By Jill Colvin
MIDTOWN — Low-cost buses out of the city have become so popular that Midtown sidewalks are routinely flooded with travelers, causing chaos for pedestrians and complaints from local business owners who say the crowds cost them customers.
The northeast corner of West 33rd Street and Seventh Avenue has become one of the main pick-up locations for buses, including DC2NY and BoltBus, whose signature orange buses whisk passengers back and forth to cities including Boston and Washington, D.C.
"It's mind-blowing that they got permission to do this," said Gail Klein, one of the partners at Stout, NYC, a pub on West 33rd Street just east of Seventh Avenue.
"It's ludicrous that that’s the spot, one of the most congested pedestrian areas and one of the busiest areas," said Klein, who said the buses also park in front of her bar, interfering with deliveries and making it difficult for patrons to find it.
Inexpensive bus services have grown exponentially in recent years as low-cost alternatives to traveling by train. There are at least half a dozen companies now operating in Midtown that offer rides for around $20 each way.
But because the Port Authority Bus Terminal is full, new companies are forced to set up stops on the street. That puts hundreds of travelers and their luggage on the sidewalks from early morning to late at night.
BoltBus staff dressed in orange vests try to maintain some semblance of order, sometimes asking passengers to line up out of passersbys way. Often, however, there are too many people waiting for buses or not enough staff to corral them.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation, which must approve the stops, said the department has not received any complaints recently about congestion on the particular corner.
But Joy Kim, 26, who works at the Gourmet Deli at 157 W. 33rd Street, said that waiting passengers constantly block the door, despite a sign asking them not to. She said that customers complain about the situation all the time.
Andrew Sherard, 44, who works as a doorman at 421 West 33rd St., a commercial building on the stretch, said that he’s had fights with both drivers and customers who try to use the building's bathrooms and stay warm in the lobby.
"They think this building is a bus stop," he complained.
To make matters worse, there's also an entrance to the 1/2/3 subway train on the same corner, which sometimes becomes so congested that it's difficult for riders to get in or out.
BoltBus Spokesman Timothy Stokes said the company has not received many complaints regarding passenger congestion, but said it is considering a move "to a more efficient and less crowded location."
One idea that was recently floated was the Upper East Side.
Police in the Midtown South Precinct said they'd heard complaints, but that there wasn't much they could do because the buses are legally allowed to load at that location.
But for passengers, many of whom rely on the buses as an affordable alternative to the train, the midtown location is key.
"It’s so easy," said Owen Burdick, 56, an organist who commutes back and forth from Washington, D.C. to the Upper West Side twice a week, and said that moving the buses to somewhere less central would make traveling much less convenient.
Still, he said he understands the pain of those who have to deal with the chaos on the street.
"It’s a quagmire," he said, before pushing through the crowd.