MIDTOWN — If you can't beat 'em, move 'em.
The throngs of luggage-toting bus travelers clogging Midtown sidewalks around Penn Station could become a thing of the past, as the city's Department of Transportation prepares to implement new rules to determine when and how to relocate bus stops for private carriers like Bolt and Megabus.
The DOT is convening a hearing on the measures June 10.
Local shop owners and business improvement districts like the 34th Street Partnership say the changes, which the DOT expects to implement some time this summer, can't come soon enough.
"It's a...disaster," said Tom Dwyer, owner of the Blarney Rock Pub on West 33rd Street near Seventh Avenue, just steps from a Bolt Bus stop packed with travelers waiting for buses to cities like Baltimore and Washington. "People can't walk on the sidewalk. They have to walk in the street. Tourists won't come down the street because they don't know what's going on. I've been here 44 years, and I've never seen a mess this bad."
As 34th Street Partnership spokesman Joe Carella described, "Clogging streets, clogging sidewalks, it's been a thorn in our side for years now."
Under the new rules, the DOT would issue bus-stop permits of up to three years to private bus carriers, and it would have the power to move bus stops if they affect "traffic, pedestrian flow and safety."
The bus companies, which currently do not pay for curbside stops, would be required to fork over a $30 fee for each weekly pickup or dropoff. They do not use the Port Authority Bus Terminal because the station is filled to capacity, a Port Authority spokesman said.
"We will be working with the intercity bussing industry as the new system goes into effect," the DOT said in a statement.
Bolt Bus, in a statement, said it remains "fully focused on safe and reliable operations. We have been engaged with city officials about the proposed changes and will continue to work within all regulations that are in place now or in the future."
On Tuesday afternoon, however, the carrier seemed virtually powerless. A Bolt Bus employee, clad in a fluorescent vest, repeatedly asked dozens of waiting travelers to stand against the wall to keep the sidewalk clear. Most simply ignored her, and as soon as one of the company's bright orange buses pulled to the curb, the group surged toward the street, completely blocking the sidewalk.
"I try to get them to stand by the wall, but customers just don't listen," the worker explained, asking not to be identified because she was not authorized to speak to the press. "It's just the nature of people."
Han Seo, the manager of 33 Gourmet Deli, expressed exasperation as he looked at the throng pressed against his store's windows, blocking both his shop and those to either side.
"They think they own the street. We can't even open the door sometimes," Seo said. "If they moved the buses, that would be perfect. If not somebody's got to be out there moving people."
Even the bus passengers, themselves, grew frustrated.
"It's kind of tough out here, it's congested," said Chris B., 44, who was waiting for a bus to Washington. "There has to be a better way."