The New York Times reported today that Yo! Bus is “rushing to fill the void left by the shutdown of Fung Wah,” the Chinatown bus company which was forced out of service by the federal government last week due to safety concerns. Yo!, a joint operation of Greyhound and Peter Pan, began service from Pike Street last December. The company was forced to move from a proposed location in front of Seward Park after a neighborhood uproar.
Following the Times report, YO! put out a press release today announcing six daily round trips between New York and Boston, a route previously served by Fung Wah. The new service begins on Thursday from the same Pike Street location, near East Broadway. As the Times story indicated, the Department of Transportation “updated (Yo!’s permit)” to allow the additional stops.
This morning Greyhound announced that its discount Yo! Bus Service, offering service between New York and Chinatown, will begin operating December 18. Last month, Community Board 3 approved an application from the company for a bus stop on the west side of Pike Street, between East Broadway and Division Street. The Department of Transportation then made it official.
As you probably recall, the DOT was forced to back away from an earlier proposal to put the bus stop on Essex Street in front of Seward Park after residents, backed by elected officials, complained. Last week, members of Asian Americans for Equality asked the board to postpone the decision on the latest application, citing the prospect of large crowds and congestion outside their offices (located just across the street). But CB3 members said Greyhound had agreed to operating restrictions (crowd control agents, trash pick-up, anti-pollution devices) to alleviate the concerns. It’s a nine month permit; the community board will have the opportunity to review Yo! operations in six months.
Community Board 3 is out with its November meeting agendas. One item of particular interest: the transportation committee’s November 14th hearing, which will include a proposal from Greyhound for a bus stop on Pike Street, between East Broadway and Division. In September, residents beat back a plan from Greyhound’s new discount “YO! Bus” service for a stop in front of Seward Park on Essex Street.
The agenda indicates the stop would “would be on the small median (not the sidewalk directly adjacent to the former gas station). The closest street address is 2 Pike Street.”
The meeting takes place at 6:30 p.m. on November 14th at LaMama, 47 Great Jones Street.
Last week, we reported on Mall-terations, a temporary art installation to beautify the crumbling Allen/Pike Street pedestrian walkways and focus attention on the need for improvements. The project was spearheaded by Hester Street Collaborative, a non-profit organization which helped lead a neighborhood visioning process to rehabilitate 13 center islands along this neglected street. In the past few months there has been some progress. But because there’s not enough money to get the whole job done, it’s been slow going. This afternoon, we have an update from the Parks Department.
The people who live on Pike Street near East Broadway are not waiting for the city to conduct its investigation of the chaos occurring outside their apartments. We have been covering their fight to have a parking permit for the private charter company revoked (See here and here). They have appeared before Community Board 3 three times in the past month. CB3 has voted to stand behind the residents, while at the same time pushing for a broader solution to the unregulated Chinatown bus problem in Downtown Manhattan.
The next step is for the city’s Department of Transportation to send investigators to Pike Street to observe what’s happening. But the residents have been doing quite a lot of observing on their own. They have now posted several videos to their new YouTube channel documenting the chaos unfolding day and night out their windows. The permit allows the buses to load and unload only – not to park in front of the apartments indefinitely. The city does not allow bus company employees to loiter on the sidewalks, pitching cheap tickets to people walking by. But the videos, sent to us by resident Albert Chan, make it clear “Coach USA” and “Eastern Travel” are doing a lot more than “loading and unloading:”
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.
Residents fed up with idling buses and gathering crowds of passengers outside their apartments appealed to Community Board 3 last night for relief. The tenants of 1 Pike Street and other buildings submitted a petition to the board calling on the NYPD and the city’s Department of Transportation to remove the commercial bus stop from their block.
In the past five years, community boards and the city have struggled to find a solution to the bus problem. There are at least 20 bus companies operating low cost routes between New York and cities such as Boston and Washington, D.C.
Albert Chan, a leader of the residents’ group, told us Eastern Travel and Coach USA, the companies operating on Pike between East Broadway and Division streets, block public buses from pulling up to the curb, allow their buses to idle for extended periods of time and are unable to keep their passengers from littering and even loitering in private lobbies.
The group has also contacted the office of State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to see if he can help. We’ll have more on the Chinatown bus issue in the next few days.
Note: Albert Chan provided The Lo-Down with these photos.
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