Follow-up: Proposed Intercity Bus Permit Plan Announced

Residents on the Lower East Side have been waiting a long time for something to be done about the ever-growing number of so-called “Chinatown buses” clogging the neighborhood’s streets. In December of 2009, Department of Transportation official Luis Sanchez told Community Board 3 his agency wanted a permit system for intercity buses. Finally today, more than a year later, proposed legislation is being introduced in Albany.

The bill would authorize the New York City Council to pass a local law setting up a permit process. If it has the desired effect, the proposed law would give DOT officials and the NYPD the tools they need to deal with bus congestion and pollution.  Specifically, the legislation would:

  • Prohibit intercity buses from picking up and dropping off passengers on city streets except at approved pick-up and drop off locations
  • Assign a city agency to implement and enforce the permitting system
  • Establish a community board review process for issuing permits and designating locations/relocations for bus pick-up and drop-off
  • Require consultation with the MTA in designating locations/relocations for bus pick-up and drop-off and issuance of permits
  • Provide public notice of all permit applications within five days of submission
  • Require applicants to obtain five thousand dollar surety bonds
  • Mandate agency review, and approval or denial, within ninety days of submission of application
  • Require the display of permits in buses
  • Exempt school buses, sight-seeing buses, transportation authority buses, municipal buses and others
  • Authorize a maximum $275 annual fee to be credited to the city as well as civil penalties for violations
  • Prohibit the adoption of any system until there has been a public hearing

The Chinatown bus issue has been on Community Board 3’s radar for several years. Residents have come before CB3’s transportation committee to complain that the buses were parking for extended periods of time on city streets, that their passengers were clogging the neighborhood’s sidewalks and that fumes from the buses were causing health dangers.

The DOT said new legislation was needed to reign in the buses, which are largely unregulated. But crafting the bill was tricky because lawmakers wanted to make sure there were no conflicts with federal interstate commerce laws.  Community Board 3 has been cajoling elected officials for many months on the issue.

Today’s surprise announcement was orchestrated by the Lower East Side’s elected officials for maximum political benefit. News of the proposed legislation first surfaced in this morning’s New York Times. A hastily arranged news conference took place a few hours later on the corner of Canal and Allen streets, one of the neighborhood’s most notorious bus-burdened intersections.  Among the speakers: State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, State Senator Daniel Squadron and City Coucilmember Margaret Chin.

Arrayed behind them, on a bone-chilling morning, were many Chinatown business and community leaders, as well as bus company operators. Pei Lin Liang of the Fung Wah bus company, was supportive of the proposed legislation. In recent years, the bus companies have become popular not only in Chinatown but across the city.  Like local residents, bus operators have been frustrated by the lack of clear rules.

The legislation will need to be approved in Albany before it can be taken up by the City Council. Chin said she’s optimistic about its chances in the Council, especially since Speaker Christine Quinn has already thrown her support behind the plan. City transportation officials were not present at today’s media event.

CB3’s transportation committee will discuss the proposal next Wednesday, at 630pm, at the offices of Asian Americans for Equality, 111 Division Street.