The NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) held a public hearing yesterday regarding its proposed rules for a new interstate bus permit system. It’s been nearly a year since a state law authorizing the system was enacted. Last month, the DOT issued the proposed rules bus companies will be required to obey.
In brief, they spell out the process to be followed anytime an interstate bus carrier wishes to apply for a permit. The companies would not be allowed to drop off and pick up passengers in any unapproved location (that, of course, happens all the time now). If they failed to adhere to the rules or if, for example, a driver is involved in a fatal accident, the permit could be revoked. The law requires the city to “Consult” with local community boards about the locations of new stops and restrictions on the permits.
Some business owners and residents argue that one provision in particular, grandfathering existing permits for up to three years, means not much is going to change. They think it would be better for everyone to start with a clean slate now. The Wall Street Journal reported that City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Lower Manhattan Council member Margaret Chin and Council member James Vacca (transportation committee chair), wrote a letter to DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, pleading with her to reduce the “grandfathering” period to one year.
Susan Stetzer, Community Board 3’s district manager, testified at yesterday’s hearing, on behalf of the board’s transportation committee. In the past year, the board has reviewed eight bus permits under roughly the same guidelines as the proposed framework DOT is now proposing. Among those applications was a permit for Yo! Bus, which faced fierce opposition from neighbors around Seward Park before settling on a spot at Pike Street and East Broadway.
In her testimony, Stetzer said the rules are not specific enough when it comes to “community board consultation.” Specifically, CB3 feels the Transportation Department needs to be providing more information regarding proposed permit locations. There’s also a need, she said, to evaluate how much room any bus company needs to operate. Stetzer noted that, in the permits considered in the past year, DOT had dedicated 40 feet of curb space for each stop (an imposition in any community but particularly so in the highly congested Chinatown and LES neighborhoods). In other cases, bus stops had been created even when companies were only running four or five trips a day, “not enough usage to warrant dedicated curbside space.” Also, some bus stops already approved have eliminated truck loading zones used by local businesses. Finally, CB3 wants the DOT to involve local communities in drafting “methods of operation” for operators, including stipulations meant to prevent street-side ticket selling and swarming crowds.
The interstate bus legislation was pushed through in Albany after a series of deadly accidents and growing complaints throughout the city regarding a “Wild West” atmosphere that surrounded the largely unregulated “Chinatown Bus” industry. Just last week, federal regulators shut down Lucky Star bus over safety violations.