HELL'S KITCHEN — The city is targeting cheap, unpermitted shuttle buses that ferry passengers between Midtown and New Jersey, according to officials and passengers.
The so-called "Jersey Jitneys" are made up of a patchwork of different bus companies that pick up passengers along West 42nd Street, across from the Port Authority Bus Terminal, and take them through the Lincoln Tunnel for as little as $3 a ride.
According to passengers and workers for the jitneys, the NYPD has begun to crack down on the companies, either by fining them or simply telling them they can't pick up customers on West 42nd Street.
A police source confirmed officers were enforcing DOT intercity bus rules on the block.
Most of the companies don't have city permission to operate as intercity buses, according to Department of Transportation records, but their loyal passengers say they're a much quicker and more efficient alternative to New Jersey Transit buses.
"The jitneys are amazingly efficient," said Hugh Lester, a regular jitney passenger who boards the bus at Boulevard East on the Jersey side of the Lincoln Tunnel.
"It can be five to seven minutes from our door to the Port Authority or back, that's why people use them."
Lester and his wife had tried to head back home on the night of July 11 but were thwarted when police shut down the jitney service.
"There are a ton of buses that serve that route on New Jersey Transit, but it's just not enough," he said.
Locals say the jitney buses idle on the street and block the MTA's M42 bus — which in December won the Straphanger Campaign's Pokey Award for the city's slowest bus route.
According to Community Board 4 chairwoman Christine Berthet, the jitney companies have been slow to file for new city permits or even work with the board to find a new pick-up and drop-off spot. The board brought up the issue with police, asking them to step up enforcement.
"The only way to bring the rogue jitney companies to the table is to drastically increase enforcement," Berthet said.
A Department of Transportation spokeswoman said that any interstate carriers need to have a permit from the DOT to pick up and drop off passengers on city streets and those without them would be subject to action by the NYPD.
The spokeswoman added that the department would work with companies to help them get a proper permit.
After the city said it would begin ticketing intercity buses in Chinatown in August, in the hopes of curbing bus traffic there, state Sen. Brad Hoylman asked the NYPD to do the same thing on West 42nd Street.
"While I appreciate the economic benefits that these buses bring to New York, in addition to the low-cost options they provide to New Yorkers looking to travel outside of the city, I do not believe we should sacrifice the safety and order of our pedestrian and vehicular traffic in exchange for those benefits," he wrote in the July 18 letter to NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton.
Staff at three of the jitney operators named by Hoylman — Fuji, Three Aces and Galaxy — did not respond to requests for comment.
On Monday afternoon, there were four Sphinx buses — operated by Galaxy — parked on both sides of West 42nd Street, one with a can of Coors sitting on the dashboard. A steady stream of passengers were getting on to head to New Jersey.
Aberto Sherwood helps load passengers for Sphinx and makes sure no one parks in the bus company's unofficial pick-up spot outside of a Burger King.
He said the company's received a few $2,000 fines, but would continue to operate regardless.
"They can't shut us down," he said. "We'll go to court. We'll go to war."