Jim O'Grady

Reporter, WNYC News

Jim O'Grady appears in the following:

Bus Company in Deadly Crash Still May Be Operating: DOT

Sunday, June 05, 2011


The U.S. Department of Transportation has ordered the Sky Express Bus Company to cease and desist after it said the budget bus operator continued to run its business under another name in defiance of a government-ordered shutdown last week.


Bus Company In Deadly Crash May Still Be Operating

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Sign in Sky Express Bus Company Office in Manhattan's Chinatown. (Photo by: Kathleen Horan)

(New York -- WNYC) The U.S. Department of Transportation has ordered the Sky Express Bus Company to "cease and desist" from continuing to run its business under another name in defiance of a government-ordered shutdown last week. The department is also seeking the records of three websites that have sold tickets for Sky Express in the past, and may have continued to do so after the company "reincarnated" by painting its buses another color and adopting other names, including 108 Bus and I-95 Coach.

On Tuesday, a Sky Express Bus swerved and flipped off I-95 near Richmond, VA, killing four women and injuring 53 others. Federal regulators put the company out of service later the same day--a move the U.S. DOT could've made three days earlier if it hadn't granted the company an extra ten days to appeal a poor safety rating.

But Sky Express apparently kept going under different guises, even after the deadly crash and an order from the feds to stop operations. Regulators appear to believe that the company changed its name to 108 Bus and I-95 Coach--and possibly others--to sell tickets as usual through travel sites like GoToBus.com, TakeTours.com and 2001Bus.com. The U.S. DOT has subpoenaed records from each of those websites about their bus company clients.

UPDATE:Jimmy Chen founder and owner of Ivy Media, which runs both GoToBus.com and TakeTours, but not 2001Bus, said "TakeTours.com has never sold any Sky Express bus tickets." And that no company he owns has sold any tickets for Sky Express since May 31.

He also said that no new bus company has signed up with his sites that run on the same routes as Sky Express did. The only other company that does, is I95Coach, which has been around for "several months." As for the idea that I95Coach might be the same as Sky Express, Chen finds that far fetched because he's witnessed the two companies get in a price war that dropped some long distance fares to half what they are back up to now. "It's a no brainer, I don't have to check the ownership... That wouldn't happen if they were the same company," he says.

Circumstantially at least, Sky Express Bus and I-95 Coach seem quite similar. For example, the Ticket Policy page for Sky Express is essentially the same as that of the Ticket Policy page for I-95 Coach. The two companies have a roster of routes that is nearly identical and their pick up and drop-off spots in Manhattan's Chinatown are a short block away from each other.

I-95 Coach is presumably a new company because no record of it could be found in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration database.

Such apparent acts of business "reincarnation" are difficult to track, and have long been recognized as a problem in the discount bus industry, including a report from the GAO in 2009. The U.S. DOT said the information that led to Friday's subpoena came from its own investigation. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the legal move showed his seriousness about cracking down on the industry. “We are relentlessly targeting unsafe and illegal bus companies,” he said.

Calls to the Sky Express office in New York on Sunday were not answered. [UPDATE 6/6/2011: a lawyer retained by the company would not comment on the record]

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New Subway Station Complex Unveiled in Long Island City

Friday, June 03, 2011


Straphangers now have a new station complex at Court Square in Queens that links the No. 7, G, M and E trains.


NY Thruway Authority Nominee Is Big Cuomo Campaign Donor

Thursday, June 02, 2011

(New York, NY - WNYC) Governor Andrew Cuomo is tapping real estate and banking mogul Howard Milstein to be chairman of the New York State Thruway Authority, an unpaid position. The Governor says Milstein, who has no previous experience in running a transportation agency, was tapped for his business acumen.

Milstein has been a generous contributor to the governor's re-election campaign.

In the past, governors have frequently appointed campaign contributors and fundraisers to run state authorities or serve on authority boards.

While running for Governor last year, Cuomo had promised to end "business as usual" in Albany and reform the state capital's notoriously porous ethical practices. Indeed, Cuomo is believed to be hammering out a deal right now to close some of the loopholes.

Milstein made 42 contributions in the last five years to candidates from both parties, according to state records. The largest were two $25,000 contributions to Andrew Cuomo's 2014 campaign.

