive presence, have zero regard for the highly residential community they operate within, while not paying their fines, then eventually, they too will get a permit. Our community continues to bear the burden of a grossly unregulated transportation industry.
You can add your name to the petition here. The application will be considered Thursday, Oct. 20, 6:30 p.m., at Downtown Art, 70 East 4th St.
Still image: NBC 10/Philadelphia.
More trouble for Focus Travel/Yep Tours. The Chinatown bus company faces new questions this morning after a driver was arrested for suspected DUI in Pennsylvania.
On Saturday evening, the bus was traveling from Philadelphia to Manhattan’s Chinatown on I-95. According to Philadelphia television station WCAU, passengers forced the driver to pull over for driving erratically. More from the story:
Pennsylvania State Police and Lower Makefield Police both responded and the driver was taken into custody, police said. DUI charges are pending against the 37-year-old driver, state police said. Jeremy Walker, the bus company’s owner, tells NBC10 the driver has been fired, but would not provide additional comment… Police said they gave the passengers rides off the highway. Focus Travel and related company Yep Tours have had troubles with drivers in the past. Last August, a bus was involved in a hit-and-run near Philadelphia Police headquarters. The driver continued on a trip to Washington, D.C. and said he didn’t know he hit anyone. Earlier that summer, a driver was fired after passengers recorded him texting while driving.
Here’s part of an account of the harrowing ride from a passenger. She posted it on Yelp
Took a bus tonight following the Roots concert which was also almost my last day of life… The driver was lost clearly, almost killed some pedestrians and turned an exit corner at 60+ mph w/ a full tilt on the bus. The police was called everyone got off the bus, driver taken away in cuffs for suspected DUI and us….Stranded. Thank God for the police officers who stayed w/ us in west bum PA. Half group take to an a booked hotel, the other half of us did what New Yorkers do. Call a car service. Never again.