As N.Y.C. targets migrant busing, local bus companies allege harassment

Police are improperly stopping and searching commuter buses, companies say

By: - October 13, 2022 7:06 am

Michelle Petelicki, majority owner of Panorama Tours, says bus companies have been unfairly stopped and ticketed by New York City police amid a state of emergency Mayor Eric Adams declared Friday because of southern states sending busloads of migrants to New York City. (Photo courtesy of Panorama Tours)

Local bus companies say they have been caught up in a New York City police crackdown on buses full of migrants that southern states have sent to Manhattan, prompting some to warn they’ll suspend service to the city if the ticket blitz continues.

Peter J. Pantuso, president and CEO of the American Bus Association, sent New York City Mayor Eric Adams a letter Tuesday, urging him to end the city’s “unjustified enforcement activities.”

“We are now hearing daily from our operators of unwarranted inspections to the point of harassment,” Pantuso wrote. “This initiative appears to be unfairly singling out the bus/motorcoach industry, putting this key mode of transportation at a competitive disadvantage to other modes of transport and embroiling it in a political firestorm.”

Texas and other southern states have sent so many busloads of Latin American asylum seekers to New York City in recent months that Adams declared a state of emergency last Friday. Officials estimated more than 17,000 migrants have arrived in New York City since April, an unprecedented influx they warn could cost the city more than $1 billion this year for emergency sheltering and resettlement.

Seventeen migrant buses arrived in the city last Thursday and Friday alone, Adams said.

A ‘crisis’

“This is a crisis,” the mayor said last week. “They should stop sending buses to New York. New York cannot accommodate the number of buses that we have coming here to our city.”

While Adams repeated Friday that officials are considering legal action to stop the surge, New York City police officers started stopping migrant buses from Texas at the Port Authority bus station near Times Square for exhaustive inspections — and lots of citations.

Michelle Petelicki told the New Jersey Monitor Wednesday that officers aren’t picky about which buses they stop.

Her company, Panorama Tours Inc., caters to commuters and runs about two or three buses into the city a day from North Jersey. Police slapped her drivers with four citations that will require her to appear in court.

“Our buses, when they’re en route to go someplace, can’t get there on time because they’re being stopped for these sometimes hour-plus, fine-tooth-comb inspections, with every single minor violation accompanied with a criminal court appearance ticket,” Petelicki said.

One driver was cited for not wearing his glasses, even though he uses glasses for reading, not driving, she said.

Another driver who works for West Point Tours Inc. received a ticket for excessive exhaust — “and something. I can’t read the rest of it because it’s so poorly written,” said Robert Brisman, the New York-based company’s president.

“We don’t know what the offense is. We don’t know what the citation fines are. It’s not clear,” Brisman said. “We’re an hour and a half out of New York City. This could be an extreme expense when you add in the time to go to court and be possibly represented properly by an attorney.”

Boycott imminent?

Brisman said his 29-year-old company, which typically runs about 10 buses of students, civic groups, seniors, and other New Yorkers into the city daily, won’t schedule any more city trips until the crackdown ends.

“We have a great safety record, and I’ve never been written up on a roadside inspection for excessive exhaust,” he added.

We are now hearing daily from our operators of unwarranted inspections to the point of harassment.

– Peter J. Pantuso, American Bus Association

Petelicki is weighing whether to suspend city service too.

“This is really going to deter us from wanting to do business in Manhattan at all,” she said.

Pantuso said his association, which represents more than 800 bus and motorcoach operators, fully supports measures to ensure passenger safety.

But buses already undergo regular, rigorous inspections, he said. And the New York City officers participating in the ongoing crackdown have flouted federal regulations that require there to be an obvious safety hazard to justify inspections outside bus stations, terminals, and maintenance facilities, or any planned stops, Pantuso said.

“Based on the citations being issued, safety does not appear to be the paramount concern,” he wrote.

The United Motorcoach Association issued an alert Tuesday about the crackdown, saying police are targeting charter operators beyond those with Texas plates. The association warned drivers to allow extra time for police stops and budget “for the inevitable citations” and said it is working with the Greater New Jersey Motorcoach Association to “seek a halt” to such stops.

A spokesman for Adams’ office declined to address questions Wednesday about whether the mayor will end or fine-tune the crackdown to avoid ensnaring local bus companies. The city police department didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Bad timing

The bus brouhaha comes as the industry, already hard hit by the pandemic, grapples with employee shortages, high fuel prices, and inflation, Pantuso said.

It also comes as officials on both sides of the state line are engaging in a contentious debate about how to reduce congestion into and around the city, where traffic gets so bad the city has “gridlock alert days.” Proposals have ranged from congestion pricing to widening the turnpike to bridge replacements — with expanding public transit one of the few things everyone agrees on.

On any given day, buses carry thousands of commuters, tourists, residents, and others into and around the city. The Port Authority Terminal, where the recent crackdown is centered, is the busiest bus terminal in the world, with about 8,000 bus trips and 225,000 passengers a day.

Joe Colangelo is founder and CEO of Boxcar, a Cranford-based company that helps commuters reserve public transit seats and parking spots. He worries his business will suffer if his transit partners, which include Panorama Tours, suspend service to the city.

The bus crackdown is “too broad and sweeping and needs to be amended,” he agreed.

“The last thing the mayor wants is for people who are trying to come back to work in midtown Manhattan to decide to work from home,” Colangelo said.

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Dana DiFilippo
Dana DiFilippo

Dana DiFilippo comes to the New Jersey Monitor from WHYY, Philadelphia’s NPR station, and the Philadelphia Daily News, a paper known for exposing corruption and holding public officials accountable. Prior to that, she worked at newspapers in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and suburban Philadelphia and has freelanced for various local and national magazines, newspapers and websites. She lives in Central Jersey with her husband, a photojournalist, and their two children.

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