Realty Firm Trying to Push Out Airport Shuttle Buses

By Jill Colvin on August 24, 2011 8:19am 

Passengers waiting for the next airport bus.
Passengers waiting for the next airport bus.
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

MIDTOWN — The city’s largest office landlord wants to kick the city's airport shuttle buses to the curb.

SL Green Realty Corp. is planning to petition the city to move NYC Airporter bus operations away from their Grand Central hub on Park Avenue between East 41st and East 42nd streets. The firm claims the stretch is too busy with pedestrian traffic to handle the throngs of tourists with their luggage disembarking and waiting to board.

The bus company, which ferries passengers back and forth to LaGuardia and JFK airports, began operations on the corner in July, after taking over the contract from a previous provider.

“There is an unbelievable amount of congestion,” said Elizabeth Majkowski, senior vice president of operations at SL Green, which owns 125 Park Ave., where she said retailers have been complaining about a spike in traffic on the pedestrian-heavy stretch.

“It’s just gotten really out of control with the new operator," she said.

At a Community Board 5 transportation committee meeting Monday night, the traffic engineering firm Philip Habib and Associates made a presentation on behalf of SL Green, complete with a time-lapsed video documenting crowded sidewalks and backed-up buses that sometimes double-park and load passengers from the middle of the street.

“It’s very constricted,” said Jeff Reubens, a traffic planner at the firm. “You add to that people who are waiting with their baggage to get into vans… you get a problem.”

The firm suggested three alternate locations around Grand Central Terminal they argued were better suited for the stop, including Vanderbilt Avenue between East 44th and East 45th streets, East 43rd Street between Lexington and Third avenues and East 41st Street between Park and Madison avenues or Park and Lexington.

Representatives for Airporter did not return a request for comment.

But one Airporter employee working Tuesday said the charges of congestion were overblown.

While he didn’t deny the backups documented in pictures taken on behalf of SL Green, he said that those instances were rare and that, in general, there was more than enough room on the sidewalk for passengers to line up and for pedestrians to pass.

Members of CB5’s transportation committee applauded SL Green’s efforts to make its case to the city, with some voicing support for a move.

Resident Victoria Watkins suggested that Airporter set up ropes along the sidewalk to control its crowds, as she said the previous operator had done.

“That could help,” she said.

CB5 public member George Haikalis took it a step further, arguing that the Port Authority should create a proper bus depot for airport travelers, complete with covered waiting areas and a formal depot.

Right now, Airporter sells tickets from a bus parked at the stop that employees call the "office bus."

“It’s like a third-world way to connect our city,” Haikalis said of the current setup.

“I think we ought to have some sort of higher standard," he said. "It’s vital for the city to have a quality public transit option to the airport."

A spokesman for the Port Authority, which granted the company a permit to take over the service in January of this year, referred comments to the city’s Department of Transportation, which oversees the stop.

A DOT spokesman said the agency has met with the current operator to "discuss their responsibilities as an operator and a good neighbor," including not double-parking buses and keeping passengers from clogging the sidewalk.

He said the city will continue to monitor the location, but has no plans to move the stop at this time.

Worries over congestion caused by passengers waiting to board buses are increasingly common across Midtown Manhattan. Later this week, BoltBus is set to move one of its pick-up points from Midtown to Chelsea, following months of escalating complaints.

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