A battle is brewing in downtown Flushing between recently emerged $1 buses that are taking away customers from a cutthroat competitor, and authorities who say the new set of wheels could be operating illegally.
Hordes of passengers lined up single file on 41st Avenue and Main Street for a $1 trip to Chinatown in Manhattan on Monday morning, July 9. Some said the new “big bus” was a more convenient, cheaper and roomier ride than an already established and authorized commuter van service across the corner.
“Before, in the small bus, the service was very bad. They don’t let us eat and drink, and they drove very fast,” said Michelle Dhu, 26. “It wasn’t safe.”
The smaller commuter buses are operated under Flushing Commute Van Management Corp. and can only hold up to 19 passengers. It is licensed by the city’s Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC) to shuttle people to Chinatown, Brooklyn and Elmhurst.
Fees for the commuter bus were as high as $2.75, Dhu said, before the company dropped the price to $1 to keep up with its newest rival.
Still, Dhu said throngs of people opted to swap services when the new ride rolled into town less than a month ago.
Passenger Claire Chen said she rode the minibus for six months, touting its faster excursions, and originally defended the company when she told The Courier it was not fair for the bigger bus to encroach on its settled turf.
But Chen, 21, quickly jumped ship and leaped off the line during the interview, when a collector asked her for double the price, straying from the latest $1 promise posted on nearby signs.
“If they just stayed the same price, I would have stayed with the small bus, but it keeps changing,” she said.
Councilmember Peter Koo said the large buses pose severe problems for both pedestrians who cannot pass through the large crowds waiting on line, and for drivers on the street whose vision is impeded by the large buses.
“We contacted all the agencies. In the very near future, they will do something to stop them,” Koo said.
A police source said the 109th Precinct has issued summonses to the buses for obstructing traffic. One bus, the source said, even crashed into the NYPD’s SkyWatch observation tower located outside of the Flushing library on 41st Avenue and Main Street.
The new $1 bus loads passengers in a “No Standing” zone, but vehicles considered commuter buses are allowed to do so. However, authorities said the new buses — which carry more than 50 passengers — are likely not commuter buses and are violating more than just traffic laws.
According to TLC spokesperson Allan Fromberg, under New York City law, commuter van services are only permitted to operate vehicles of up to 19 passengers. Larger vehicles exceeding that limit fall under the jurisdiction and licensing of the city’s Department of Transportation (DOT), he said.
DOT spokesperson Nicholas Mosquera said city agencies are initiating an investigation and will pursue relevant legal or regulatory channels, including the possibility of state or federal enforcement.
The new bus service is said to be operated by New Oriental Tour, Inc., under the ownership of Tony Luo, who could not be reached. Drivers and fare collectors on site also declined to comment.