New York Attorney General Letitia James unveiled a lawsuit Thursday against three bus companies contracted by the New York City Department of Education accusing them of illegally idling at schools, bus yards and homes.
The attorney general alleged that over the past three academic years, several school buses, owned and operated by Joseph Fazzia and his family, idled for more than 10 minutes multiple times per day in mostly communities of color. The three companies she targeted are Jofaz Transportation, Inc.; 3rd Avenue Transit, Inc.; and Y&M Transit Corp, and their collective fleet includes 614 school buses and three yards in Brooklyn.
When school buses idle, they spew diesel fumes that can exacerbate asthma – the leading cause of school absences in New York City. This practice violates municipal laws that limit idling to three minutes, except at schools where the maximum is one minute.
These bus companies have a history of disregarding idling laws, according to James. In the past, they had agreed to comply with the regulations and train staff, she said. The attorney general's office shared data from the past three academic years collected by Geotab, a monitoring system installed on buses by the education department that tracks idling, showing the bus companies idled for periods that exceeded the law.
“The scope of harm done by the companies is substantial. It’s widespread, and it’s persistent,” James said in front of P.S. K140 school in Brooklyn today. “We are seeking justice for all communities that have to breathe this dirty air.”
Between September and December of 2019, one Jofaz school bus idled 82 different times for more than 10 minutes, often multiple times per day at their bus yard in Red Hook, according to the suit. That site is located one block from Red Hook Houses, a public housing development in Brooklyn with more than 6,000 residents.
During that same period, 30 other Jofaz buses idled for at least 10 minutes nearly 300 times near P.S. K140 in Brooklyn, which houses more than 300 children from kindergarten through 9th grade and special education students. The school is more than 90% Black or Latinx. According to the attorney general and Gothamist’s reporting on redlining, the area has high levels of particulate matter and pediatric asthma rates.
Diesel fumes have serious impacts on human health, the environment and global warming. Emissions from school buses contribute to respiratory illness and lung disease, especially for children. The discharge from tailpipes increases ground-level ozone, which can destroy trees, plants. It can also result in acid rain, which threatens water quality. These fumes also produce greenhouse gases, which worsen climate change.
The lawsuit seeks financial penalties and a court order to force full compliance of local idling laws, including training drivers on anti-idling practices and the impacts of diesel pollution.
“We must create accountability and consequences for our city-contracted businesses to ensure that they’re positive contributors to our spaces,” Antonio Reynoso, Brooklyn borough president said in a press release accompanying James’ announcement. “Environmental regulations are essential to keeping our city safe and healthy, particularly in environmental justice communities.”
Mayor Eric Adams’ office and the city’s Department of Education did not respond to a request for comment.