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City Council Committee Pushes for Legislation to Regulate Chinatown Buses

Passengers board a bus in Chinatown last week.
Passengers board a bus in Chinatown last week.
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DNAinfo/Patrick Hedlund

By Patrick Hedlund

DNAinfo News Editor

DOWNTOWN — A City Council committee called on the state Wednesday to pass proposed legislation to regulate inter-city buses following a pair of deadly crashes involving coaches traveling in and out of Chinatown.

A bill introduced by State Sen. Daniel Squadron and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver last month would establish a permit system to create designated curbside pickup and drop-off locations for the dozens of bus companies that operate out of the city, most heavily in Chinatown.

The measure would also assign a city agency to enforce the permit system, as well review each operator applying for a permit, to create more accountability for individual drivers and bus companies.

Spencer Lam, a representative from the Fung Wah Bus company, testified at the Council hearing.
Spencer Lam, a representative from the Fung Wah Bus company, testified at the Council hearing.
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DNAinfo/Patrick Hedlund

The Council push comes after two buses originating from Chinatown crashed within days of each other, killing 17 people and injuring dozens more.

"We cannot have buses coming to our city that pose a danger to residents," said Councilman James Vacca, chairman of Transportation Committee. "These issues are not transparent right now."

The Council's Committee on State and Federal Legislation, which held the hearing, voted unanimously to support a resolution urging passage of the bill by the state Legislature. The resolution was set to be voted on by the full Council at Wednesday's meeting.

The issue of buses ganging on Chinatown streets — especially at the intersection of Pike Street, East Broadway and Division Street — has created a "Wild West" atmosphere in the neighborhood, forcing some passengers to board buses in the middle of busy streets, Community Board 3 district manager Susan Stetzer testified at the hearing.

"You can't deal with it one [bus] stop at a time," said Stetzer, who noted the issue has become the source of many complaints to her office. "It's terrible to say, somebody has to die first."

Spencer Lam, a representative from the popular Chinatown bus carrier Fung Wah, also testified in favor of the measure, noting that the bus company is "hopeful and thankful" for the proposed legislation.

However, a Department of Transportation official testified that the agency  opposes the current legislation because the bill wants to look more broadly at curbside space throughout the city instead of focusing on individual neighborhoods.

David Woloch, deputy commissioner of external affairs for the DOT, called the current measure's requirement that a citywide assessment be conducted for all curbside space available for bus loading "unworkable and unnecessary."

"Each request from an operator must be assessed on its needs and the issues in that location for that particular community," he said, noting that DOT has generally been supportive of inter-city bus regulations and that it has been working with lawmakers to make the legislation more feasible.

Councilwoman Margaret Chin, a lead proponent of the measure who has been working with the state Legislature to pass the bill, said the DOT needs to resolve any reservations it has to get the law implemented as soon as possible.

"How many people have to die?" she said after the hearing.

Chin added that political gamesmanship in Albany should also not prevent the legislation from passing quickly.

"Every time you have a tragedy, it's a wakeup call," she said. "If they don't seize this opportunity to do something now, I don't think they can look themselves in the mirror."