As we have been reporting, Community Board 3’s transportation committee tonight will consider a resolution asking the city to impose a temporary moratorium on new intercity bus permits along Canal Street. In recent months, local residents have been increasingly frustrated with the large number of companies operating in the area. A new state law setting up a bus permit system is so far not having a positive impact. As matter of fact, some locals think it’s having the opposite effect.
Here’s one illustration of the problem. Day after day, an operator called Asian Express pulls up to a stretch of Division Street, just to the west of Essex Street, to load and unload passengers. The spot is not a designated bus stop, meaning the company is using it illegally. But in spite of the fact that the Department of Transportation has been advised of the situation, Asian Express continues to use the location. Traffic cops are occasionally seen handing out traffic tickets, but this type of enforcement is obviously a weak deterrent.
Earlier today, CB3 District Manager Susan Stetzer said local boards have been told enforcement of the law will be handled by a task force working out of police headquarters downtown. So far, however, there appears to have been no coordination between One Police Plaza and local precincts, including the 7th and 5th precincts on the Lower East Side and Chinatown. Stetzer said CB3 would continue working with the Department of Transportation as well as the NYPD until enforcement is occurring.
Local elected representatives are also talking with city officials about the situation. Here’s a statement City Council member Margaret Chin put out about the ongoing efforts to fully implement the intercity bus law:
Although Community Board 3’s consideration of a Canal Street moratorium is definitely understandable and based on legitimate concerns, my office and I have been working closely with DOT and the community board on a broader goal of making sure the bus permitting process is being implemented in the right way. That means community boards having a strong voice in the decision-making process. This is definitely a work in progress, and I believe the public needs to see more of the information used by DOT for their decision-making on bus permits, and specifically how those decisions are made. I understand the urgency of residents’ concerns about the high volume of intercity buses around Chinatown, but we must also remember that these intercity buses — not casino buses — play an important role in the local economy. The key here is to balance the economic value of those intercity buses with legitimate concerns about saturation. We can find that balance by making sure the permitting process is more transparent and community-focused, and I will continue to work with DOT and Community Board 3 to make that happen.
One organization that has been especially vocal about the intercity bus glut is the SPaCE block association. Last month, it sent a letter to State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, pleading for help. Silver, along with State Sen. Dan Squadron sponsored the permit law. Here’s a portion of the letter:
We recognize and respect the tradition of the Chinatown bus service that has developed in our neighborhood, however, additional permits would not be servicing the community. In fact, the bus operations now stand in direct opposition to the sanctity and benefit of our residential neighborhood. The operations of transportation organizations are extremely dangerous. That is why transportation companies have strict policies, procedures, governance and enforcement that keeps the injury, death and abduction toll to a minimum. That is why families do not live inside of the Port Authority Bus Terminal. Due to lack of space at Port Authority, our neighborhood has become the de facto dumping ground for private bus permits. The optimal solution is the creation of a centralized and actively governed downtown bus depot. Our community is now wise enough to know that our outrage at being exploited for private bus company profiteering won’t change the law. The unfortunate fact is that legal and political hazards are more effective at supporting legislation… It is only a very short matter of time before one of our children or seniors is abducted, killed or injured. Any probability model would show that as a cold, hard fact. A child being killed by a bus or abducted by one of its patrons will certainly provide a legal foundation to support legislation… Our elected officials have the power to prevent a tragedy rather than to remediate one in court… Please, we are pleading with you to embrace the path of prevention.
Today we checked in with Silver’s office regarding the issues around the permit law. Here’s his response:
Our law gives Community Board 3 direct input into the placement of stops for intercity buses and provides the Department of Transportation (DOT) with the tools needed to stop the dangerous and disruptive practices of many bus companies on our local streets. I have strongly advocated for DOT to work more collaboratively with the community during the siting process, and for DOT to enforce all provisions of the law as stringently as possible.
Tonight’s meeting takes place in the Seward Park community room, 266 East Broadway, at 6:30 p.m.
UPDATE 6/13: We also have a statement from Daniel Squadron, the Senate sponsor of the bus law:
We wrote this law to empower communities to have a real say in this process. If DOT is not valuing the community’s input, then something has broken down. Collaboration between DOT and the community is essential. We understand the economic rationale that creates the bus companies’ desire for stops in these neighborhoods, but that really must be balanced with the quality of life concerns raised by those who make their homes here.