The governor routinely announces his political appointments with a press release. But he nominated Milstein earlier this month with no public notice. The Buffalo News first reported the nomination.

If confirmed by the New York State Senate, Milstein will preside over the authority's nearly billion dollar annual budget, which is used to operate thruways, bridges and canals.

Milstein is president and CEO of Emigrant Savings Bank. Forbes magazine estimated his family wealth in 2010 at $3.8 billion.

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Are Cheap Buses Safe?

Thursday, June 02, 2011

The federal government shut down the Sky Express bus company indefinitely following a crash on Tuesday which killed four passengers and injured 50. The bus, traveling from Raleigh, North Carolina to New York City, was one of three major crashes involving discount, long-distance bus companies in the Northeast in May alone. 

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Regulators Put Off Shutting Down Bus Company Involved In Fatal Crash

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Sky Express Bus Company sign at its office in Manhattan's Chinatown. (Photo by: Kathleen Horan/WNYC)

(New York, NY - WNYC) The long distance bus company involved in a fatal crash in Virginia on Tuesday could've been put out of service three days earlier. The company, Sky Express, remained on the road after federal regulators gave it extra time to appeal a poor safety rating.

Over the past two years, the Sky Express Bus Company racked up dozens of safety violations, some for drivers who worked too many hours or used drugs or alcohol on the job.

On April 12, the U.S. Department of Transportation rated the company "unsatisfactory." That was enough to shut it down.

Sky Express appealed its rating to the department. Soon after, DOT issued an "initial denial"--a strong indication that the appeal would be rejected. Sky Express should've been out of options, and out of business, last Saturday--three days before a company driver on his way from Raleigh to New York fell asleep at the wheel and flipped his bus on a highway, killing four people and injuring more than 50 others.

Instead DOT extended Sky Express's appeal by ten days, allowing it carry on with business as usual. On Wednesday, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said he would direct the department to end its practice of extending appeals for operators found to be unsafe.

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Feds Delayed Shutting Down Bus Company Linked to Fatal Crash

Wednesday, June 01, 2011


The tour bus company linked to the fatal crash of a Chinatown-bound bus in Virginia on Tuesday was found unfit to be on the road by federal regulators three days before the deadly accident but was granted time to appeal its poor safety rating. 


Operator In Latest Fatal Tour Bus Crash Had Poor Safety Record

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Storefront sign in Manhattan's Chinatown announces shut-down of the Sky Express Bus Company. (Photo by: Kathleen Horan / WNYC)

(New York, NY - WNYC) The federal government has indefinitely shut down Sky Express, the company involved in Tuesday's fatal crash of a bus on the Raleigh to New York run. The Charlotte-based operator had a poor safety record even before the accident, which has left legislators and others wondering why the U.S. Department of Transportation had given the company its highest safety rating.

Department records show the Sky Express Bus Company had four crashes in the past two years, with two injuries, and that drivers received forty-six violations related to driver fatigue and falsifying driving records. The company was also in the bottom one percent of carriers for sending out drivers unfit to operate a bus because of health concerns or a lack of training or experience.

But until Tuesday, the DOT gave the bus company a “satisfactory” safety record, its highest rating.

Police say the driver in the early morning bus crash, a Queens resident named Kin Yiu Cheng, may have fallen asleep at the wheel. The Sky Express bus swerved off northbound Interstate 95 near Fredericksburg, VA, hit an embankment and flipped.

The crash killed four passengers and left the driver slightly hurt. Fifty-four people were taken to area hospitals and treated for minor to severe injuries. It was the third deadly accident involving a Chinatown bus in as many months

Virginia police arrested Yiu Cheng for reckless driving.

New York State lawmakers are once again calling for more regulation of so-called Chinatown buses following the fatal crash. Legislation in Albany would allow New York City officials to keep better track of long distance bus operators through permits and more detailed record-keeping.

At a press conference outside a Sky Express office in Manhattan's Chinatown, NY State Senator Daniel Squadron said more oversight of the long distance bus industry was needed. "Enough is enough," he said. "We've had too many tragedies, we have too little regulation we have one solution, what we can do on the state and the city level."

The bill has passed the New York State Assembly but not the Senate.

