Residents Battle Chinatown Buses and NYC Red Tape

As early as 6 o’clock in the morning, the long tour buses pull up to Albert Chan’s apartment on Pike Street, idling, attracting swarming crowds and snarling traffic. There’s so much congestion MTA buses often can’t stop at the curb. The booming Chinatown bus business has been a boon to consumers, who can travel to Washington, D.C., Boston and other cities for around 20 bucks. But for Chan and his neighbors, the daily scene at their doorstep has become a nightmare.

Tonight, he’ll go before a committee of Community Board 3, asking members to support his request to revoke the bus company’s permit for 3 Pike Street, the residential building next door. For weeks, Chan has been going back and forth with the mayor’s  community liaison and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s office. Silver has written a letter to the NYC Dept. of Transportation in support of revoking (or at least re-evaluating) the permit.

Here’s the rub: it’s hardly an isolated problem. Since 1998 when the city first started allowing the discount buses to load and unload passengers curbside, they have become a mini-phenomenon. No one knows for sure, but it’s apparent more private interstate buses roll through Chinatown every day than depart the Port Authority. With no central pick-up or drop off location, they fan out all over downtown, parking wherever they can.

City Councilman Alan Gerson is calling on the DOT to come up with a master plan for private buses in the city. When the agency tried to develop a temporary solution in 2007, parking the buses on Pike Street near the FDR Drive, community groups rebelled. It’s a classic case of NIMBY- “not in my back yard.”  The representative from the mayor’s office actually asked Chan is he had any ideas where the buses could be moved.

The situation grew even more vexing last month when the city was forced to scrub plans to move 18 buses to Tribeca. They’re now joining a much larger cluster of buses along the East River, delaying construction of the new esplanade.

We’ll see what CB3’s transportation committee decides to do. The meeting takes place at 630pm, at 308 East 1st Avenue.