State seizes six buses during inspections Monday


In an effort to enforce safety standards in New York’s growing industry of private intercity buses, state officials Monday stopped 26 buses, mostly in Chinatown, handing out 117 tickets and taking six off of the road completely.

After a brief early-morning stakeout in the Financial District, the New York State Department of Transportation officers set up an inspection checkpoint at Pitt and South Sts. during the busiest parts of the day, according to Adam Levine, a D.O.T. spokesperson. The Chinatown intersection is one of the city’s most heavily frequented by the inexpensive, curbside-pickup buses. Cordoning off four lanes of Pitt St., inspectors checked driver’s paperwork, then searched each bus’s equipment to make sure safety standards were met.

“I was on the road, getting ready to leave today, a little after 9 a.m., when they stopped me,” bus driver and owner, Lin, said in Mandarin Chinese. “It’s almost two o’clock now and I’m still waiting here. This makes business very difficult.”

Levine did not release any details of the violations or say which companies had buses seized. The fines can climb as high as $5,000 apiece.

When officials deemed a bus no longer legally allowed on the road, the bus company was given the choice to either call a mechanic to fix the bus’s malady on site, or to call a tow truck, which would take the bus to a repair shop.

Ten of the buses’ drivers were also cited for unsatisfactory paperwork, which could include expired drivers licenses or missing driving logs, which keep track of a driver’s hours to ensure he does not go over the legal limit of driving hours per day.

Once cited, these drivers were taken “out of service,” meaning that they are legally barred from driving until their court date. As the 10 cited drivers were no longer able to operate their buses, their companies were contacted and given the options of sending another, certified driver or a tow truck to remove the bus.

Over the years, Chinatown buses have generated complaints and concerns among residents and community leaders. The accusations include lax safety standards, clogging of main thoroughfares, and even violent fights between rival drivers.

Because the D.O.T. inspection checkpoints are intended to take drivers by surprise, there is no set schedule for them. But Lin said that there is a faint degree of regularity to the inspections.

“It happens, very roughly, about once a month. They don’t tell us they are inspecting our buses — they just seize them,” Lin said. “This makes me very nervous every time.”

— James S. Woodman