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CB3 Committee Reviews Intercity Bus Permit Bill

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Last week, a bill was introduced in Albany that, if enacted, would create a permit system for intercity buses operating in New York City.  The legislation, sponsored by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senator Daniel Squadron, seeks to reign in those Chinatown buses roaming the neighborhood and causing serious congestion, pollution and other “quality of life” problems.

Earlier this week, Silver and Squadron aides briefed Community Board 3’s transportation committee on the proposal. As we reported last week, the bill would authorize the New York City Council to pass a local law setting up a permit process and establishing regulations for interstate bus companies.

Right now, federal interstate commerce laws prevent the city from enacting legislation on its own.  The state bill is designed to navigate around federal statutes by empowering the city to impose “reasonable limits” on bus operators. During Wednesday’s meeting, CB3’s committee passed a unanimous resolution in support of the plan, but some members questioned whether the legislation would fully address the bus congestion problem.

The state bill was written to give the City Council as much leeway as possible in working out specific provisions with city agencies.  It lays the groundwork for the DOT (in consultation with community boards) to decide where buses can park and for how long.   Some CB3 members hope the legislation will also give the city authority to limit the number of bus permits, but it’s unclear whether this sort of restriction could be written into the law. State lawyers are researching whether it would conflict with federal statutes.

In the past several years, bus companies have flocked to Lower Manhattan to meet strong demand for low cost tickets between New York and cities such as Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.  The DOT Lower Manhattan Borough Commissioner, Luis Sanchez, summarized the latest study attempting to quantify just how many buses are coming in and out of the neighborhood each day.

According to a two-day survey conducted last fall, there are around 1900 buses entering the LES/Chinatown on weekdays. On weekends, the number drops to about 900.  There’s clearly not room for all of those buses to park on the neighborhood’s crowded streets. While a permit system would be a valuable tool in controlling the interstate bus companies, nearly everyone agrees it is only a partial solution.  What a lot of people would like to see is a downtown bus terminal. Unfortunately, the DOT has been unable to find a workable location.

It remains to be seen how the state bill will fare in Albany.  Given Silver’s support, the proposal is likely to sail through the Assembly. But since Republicans control the Senate, Squadron may face an uphill battle getting the legislation to the floor for a vote . If you would like to see the full text of the bill, it’s available on the State Assembly’s web site.

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  1. As soon as I hear about crackdowns over “quality of life” issues I’m reminded of why dancing in most bars is illegal and why I disliked Guiliani so much. As soon as a politician says “quality of life” our BS detectors should be going off. It’s nearly as bad as when they start talking about “decency” or being “tough on crime” – some BS is about to go down.

    These buses are a great example of immigrant owned small businesses being successful by providing a needed service at a fair price. These entrepreneurs saw how sorely our area lacked for a transportation hub, and took the risks to open their own motor coach lines. That ought to be applauded; it’s the kind of New York success story we love to hear over and over. How is it eroding our “quality of life?” I don’t see it.

    If a few buses rumbling down our streets and unloading passengers on the sidewalk undermines your quality of life I’d question the quality of that life to begin with. In fact I don’t buy the quality of life argument at all; I suspect grousing about these businesses springs from offended sensibilities. Some folks simply frown on business being conducted on the street, like LaGuardia frowned on the pushcarts of previous generations. Yet part of what makes a neighborhood vibrant is sidewalk level capitalism, be it a halal cart or a taco truck, a guy selling flowers from 5 gallon pails or fresh vegetables from wooden shelves in front of his shop, a news stand or a guy selling dirty water dogs. The LES used to be so vibrant; today it’s Chinatown’s turn. So what if they have buses? Buses are everywhere in this town. We’ve got MTA buses, private coach lines, school buses… If one is looking for a real quality of life issue regarding them, how about better enforcement of our existing idling laws?

    But no. Silver decides to go after the Chinatown motor coach lines under the quality of life banner. I’m sure the cranky among his constituency will approve, but I think he’s wrong. Fortunately it looks like he doesn’t stand much of a chance with it.

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