Putting 311 to the Test: What Really Happens When You Try to Complain About an Illegal Bus?
A couple of weeks ago we heard from State Sen. Daniel Squadron, who told us his office had finally persuaded the city’s 311 supervisors to make it easier for residents to file complaints about intercity buses.
Local elected officials had high hopes in 2012 when a new state law cleared the way for the city to set up a permit system for intercity buses. In theory, the law was supposed to tame the chaotic atmosphere in Chinatown and parts of the Lower East Side by requiring operators to load passengers only in approved locations.
Unfortunately, there were problems from the start. It was only last summer that the NYPD agreed to begin enforcing the law. Another frequent complaint from local residents: 311 wasn’t equipped to handle bus complaints, especially via the city’s online app.
So is the system now working smoothly? In the past few days, we checked out what happens if you try to complain about a bus using an unauthorized location. Over the years, a persistent trouble-spot has been a stretch along Pike Street between East Broadway and Division streets. Sure enough, on Friday afternoon passengers were seen filing onto a bus from Yep Tours. No bus company has a permit in this location, according to the Department of Transportation’s website.
A check of the 311 mobile app wasn’t very fruitful. There was no category for making a complaint about a bus loading passengers in a place where it was not supposed to be. A phone call to 311 did not produce results, either. An operator said there was no option to file this type of complaint. Finally, on a second call and with a bit of persistence, an operator did submit a “service request.” A few hours later, an email arrived, explaining that the police department responded on the scene and handed out multiple tickets to the bus company.
So the good news is that 311 did sort of work. But this small victory was short-lived. On Sunday afternoon, Yep was right back at it on Pike Street, ushering a large group of passengers onto an idling bus. The schedule available in the office at 120 East Broadway and online showed 21 weekly departures from this one spot. Those tickets are apparently the cost of doing business and, perhaps no deterrent at all.
It just so happens that Yep Tours went before Community Board 3’s transportation committee last week with a request for a legitimate stop on Madison Street. They were rejected. In a draft resolution, the panel noted that the company had been operating without a permit for at least two years, even after the city rejected an earlier application. The resolution (which could be altered before the full board votes) also stated that the board would not condone (and reward) the behavior of an operator that has repeatedly violated the law.
Emma Culbert of the SPaCE Block Association, has spent a lot of time during the past year focused on the bus issue in this particular area of the neighborhood. The other day, she told us the situation has, if anything, gotten worse. “The city has created a de facto bus terminal in our streets,” she said. As for 311, Culbert added, the system remains woefully inadequate if residents are unable to file complaints in a reasonable amount of time and to use the city’s mobile app.
Squadron’s office is well aware that members of SPaCE and other residents are fed up. Last week, a spokesperson for the state senator said he is determined to do whatever is necessary to improve the situation. At the same time, however, he believes it’s important to acknowledge the small victories in implementing the law.