A City Council committee this morning gave a boost to proposed state legislation that would allow New York City to set up a permitting system for intercity buses. This afternoon, the full Council will vote on the so-called “home rule” resolution, calling on Albany to pass the bills now before lawmakers in Albany. Pushing through the bus regulation bill has taken on greater urgency in light of the horrible accident in the Bronx March 12th that left 15 passengers dead.
Members of the State Legislative Affairs Committee voted unanimously this morning in support of a “home rule message.” The move was backed by Councilmember Margaret Chin, who has strongly advocated regulating the buses. In a short hearing, several witnesses testified on the merits of the state legislation, which would allow the NYPD and city agencies to regulate interstate bus companies. In the past, city officials have said federal interstate commerce laws restricted their ability to control the burgeoning industry.
The Department of Transportation, which has been generally supportive of the legislation, was not enthusiastic about today’s City Council vote. Deputy Commissioner David Woloch said DOT staff have been working with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senator Daniel Squadron to address some specific points in the bill. Of particular concern, he said, is a provision requiring the DOT to make an assessment of every potential curbside parking spot in the city.
Walloch said this requirement would be burdensome and unnecessary. He suggested the city could evaluate specific spots as applications come in from bus companies for permanent pick-up/drop-off locations. In consideration of the ongoing conversations with Silver and Squadron, Walloch said the DOT could not support the Council’s home rule resolution.
Several bus operators were in attendance at today’s hearing. Spencer Lam of the Fung Wah Bus Company complained about the NYPD’s increased enforcement sweeps, which have resulted in dozens of parking tickets for his firm alone. Wellington Chen of the Chinatown Partnership, told committee members police and bus drivers play a “cat and mouse game,” guessing where each will be on any given day. Chen argued the situation is bad for Chinatown businesses, which rely on intercity buses for a steady flow of customers into the neighborhood.
Community Board 3, testified district manager Susan Stetzer, has been concerned about the issue for six or seven years and has been working with the city and lawmakers to find a solution that both Lower East Side residents and bus companies can support. Referencing the Bronx crash, she said, “it’s terrible to have to say someone has to die (before something is done about a dangerous situation).”
Chin joined Council Speaker Christine Quinn at a news conference before today’s full City Council meeting to discuss the home rule resolution. Noting that problems with buses have also plagued Quinn’s district, Chin said the speaker has been supportive of the legislation.
A short time ago, we asked Assembly Speaker Silver’s office about the DOT’s concerns. In an email statement, Silver responded “this is a good bill that addresses the needs of our community and provides much needed regulation of the intercity bus industry. I look forward to seeing it enacted into law.”
The legislation being considered in Albany would authorize the City Council to enact more specific rules setting up a city-wide permitting system. It came as something of a surprise this week when the Council was asked to weigh in before the vote in Albany. The hope is, apparently, that an endorsement by the Council will improve the bill’s prospects in the Republican-controlled Senate.
We expect to have more on this story later today.