NYC residents may soon get some relief from an onslaught of long-distance and commuter buses. Last Friday Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, whose district includes Chinatown, where long-distance buses have been driving local residents crazy, introduced legislation that takes a first shot at managing the growing private bus industry in NYC.
The bill (A4578/S2977) authorizes the NYC Department of Transportation to designate pick-up and drop-off spots for buses and to require these buses to obtain a permit to operate and park in the city. School buses, sight-seeing buses, MTA buses, and other municipal buses are exempt from the legislation. TSTC called for such measures in a 2009 report, “Express Route to Better Bus Service,” which identified ways to improve the cross-Hudson commute while balancing the need for regulation to protect local neighborhoods throughout the city.
Private long-distance bus operators like MegaBus and Bolt Bus, and sight-seeing buses appear largely unregulated throughout the city, especially in Manhattan. Community ire led to a new city law that requires sightseeing buses to switch from loudspeakers to headphones by mid-2015. And other complaints abound. Buses park in undesignated spots, idle for long periods at a time, and utilize valuable sidewalk space to load and unload passengers. They often block entrances to businesses, and even park in MTA bus stops and bus lanes. This bill would address the lack of oversight authority that has contributed to these problems.
These are not the only ideas to address private bus parking in NYC. In December, the Mayor’s Midtown Citizens Committee released the “Midtown Tour and Charter Bus Parking Initiative,” in which they surveyed private tour and charter bus companies to project demand for bus parking. One of the report’s key findings was that a lack of Midtown bus parking resulted in bus operators driving around for hours, exacerbating traffic congestion and poor air quality. The report identifies 70 potential additional curbside locations for buses–an exercise that would complement this legislation if it were swiftly passed.
According to the Citizens Committee, a significant portion of these spaces will eventually become inaccessible due to planned projects like the Hudson Yards development on Manhattan’s Far West Side. A more long-term approach to bus parking would be the construction of another bus parking garage. TSTC has called on the Port Authority and Governor Cuomo, in concert with NYC agencies and community groups, to move forward on plans to construct a bus garage. The Citizens Committee suggests four potential Manhattan sites that could be used for temporary or permanent bus parking or bus garages, including sharing the NYPD Tow Pound at Pier 76 at West 38th Street. These might not fit the Port Authority’s need for a “high-velocity bus garage” capable of handling hundreds of transit and commuter buses during rush hour, but could help tame the chaos caused by long-distance buses.
Given the long and uncertain timeframe for a new Hudson rail crossing, increased bus service is needed now, but must be balanced with community concerns. There is great potential for the legislation and the recommendations of the Committee to complement each other in achieving both ends.
Photo: Tri-State Transportation Campaign.