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Chinatown Bus Enforcement Uneven, Officials Say

By Lisha Arino | December 2, 2015 5:21pm
 Passengers crowd the sidewalk at Pike Street as they wait to board an intercity bus in this photo taken by a resident in November 2015.
Passengers crowd the sidewalk at Pike Street as they wait to board an intercity bus in this photo taken by a resident in November 2015.
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Michelle Barone

CHINATOWN — Police have been unevenly enforcing a law enacted two years ago to regulate Chinatown’s long-distance buses, officials said at a public meeting Tuesday night.

Although the 5th and 7th Precincts have issued more than 2,400 bus-related summonses this year so far, only one command said it checked to see if operators had the permits required to pick up and drop off passengers.

The city’s intercity bus regulations require companies to obtain permits to operate, with fines starting at $500 for those that do not comply.

But when pressed by State Sen. Daniel Squadron, who helped write the legislation aimed at regulating the bus industry, Capt. Erik Worobey, the 5th Precinct’s executive officer, admitted that officers were not enforcing that aspect of the law.

“To be honest with you, I don’t know all the rules and regulations for this particular permit law,” said Worobey, adding that the lack of enforcement was a training issue. “I don’t have the knowledge to properly enforce it and be able to win it in a court of law.”

“That’s frustrating,” Squadron said, echoing the sentiments of many residents, who have said the influx of cheap, long-distance buses in recent years has overwhelmed the neighborhood, causing sidewalk and street congestion, pollution, noise and unsafe conditions, particularly for disabled and elderly residents

The 5th Precinct has been cracking on down on illegal bus activity — 941 bus-related violations have been recorded so far this year — but most involve violations like bus layovers, double parking and idling in “No Standing” zones, Worobey said. Those tickets typically cost around $115, he explained.

Over in the 7th Precinct, officers have issued 1,487 bus-related summonses so far this year, said Sgt. LaTonya Williams, who added that enforcement can be tricky since drivers tend to leave the area as soon as they spot police.

As a result, officers tend to focus on writing tickets for obvious infractions, like a no standing violation, said Inspector Scott Hanover, the commanding officer of the NYPD’s traffic operations division.

“If you see a violation, you’re going to issue something right away, before the guy pulls away,” he said.

Enforcement was just one of the topics discussed in a town hall organized by Community Board 3 about the neighborhood’s interstate bus issues. The panel featured city and state government officials as well as Squadron and Councilwoman Margaret Chin. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer also attended the meeting.

The number of intercity buses — both legal and illegal — has become a major neighborhood issue, with many residents arguing that the area is oversaturated. The community board fields complaints about the buses every day, said District Manager Susan Stetzer.

Helen Pappert, who has lived in the neighborhood for more than 50 years, described how difficult it was for her to board a city bus last week because a long-distance company blocked the stop.

“I had to go in the middle of the gutter and wave — wave! — my cane so that the bus could stop for me,” she said.

Carol Anastasio, another resident, wondered how bus companies were allowed to continue, despite their violations.

“If I was driving a car without a license, I would get my car impounded. Why do they get a better standard?” she asked.

Other topics at Tuesday night’s meeting included the bus permitting process, reporting violations to 311, the state’s role in the interstate bus system and the viability of building a bus depot in the area, a measure some residents have proposed as a solution.

Some residents said they hoped the town hall would lead to solutions.

“That’s what we all have to hope that if we engage with the process, the process will hear the people,” said resident Amy Robinson.