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Operator in Latest Fatal Tour Bus Crash Had Poor Safety Record

Tuesday, May 31, 2011


The federal government has ordered the tour bus company linked to the fatal crash of a bus in Virgina that was returning to Chinatown on Tuesday to halt operations.


Subway Ridership Tracks New York's Job Rate, Data Shows

Monday, May 30, 2011

Despite increases to subway fare three times in as many years, ridership continues to rise in what history shows could be an indicator of an improving economy, according to MTA data.


Meet Paul McCartney's Fiancee: MTA Board Member Nancy Shevell

Monday, May 30, 2011

The pair's engagement has sharpened the contrast between between the two sides of Shevell's life: By night, she steps through swarms of paparazzi on the arm of the former Beatles f...

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By Day, An MTA Board Member; By Night, Paul McCartney's Fiancee

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Nancy Shevell NY MTA Board member and famous fiancee. (Photo: NY MTA)

(New York, NY -Jim O'Grady, WNYC) For ten years, New York MTA Board member Nancy Shevell has been going to meetings at the authority's headquarters in Midtown Manhattan. This week, she attended her first meeting as the fiancee of singer Paul McCartney.

Maybe they were amazed, Ms. Shevell's fellow board members, to see her conducting business as usual as chairwoman of the bus operations committee after she became engaged to McCartney earlier this month.

The development has certainly sharpened the contrast between the two sides of Shevell's life. By night, she steps through swarms of paparazzi on her way to A-list events, the ex-Beatle on her arm. By day, she presides over discussions about the latest additions to the city's articulated bus fleet.

"At no charge to us?," she asked an MTA staffer who'd reported a manufacturer would be repairing defective seat brackets on a new set of buses. When told yes, she reacted procedurally: "OK, a motion...a second...all in favor...?"

Former New York Governor George Pataki appointed Shevell to the NY MTA board in 2001. She is vice president of New England Motor freight, her family’s trucking company in Elizabeth, New Jersey. The Daily Mail, a British tabloid, calls her "the most glamorous trucking executive in the world."

The newspaper, along with other publications, also refers to her as a "millionairess."

She and her ex-husband Bruce Blakeman, who she divorced in 2009, have been major contributors to the Republican Party. Blakeman is a lawyer who's been been on the NY-NJ Port Authority board and was such an effective fundraiser that the party tapped him to run for New York state controller in 1998, a race he lost. He also ran unsuccessfully in 2010 against U.S. Senator Kirstin Gillibrand.

Shevell's political contributions have leaned heavily Republican. Her list of favored candidates has included Alfonse D'Amato, Rudy Giuliani and the Republican National Committee. Pataki frequently appointed donors with that kind of track record to posts on public authorities.

Shevell began dating McCartney in 2007, when he saw her standing there at an event in the Hamptons, where they both have houses. He's a British knight so once they're married, the rules of etiquette will require her to be called Lady McCartney.

Her fellow MTA board members might need some time to get used to that. Like the one at the committee meeting who needed her attention so he yelled, "Hey, Nanc!" She replied, "Yes?" Just as she did to Sir Paul's wedding proposal, perhaps without the question mark.

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As New York City's Job Rate Rises, So Does Subway Ridership

Friday, May 27, 2011

(Photo by AZY_NYC / Flickr Creative Commons)

(New York, NY - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) Even though the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority raised subway fares three times in the past three years, subway ridership is on the rise. That may be a sign of an improving economy.

New Yorkers experienced a 17 percent fare hike last December, one of the biggest ever. But except for a slight dip during the January blizzards, subway ridership has risen every month since, according to data given to Transportation Nation by the New York MTA.

The authority says subway ridership tracks employment -- when the job rate goes up, so does the number of straphangers.

In 2008, after a nearly seven percent fare increase, subway ridership went up nine months in a row. The opposite happened in 2009, when the recession moved transit use in one direction: downward.

Unlike the subway, New York's buses have seen dwindling numbers of riders in recent years. And after the largest bus route cuts in a generation last June, even fewer city residents have been taking the bus.

The ability of straphangers to absorb yet another fare hike will be tested next year, when the New York MTA is set to raise fares again by 13 percent.

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New Fuel Economy Stickers Could Change Buying Habits

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

(New York, NY- Jim O'Grady, WNYC) The EPA says it will require car makers to put labels on new vehicles showing consumers how much they'll spend in a year on fuel. And how much they'll pollute.

