New York State Attorney General Letitia James sued three school bus companies Thursday for allowing their vehicles to idle longer than city and state laws permit — and suggested similar legal battles may soon be on the horizon.
The lawsuit, filed in Brooklyn Supreme Court, names Jofaz Transportation, 3rd Avenue Transit and Y & M Transit as defendants and accuses them of letting their buses idle on hundreds of occasions for longer than the legal time limit, which is five minutes under state law and three minutes under New York City law.
All three companies are run by Joseph Fazzia and share their headquarters in a Red Hook office. Each company has separate contracts with the city Department of Education to bus public school students.
“They didn’t care about the health and safety of this community and others like it,” James said during a press conference outside Public School K-140 in Bedford Stuyvesant. “The scope of harm done by the companies is substantial, it’s widespread and it’s persistent.”
James is seeking that the companies pay civil penalties, but the lawsuit does not specify an exact dollar amount.
The city and state’s anti-idling laws, which James cites in the lawsuit, were put into effect in an effort to combat climate change, as well as asthma and other respiratory disorders that are prevalent in New York City, especially in Black, Brown and poor neighborhoods.
Fines for violating the laws can range from anywhere between $500 and $18,000. New York City’s law prohibits idling for more than one minute when the vehicle in question is parked near a school.
According to James’ suit, data collected from “fleet management devices” installed on the three companies’ buses shows they were left idling “repeatedly and persistently” during the period from September to December 2019. Furthermore, a “significant amount” of the unlawful idling took place at three bus yards in Brooklyn — one in Red Hook, another in Brownsville and a third in Mill Basin.
James cited stats from the Environmental Protection Agency to drive home her point.
“According to the EPA, this neighborhood surrounding this school is in the 92nd percentile in the country — in the country — for levels of dangerous particulate matter from car emissions,” she said. “Children with asthma have an economic impact on all the families in this neighborhood. Parents have to take off, take their children to the emergency room. Parents have to get all types of treatment for children who, unfortunately, cannot breathe clean air.”
James claims in her lawsuit that even though the general manager of Jofaz had access to the same “fleet management” data the suit cites, he testified that neither he nor anyone else at the company bothered to take a look at it.
“The general manager admitted that the Jofaz companies do not adhere to their own anti-idling policies,” the suit states. “He further stated that the Jofaz companies do not make drivers pay any idling tickets they receive, and drivers are not suspended for repeated idling offenses.”
The companies also “failed to implement reasonable measures” to reduce idling, the suit goes on to conclude.
Fazzia did not return a call from the Daily News. The city Education Department also did not respond.
James predicted Thursday that more lawsuits against bus and truck operators may be on the way.
“This is just one litigation. We have a number of investigations,” she said. “So please stay tuned.”