By Julie Shapiro
LOWER MANHATTAN — The city's plan to charge parking fees to limit an expected influx of 9/11 memorial tour buses is drawing criticism from residents who say it is too lenient and tour guides who say it is too expensive.
Beginning in September, the Department of Transportation plans to charge buses $20 per hour to park in designated spaces south of Houston Street for up to three hours in the hope of encouraging tour groups to use public transit.
At an hour-long hearing on the proposal Tuesday afternoon, the DOT heard from critics on both sides of the issue.
Judy Richheimer, a leader of the Guides Association of New York City, said the three-hour time limit would hamper tours that include trips to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island and would make it harder for visitors to stop at multiple destinations downtown.
She also questioned the city's decision to create just 11 new bus parking spots, after removing dozens to make room for the new East River Waterfront.
"We will need at least 100 spots," Richheimer said. "We think that's conservative."
Other tour guides said it was unrealistic to expect tourists to use public transportation and asked the DOT to charge for bus parking only below Canal Street, rather than below Houston Street.
However, Assemblywoman Deborah Glick submitted testimony saying the DOT's plan needs to be stronger.
Glick said the DOT should not create any new bus parking spots, and she criticized the DOT for pricing the meters at just $20 per hour, which she said would not deter buses from parking downtown.
Additionally, the advocacy group Our Streets Our Lives worried that the DOT's plan was not broad enough to address congestion in Greenwich Village and Chelsea and asked the DOT to look into regulations for the entire area south of 42nd Street.
"The [buses] circle endlessly through our narrow streets [and] threaten pedestrian safety," said Barbara Backer of Our Streets Our Lives. "Who owns New York City streets? The people who pay taxes, or the bus companies?"
State Sen. Daniel Squadron said in written testimony that while he supports the DOT's plan, he is "deeply concerned" that the city is not moving forward with ideas including steeper penalties for bus operators that break the rules and a ban on buses circling Downtown's streets.
"Time is running out," Squadron said. "With just over two months until opening day [of the 9/11 memorial], there is no room for further delay."
Luis Sanchez, the DOT's lower Manhattan borough commissioner, said he would take all of the feedback into account.
"This is our first step," Sanchez said of the rule changes. "We'll have to see how it works. We will need to improve upon it."