The new labels reflect federal fuel standards passed last year that require better gas mileage in cars and trucks. Part of what the labels will show is how much money a buyer will save in fuel costs over five years compared to an average car under the old fuel standard--and how much more money they'll save if the car is electric.

The labels will also rate a vehicle on a one-to-ten scale for smog and greenhouse emissions. Student Rob Renz stopped by an EPA news conference in Lower Manhattan to inspect one of the new labels.

"I'm into cars," he said. "But I like to know a lot before I buy anything. I'd like to know each and every detail of what I'm about to buy."

He said liked what he saw. Use of the labels by car makers is voluntary until 2013, when they become mandatory.

The Departments of Energy and Transportation decided not to include a letter grade for fuel efficiency on the stickers, a proposal for which, some environmental groups had advocated. Read the full DOT announcement highlighting all the changes here.

And for a visual, you can see the sticker online here. There's a slightly different design depending on whether the car is gas powered, plug-in hybrid, or electric.

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New York MTA's Website Promises More Timetables, Transit Apps

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

(New York, NY -- Jim O'Grady, WNYC) The NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority's website just got a makeover. It now sports a simplified design and better tools for planning trips and saving money on fares.

The new homepage lets riders find out if delays are expected at a particular time in the future because of construction work, while the old site only let people check the current status. And the "service status" function--which gives updates on everything from closures on bridges to escalator breakdowns--can now be installed as a widget on other websites.

The site famously failed last January when some 500,000 users at once tried to access the site during a 19-inch snowstorm. Users were given a plain text version of the site. The MTA said at the time it was a victim of its own success, and had attracted more users than it can handle.

The MTA site also features 36 mobile apps by independent companies that do things like help riders pick the subway car that will get them closest to their exit and compile travel alerts and advisories.

Riders can use the site's "Ways to Save" box to find out whether they qualify for reduced fares.

What do you think?

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Yankees Parking Garage Facing Failure

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

WNYC transportation reporter Jim O'Grady discusses his reporting on the barely used Yankees parking garage which is facing financial collapse after receiving lots of public subsidies.

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Truck Safety Mirror Measure Passes NY Senate

Monday, May 23, 2011


The New York State Senate passed a bill Monday that would require special safety mirrors on the hoods of some trucks that use city streets.

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Truck Safety Mirror Measure Passes NY State Senate

Monday, May 23, 2011

A crossover mirror on the hood of a city sanitation truck, as viewed from the driver's seat.  (Photo by: Jim O'Grady.)

(New York, NY - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) The New York State Senate passed a bill today that would require special safety mirrors on the hoods of some trucks that use city streets.

The so-called crossover mirrors attach to both sides of the hood and allow drivers to spot pedestrians ordinarily hidden by the front of the truck. On Friday, Mayor Bloomberg announced his support for the bill at a street corner press conference in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, where a woman and her daughter were struck and killed by a van in 1994.

"The mirrors cost on average about a hundred bucks," Bloomberg said. "And when you compare to what it costs for a full tank of gas for these trucks, about 400 dollars, you'll see that it is not prohibitively expensive and it really is a great investment for our safety."

The bill would apply to New York State trucking companies that send vehicles into the five boroughs. Trucks used by city agencies already use the mirrors.

Kendra Adams, president of The New York State Motor Truck Association said a better solution would be installing mirrors at intersections to give all drivers a better view of pedestrians. "Trucks account for only four percent of curbside injuries in the city," she said. "We support and practice safety."

The bill now moves to the New York State Assembly.

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After Hundreds of Millions of Dollars of Public Subsidies, Barely Used Yankees Parking Garages Face Financial Collapse

Thursday, May 19, 2011

This garage was built on a park in the Bronx at behest of the Yankees. Two-thirds empty on game days, the garage is now facing financial collapse

(Bronx,  NY - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) In the far North Bronx, near the Yonkers border, right fielder Stephan Alamies of the All Hallows High School varsity baseball team is batting against Mount Saint Michael. This is a home game for All Hallows--but they’re playing on their opponents’ field. They drove 45 minutes by bus to get here. Coach Edgardo Guttierez says the team used to play four blocks from school.

“Unfortunately, the Yankees built their parking lot on the field that we used to practice on," he said.

