NY Attorney General sues bus companies for polluting communities of color

New York Attorney General Letitia James today announced a lawsuit against three New York City bus companies for causing significant air pollution in communities of color by violating city and state bus idling laws. Buses owned and operated by Jofaz Transportation, Inc., 3rd Avenue Transit, Inc., and Y&M Transit Corp., Inc. repeatedly and unlawfully idled at schools, bus yards, and other locations predominantly in low-income and communities of color throughout the five boroughs, polluting the air and endangering the health of New Yorkers. Attorney General James’ suit seeks monetary relief and a court order to ensure the companies’ full compliance with city and state idling laws. 

“These school bus companies have a responsibility to follow the laws that help protect the health and the safety of our communities and the environment,” said Attorney General James. “Too often, we see companies emit these dangerous pollutants in low-income communities or communities of color without consequence. In this case, it’s our Black and brown children who are suffering the impacts and experiencing record-high levels of asthma as a result. We must confront and eliminate environmental injustice in all of its forms, and I will continue to hold companies accountable for taking advantage of vulnerable communities.” 

Jofaz Transportation, Inc., 3rd Avenue Transit, Inc., and Y&M Transit Corp., Inc. are three school bus companies that are owned and operated by Joseph Fazzia and his family, and collectively operate 614 buses and three Brooklyn bus yards. The lawsuit, filed in Kings County Supreme Court, alleges that from September 2019 to present day, the companies constantly violated New York state law, which prohibits idling for more than five minutes with certain exceptions, and New York City law, which prohibits idling for more than three minutes — and no more than one minute at schools — with certain exceptions.

The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) previously reached an agreement with Jofaz and 3rd Avenue Transit for violating city and state idling laws, requiring the companies to comply with the laws and train all staff on anti-idling policies. However, using data provided by Geotab, the fleet management system that the Department of Education (DOE) installed on the buses, OAG discovered that the companies continued their substantial, widespread, and persistent exceedances of idling limits at bus yards, near schools, public housing, and other locations across the city, as recently as April of this year.

For example, OAG found that between September 4, 2019 and December 31, 2019, a Jofaz school bus idled for at least 10 minutes at a bus yard in Red Hook, Brooklyn on 82 different occasions on 42 different days, indicating that the bus often idled multiple times a day at the yard. The bus yard is in close proximity to the Red Hook Houses, which is the largest public housing development in Brooklyn with more than 6,000 residents.

The OAG also found that during that same time period, 30 different Jofaz school buses idled near P.S. K140 in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn for at least 10 minutes each, for a total of 285 different times over 65 days. More than 90 percent of the students at P.S. K140 are Black or Latino. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the neighborhood surrounding P.S. K140 is in the 92nd percentile in the country for levels of diesel particulate matter and has childhood asthma rates in the 70th to 80th percentile.

In her lawsuit, Attorney General James is seeking monetary penalties and a court order requiring the companies to ensure that their drivers are complying with the laws and educating and training employees on idling laws and the health and environmental impacts of diesel pollution.

Tailpipe emissions from cars, trucks, and buses are one of the leading sources of air pollution in New York state due to the release of smog-forming pollutants, soot, toxins, and greenhouse gases. Idling is a significant — and usually unnecessary — source of these emissions, with an estimated 130,000 tons of carbon dioxide emitted in New York City each year. New York City suffers roughly 1,400 premature deaths every year — the highest death toll in the Northeast — and pays billions in health costs due to significant pollution from hundreds of thousands of vehicles that operate in the city.

Pollutants found in tailpipe emissions have been linked to numerous serious health issues including asthma, cancer, heart disease, and other serious health impacts, particularly in vulnerable populations such as children, the elderly, and those with respiratory ailments. The vast majority of the health impacts of soot and air pollution exposure are felt in low-income communities and communities of color in New York City. These communities have the highest truck and traffic volume and have industrial facilities, such as bus yards, located in close proximity to residential areas. The children in the high poverty areas of Central Brooklyn, the South Bronx, and Northern Manhattan are three times more likely than children in other areas of the city to be diagnosed with asthma.   

Recently, Attorney General James reached an agreement with Reliant Transportation, the now-defunct owner and operator of 838 school buses, following an investigation that revealed the company’s unlawful idling practices. The agreement required Reliant to pay a $59,500 penalty. Reliant is no longer in operation, and if the company is ever reestablished in New York City, they must enact a strict compliance program that includes extensive driver training, the adoption of a strict company anti-idling policy, the installation of automatic shut-off technology on all buses operating in the city, and the monitoring of driver compliance with idling laws.   

Image courtesy of thesatimes

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