It was a terrifying commute caught on camera. A dollar van driver trying to escape from police took passengers on a high speed chase earlier this month. Now other drivers are calling on the NYPD to step up enforcement to help bring the under-regulated industry under control before someone gets hurt.
The panicked cries of commuters filled the dollar van as it sped through Flatbush on the morning of Dec. 3.
The now viral video has nearly 1-million views. In it, passengers beg the driver to stop the van while he tries to escape from Sheriff's Deputies and police officers.
The Sheriff's Department says the chase started when the driver ran a red light, then took off as the deputies tried to pull him over. Eventually the driver does stop the van, then takes off on foot with officers and deputies giving chase.
"There were people being held hostage and screaming for their lives being held hostage, and fortunately it did not end in tragedy," said Hector Ricketts, president of the Commuter Van Association of New York.
Ricketts says he was disappointed but not surprised by the video because it's not the first time he's seen an incident like this. He says illegal commuter van operators have been putting passengers and the public at risk for years. With recent changes to the law allowing increased fines and expanded enforcement he says these illegal operators feel they have more at risk. And drivers agree.
"The atmosphere with the enforcement right now is that the illegal guys can get a $2,000 ticket. That's a big dent that I'm assuming they cannot afford," said one driver who agreed to speak with us on the condition that we conceal his identity.
He's worried that drivers who operate illegally might retaliate against him for speaking out. He says the only way to give peace of mind to commuters is by cracking down on the illegal drivers.
"It needs more regulations because if you have 100, 200 guys out here that own their own vehicle or are driving for someone else, that individual is going to make his own individual decision on how to make his money," the driver said.
Without increased enforcement, Ricketts fears it will only be a matter of time until there is a similar situation to the limo accident that took place upstate earlier this year that left 20 people dead.
"We have often warned the city about how dangerous the situation is," he said.
"It's terrible, imagine being on that bus and how much danger you feel like your life is," said City Council Member Jumaane Williams.
Williams understands the need for commuter vans, he depended on them to get to school in Brooklyn. Which is why he helped change the laws to make it easier for commuter vans to gain licenses back in 2017.
"We have now created a way for you to be able to provide this service in a way that's responsible for everyone," Williams said. "Please avail yourself of that or else we're just making it difficult for the entire industry and we don't want the public to now push back on so many things that we're doing because transportation is critically important."
Williams says riders should take a close look at the vans that they're getting in first. Licensed TLC vans have a company name, livery license plates, and TLC stickers. That should help give you some peace of mind that your driver is operating legally and less likely to take off is stopped by police.
As for the driver in the viral video, he remains on the loose.