Politicos, DOT Reach Deal on “Chinatown Bus” Regulation

Sheldon Silver, Daniel Squadron, Margaret Chin, Janette Sadik-Khan and community activists at today's news conference.

Will Albany finally pass legislation to regulate those “Chinatown buses,” which have caused so many safety and “quality of life” issues in Lower Manhattan in recent years?   State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and State Senator Daniel Squadron have been trying for nearly two years. At a news conference held today at Silver’s office, they announced a deal that has the support of the city’s Transportation Department and, apparently, Senate Republicans, who have blocked previous versions of the bill.

DOT Commissioner Janette Sadek-Khan was present at today’s event.  “Neighborhood streets should not be turned into de-facto bus depots” by inter-city bus operators,” she said. The legislation would set up a permit system, giving the city the leverage it needs to assign loading and unloading spaces and to make sure bus companies are following safety guidelines.

"Chinatown buses" have been blamed for clogging neighborhood streets, polluting and blocking sidewalks.

But in contrast with legislation previously passed by the Assembly, this bill does not give the City Council a role in spelling out bus regulations. The DOT and Republican Senator Martin Golden insisted on keeping the Council out of the decision-making process.  So instead, there’s a provision requiring a public comment period and consultation with local community boards.

Silver said the bus legislation will come up for a vote once again before the session ends in June.  Squadron expressed confidence that passage is now all but assured.

Also at today’s news conference, City Council member Margaret Chin, who has been pushing for the new regulations along with Silver and Squadron.  Community Board 3, which has been urging lawmakers to act for several years, was represented by District Manager Susan Stetzer.  Chris Kui of Asian Americans for Equality and Justin Yu of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce attended, as well.

Here are the key elements of the legislation:

  • It would require that bus permit applications include identification of the intercity bus company, identification of the specific buses to be used, identification of the bus stop location(s) being requested, the total number of buses and passengers expected to use each location, bus schedules, and identification of the places where buses would park when not in use;
  • It would require the city, prior to assigning an intercity bus stop, to consult with local community boards and the MTA (if an intercity bus stop would overlap with an MTA bus stop), and to consider traffic, safety, and applicant preferences;
  • It would require that applicants, the local community board and the MTA (if applicable) receive notification prior to an intercity bus stop being relocated;
  • It would require the city, prior to issuing a permit or permanently amending a permit, to consult with the local community board, including a 45-day notice and comment period;
  • It would authorize intercity bus stops to be temporarily changed for up to 90 days, with written notice to the local community board;
  • It would establish that permits would be for terms of up to three years, authorize permit fees (up to $275 per vehicle annually), and require intercity buses to display permits;
  • It would provide for public involvement through the city’s rulemaking process (including public hearings), and through on-line posting of approved applications and all intercity bus stops; and
  • It would provide for penalties for intercity buses that load or unload passengers on city streets either without a permit or in violation of permit requirements or restrictions (a fine of up to $1,000 for a first violation, up to $2,500 for repeat violations, and suspending or revoking a permit).