By Tara Kyle
HELL'S KITCHEN — Megabus' Manhattan command center has long, roped off lines, snack vendors and ticket dispensing and sound systems — but one thing it doesn't have is walls.
Over the past six months, the discount carrier has moved its pick-ups for dozens of daily bus trips onto a stretch of Ninth Avenue sidewalk between 31st and 33rd Streets.
And while the block itself is desolate — bordered on the East by the backside of the James Farley Post Office, and on the West by a vast parking lot — neighbors on 34th Street say the fallout from what they call a veritable 'Port Authority South' is impacting their quality of life.
"It's kind of like a circus down there," said Craig Burke, 39, citing the use of megaphones by ticket agents trying to make announcements audible to passengers at the end of the lines, and the movement of enterprising food cart vendors onto the block. "Anytime they're loading or unloading, which is most of the time, it's impossible to walk down the West side of Ninth Avenue."
In recent weeks, Megabus has altered its operations by placing passengers waiting for their bus to arrive in a parking lot corral rather than all along the sidewalks.
The voluntary decision to lease that space was made in order to "mitigate the passengers congesting the sidewalks," according to Dale Moser, President and COO for Coach USA, Megabus' parent company.
The Department of Transportation is working with Megabus regarding sidewalk congestion concerns on an ongoing basis, according to a DOT spokesman.
On peak days, 70 Megabuses depart from the stop and the company organizes its schedule in order to minimize passenger flow at any given time, Moser wrote in an email.
Although 34th Street residents said the change has improved conditions Monday through Wednesdays, several said that weekends are now even worse, because more buses and new carriers have moved onto the block, including DATTCO, Newark Airport Express and Coach USA.
Most of the other bus chains are Megabus sister carriers under Coach USA, Moser wrote.
"We consider it a neighborhood, not a bus depot," said resident Laura Oaksmith, 50.
Oaksmith has noticed a marked uptick in buses that were either loading or idling or double parked nearby at a given time over the past couple weekends.
Megabus is allowed to have a limit of two buses loading along the sidewalk at a given time, according to Moser and a spokesman for the Department of Transportation.
For Patrick Aitcheson, an 11-year veteran of the neighborhood, that congestion has made trips to the grocery store and walks with his two dogs problematic. The sound of ticket agents making announcements over megaphones permeates the closed windows of his apartment, he said.
Moreover, Aitcheson believes a lack of bathroom facilities at Megabus' outdoor bus depot are to blame for the several men he's witnessed relieving themselves behind his 408 W. 34th St. residence.
Burke has seen some neighbors get into "surly" and "scary" altercations with ticket agents over the sidewalk congestion and he fears a traffic accident will eventually occur.
Those frustrations have prompted residents to call in repeatedly to the DOT and 311. A few weeks ago, Oaksmith raised her concerns with Community Board 4's transportation committee, and the residents intend to return to CB4 next month. One idea bandied about would be urging Megabus to move to less trafficked blocks along 11th or 12th avenues.
"it's just exhausting, having to deal with this," said Aitcheson. "I don't want to feel like it's a struggle to get down the street."