On the team bus, the players weren't any happier than their coach. "We feel like a bunch of gypsies just traveling all over the place," said Alamies before the other players chimed in: “It’s depressing.” “People want to come see us but they can’t see us. We don’t have a home field, we don’t know where we’re at.”

The team, like the rest of the neighborhood around Yankee Stadium, is still waiting for promised replacement fields.

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But so few Yankee fans are parking at eleven garages and lots around the new stadium that the company managing them may soon default on $237 million in tax exempt bonds used to build them.  In an effort to stave off collapse, the garages recently hiked prices to $35 a game.  But as of last month, they were two thirds empty on game days.

According to public documents and two separate analyses, the Bronx Parking Development company owes the city $17 million in back rent and other payments. The city is paying $195 million to replace the parkland it gave to the Yankees. And New York State spent $70 million to build Parking Garage B. That's where Derek Jeter and his fellow players park, along with VIP ticket holders. The garage is not open to the public, and allows those who use it to enter directly into the stadium.

Bettina Damiani is project director at Good Jobs New York, a government watchdog group. "It doesn't seem to make sense to publicly subsidize the stadium and also publicly subsidize the parking garages," she said, adding it isn’t just about the money. "This is about the impact it's had on an entire generation of kids who have not had access to open public park space the way they did have."

The new Yankee Stadium is smaller than the old one. But when the team insisted in 2006 that it needed 2,000 extra parking spots, the New York City Industrial Development Agency issued 237  million dollars in tax exempt bonds for an expanded parking system--paving over the neighborhood's only regulation baseball diamonds to do it.

The Yankees insisted from the beginning that they needed 9,000 parking spots, 2,000 more than before. They even made it a legal condition for not moving out of the Bronx.

At a City Council hearing in 2006, Yankees president Randy Levine predicted additional parking garages would bring less traffic to the neighborhood. “By building the new parking spots, the cars will get out of the community, won’t circle around the community and disrupt it, and will go into parking lots," he said.  As a sweetener, the Bloomberg administration, pushing the plan, added a last-minute concession:  it would build a new Metro-North stop next to the field.

The Yankees got their new stadium -- and their 9000 parking spots.  The stadium plan passed the city council, 44 to 3.

In 2006, Speaker Christine Quinn defended the garages.

“I think it would be great if people could go to sporting events exclusively on mass transit but that’s not going to happen," she said. "So one has to, when they’re developing projects like this, have a reality sense of what the needs are as it relates to parking."

But the MTA tells WNYC that more than 50% of a typical sell-out crowd arrives by train, bus or ferry. Many fans who do drive skip the $35 dollar charge for a spot at a Yankee garage and either park on the street or at cheaper lots in the neighborhood. One local garage advertises on a flyer that says, "Don't pay 35 dollars." Its prices start at $15.

Little has changed from 2006 outside the stadium on game days. Traffic cops stand on corners directing the circling cars. By first pitch, every one of the area’s 3,200 curbside spots is filled.

Angel Castillo, a car-owner who lives four blocks from the stadium, sees it all season. “Oh my God, sometimes if I come and the game starts, I gotta wait when the game finished one hour after the game," he said. "After midnight.”

Castillo says street parking is so scarce during Yankee homestands that he’ll leave his car in a spot for four days and pay fifteen dollars each way for a car service to his job as a barbershop manager in the North Bronx.

Mayor Bloomberg says private bondholders, not taxpayers, will be on the hook if the Bronx Parking Development Company defaults on the bonds. On his weekly radio show, he shrugged off the Bronx Parking Development Company's possible collapse.

“The city has no downside," he said. "If they were to go bankrupt, it doesn't hurt us. It wouldn’t be good for the project."

But taxpayers have been hurt.

Back at the game in the North Bronx, Stephan Alamies waits for the pitch. It’s 3-3 in the bottom of the 10th inning. He swings…and the ball is gone. All Hallows wins on a walk-off homer. The victory helps them clinch their division. Today, they’re preparing for the playoffs.

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Yankees Parking Garages Driven to Brink of Financial Collapse

Thursday, May 19, 2011


So few Yankee fans are parking at 11 garages and lots around the new stadium in the Bronx that the company managing them may soon default on $237 million in tax-exempt bonds used to build them.

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