Volume 18, Number 37 | Jan. 27 - Feb. 2, 2006

Downtown Express photos by John Ranard
Jack Hollander inspects his ticket from Chinatown to Washington D.C. after his driver ran away from police.
A bus ticket seller delivers bad news to passengers.
Day of confusion for Chinatown bus riders

By Paul Cherashore

Police officer Johnson Lu of the Fifth Precinct sat astride his bicycle late last Friday morning, balancing between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Earlier that day the N.Y.P.D. had completed a surprise inspection of Chinatown express buses. Operations of two companies, Apex Bus and New Century Travel, were temporarily halted, stranding passengers. The job of crowd control at Forsyth St. and Broadway fell to Lu.

Passengers were left completely befuddled as officers removed them from one bus and stopped the boarding of another. At least four buses were seized. The driver of a fifth bus ran away before police could inspect it, leaving his bus behind. It was towed from Forsyth St. shortly before 2 p.m.

“The buses were removed from service for a variety of licensing and safety violations, “ said Fifth Precinct commanding officer, Deputy Inspector Michael Lau. Officer Lu pointed down at puddles that had accumulated in the street, where the buses had been parked. He noted that they appeared to be anti-freeze and brake fluid. “Would you want to ride on one of those?” Lu asked. He added that a more thorough inspection could only be done at an N.Y.P.D. garage.

The Saturday edition of the World Journal, a Chinese language daily, reported that inspections were conducted by officers assigned to the Motor Carrier Safety Unit and the 5th precinct. It said that over 50 summonses were given to 15 buses, owned by a number of companies. The buses were seized from a variety of locations throughout Chinatown between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Passengers were left to speculate about their predicament. No announcements were made by the bus company representatives. Police officers directed inquiries to the ticket sellers operating from stalls on East Broadway, underneath the Manhattan Bridge.

Jack Hollander, an 86-year-old neighborhood resident and self-described regular on the Washington D.C.-N.Y.C. run, attempted to get a refund for his Apex ticket and was rebuffed. “How am I going to get to Washington?” he asked. An annoyed young woman with the company replied in a combination of broken English and mime: “Buy another ticket, on New Century!” she yelled. Hollander walked away. He came back later and got on a bus.

“The police didn’t tell us anything when they made us get off the buses.” Twenty-six-year-old Ben Shanaberger took it all in stride as he pulled a 20 from a thick wad of bills and calmly bought a new ticket to Washington, on the still-operating New Century line.

Myrna Bailey managed to retain a sense of humor. The 65-year-old Jamaican was returning to D.C. after a visit with her daughter. With a sly smile, she said what was on many passengers minds, “No one knows a thing here, or so they say.”

By 1 p.m., a boisterous group of waiting passengers had gathered on Forsyth St. Officer Lu was the sole remaining uniformed N.Y.P.D. representative assigned to defuse potential tensions before they turned violent. He described the day’s mission: “I’m here to make sure no one gets bopped across the side of the head.”

People from all over the city flock to the buses. Tickets are $10 to Philadelphia, $15 to Boston and $20 to Washington D.C. Multicultural, young and old, well-dressed and not, the people in the crowd Friday were a microcosm of New York. They had all come together in the eternal N.Y.C. quest: the search for a good deal.

A particularly incensed Indian man began to raise his voice. His frustration visibly nearing the breaking point, he asked, “Why do we have to be inconvenienced? Couldn’t you have chosen another day?”

The young N.Y.P.D. officer responded, explaining that the inspections and seizures were done out of concern for public safety. “There have been lots of bus accidents over the past few years.” The Indian replied that he would take his chances, adding, “I have to be somewhere.”

Ultimately Lu had a job to do — keep public order— while the man from the Indian subcontinent had his business to take care of, too.

The city that Lu worked for was not cooperating. The din of an overhead N train rumbling across the bridge threatened to drown him out. He was forced to shout, the last thing he wanted to do. Then the train passed, and with it the heated emotions of the moment. Both men made their points, although neither was convinced by the other’s argument.


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