Management & Operations

Bus theft at Port Authority raises security concerns, questions

Posted on February 1, 2004

A motorcoach belonging to Peter Pan Bus Lines Inc. of Springfield, Mass., was stolen from a Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) bus terminal and later found idling at New York’s Kennedy International Airport. This occurred shortly after the nation’s terror-alert level had been raised from yellow (elevated) to orange (high). On Dec. 27, Coach No. 700, a late-model MCI, was awaiting a service call to a maintenance facility in nearby Secaucus, N.J., after a passenger fell ill during a return trip from Washington, D.C. Because it was late at night on a Saturday, however, the facility was short on staff, so the coach remained at the bus terminal overnight. Unfortunately, sometime between those pre-dawn hours and the following day’s inventory check, an unauthorized person drove the bus out of the facility. The vehicle was not reported missing to PANYNJ authorities until seven hours later, a move that has been criticized. But Peter Pan officials stress the importance of first confirming the bus’ disappearance. “We were concerned about creating a false alarm, of letting police know that a bus was missing when in reality maybe it wasn’t,” said Robert J. Schwarz, executive vice president of communications. “Oftentimes, for whatever reason, buses are moved or reassigned. It might’ve been taken to the maintenance facility. Who knows?” Not until the previous night’s shift supervisor confirmed the last location of the motorcoach were PANYNJ police notified. Two hours later, the bus was found less than 20 miles away at JFK airport with a drunken suspect sitting behind the wheel. According to the New York Times and the New York Daily News, the man in question, David M. Slade, of Brooklyn, N.Y., is a former school bus driver with 13 years of experience who apparently has been in trouble with the law before on other bus-related incidents. His most recent alleged actions, of which his motives still remain a mystery, have raised eyebrows and prompted security questions. “It is particularly troubling that this could happen at a time of heightened security,” Richard A. Brown, district attorney for Queens (N.Y.) County, told the Times. Brown’ office is prosecuting Slade. The PANYNJ has accused Peter Pan of not properly securing its motorcoach while Peter Pan has obtained a sworn statement that it was locked. There has been no word from law enforcement as to how the vehicle was entered. Still, the company continues to meet with PANYNJ and Transportation Security Administration officials to discuss ways of preventing a similar event from recurring, such as outfitting its fleet with GPS tracking. “We’re not proud of the fact that it happened,” Schwarz said, “but we are taking corrective steps to make sure we do the best that we can to secure our coaches so that this unfortunate experience doesn’t happen again.”

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