City, State Lawmakers Reach Deal on New Chinatown Bus Rules
CITY HALL — State and city lawmakers announced a new deal Monday on legislation that would create the city's first-ever permit system for intercity buses.
Under the deal, which has been more than a year in the making, the city's Department of Transportation would be granted the power to create a new bus permit system that would allow it to set regulations, including designated pick up and drop-off locations for the dozens of low-cost bus carriers that operate throughout the city.
While some companies, like Bolt Bus and Megabus, have established regular stops with the DOT, there is nothing to prevent buses from pulling up to any curb and discharging passengers, creating what some have described as a free-for-all in neighborhoods such as Chinatown and Midtown, with under-regulated buses stopping anywhere they like.
"For too long the streets of Lower Manhattan, particularly Chinatown, have been overrun by private intercity buses, which have no clear rules on where or how they are allowed to operate," said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who was joined by state Sen. Daniel Squadron, city Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, and City Councilwoman Margaret Chin.
Chin said that, over the past two years, her office has been inundated by calls from residents complaining about the buses"wreaking havoc" on the neighborhood, by congesting streets, polluting the air by idling, and allowing passengers to block their doorways and use them as shelters and bathrooms.
"Today's Chinatown is a Wild West when it comes to these buses,” said Squadron, who argued that the permit cost of up to $275 per bus per year was low enough to keep the carriers' prices low.
Under the plan, which is expected to be introduced in Albany later this week, the DOT would be required to consult with local community boards and create a 45-day public comment period prior to assigning pickup or drop-off spots, though DOT would have the final say.
The deal would also grant the city the power to force bus companies to provide information about the kinds of buses they use, the number of passengers they carry, their schedules and where they park buses when not in use, which will then be posted online.
Companies that violate the rules would face fines of up to $2,500 for repeat violations, and could potentially lose their permits.
The deal comes more than a year after an earlier version of the bill passed the Assembly following a series of deadly crashes, including two involving buses originating from Chinatown that crashed within days of each other, killing 17 people and injuring dozens more.
Intercity buses have become increasingly popular in recent years, with budget travelers using the services to jump between New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.
But in addition to raising safety concerns, the buses have become an increasing source of frustration, with many business owners and residents complaining their blocks are inundated by dozens of buses an hour, that idle noisily, block storefronts and clog sidewalks with hundreds of waiting passengers.
A coalition of bus companies based in the Port Authority bus terminal, which have been deeply frustrated about curb-side operations, issued a statement warning that the legislation "is likely to put into overdrive the proliferation of individual bus operators moving out of the Port Authority Bus Terminal and on to the streets."
"This legislation would drive New York City in the wrong direction by encouraging all carriers to move to the street," they said.
In order to become law, the proposed legislation will have to be passed by both the Assembly and State Senate, which Silver said he is hopeful can happen during the current session.
A spokesman for Gov. Andrew Cuomo did not immediately respond to a request for comment about whether he supports the bill.