Local elected officials are still holding out hope that an intercity bus law signed by Governor Cuomo two years ago this month will finally be implemented 11 days from now. Lower East Side and Chinatown residents, increasingly agitated by the bus onslaught in their neighborhood, would be forgiven for a healthy dose of skepticism that it will actually happen.
On July 14, State Senator Daniel Squadron, State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, City Councilmember Margaret Chin, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Community Board 3 put out a statement that read, in part:
Today, DOT and the NYPD committed to enforcing intercity bus permit regulations no later than August 15… We are pleased that the city agencies and local precincts are committed to working as partners with us to take the challenge. Our offices look forward to working collaboratively with the local police precincts, DOT, Community Board 3, and local bus operators to ensure the permit system is enforced properly and within the time frame DOT and NYPD have committed to.
The state law, sponsored by Squadron and Silver, allowed the city to set up a permit system to regulate the rapidly expanding intercity bus industry. Operators are only allowed to use curbside spots for which they have approved DOT permits. The penalty for a first-offense is $500 and $2500 for repeat offenders.
But as the watchdog website Save LES Streets has found, there are at least 68 bus companies operating without permits in this neighborhood alone. Only 22 are properly licensed. After the law officially took effect in November 2012, the DOT adopted rules for the permit system in July of 2013 and the city established a penalty schedule 5 months later. Up until very recently, however, word about the new law never trickled down to local precincts, so enforcement was not occurring. There was a grace period for companies to come into compliance, but that expired earlier this year.
Senator Squadron convened a meeting in an attempt to get everyone on the same page. Representatives from the Transportation Department as well as from the NYPD, including local precincts, were there. The news release announcing the August 15 enforcement date followed that meeting.
In the past week, we contacted the DOT press office and asked these questions:
- Was the city on target to begin enforcing the bus law by August 15?
- What steps were required in order for local precincts to begin enforcement?
A spokesperson replied via email that the agency is working closely with the police department and local elected officials to maintain “safe and legal intercity bus operations.” The spokesperson noted that the NYPD is responsible for enforcement and referred us to the police department for further questions. The Department of Transportation, we were told, is committed to “working closely with community boards and other local stakeholders” — and “welcomes their continued input.”
As for the police department, it’s our understanding that the intercity bus rules are still being reviewed by the NYPD’s lawyers. When that review is complete, they will be forwarded to neighborhood precincts.
At the local level, there are signs that police are putting some resources behind bus enforcement, even as they wait for instructions regarding the new law. Captain Tim Wilson, executive officer of the 7th Precinct, said last week that they conducted enforcement sweeps on the Lower East Side jointly with the state Department of Transportation on two separate dates last month. About 10 buses were issued summonses, mostly for safety issues. Three buses were taken out of service for safety violations. The operations, he said, were a direct result of resident complaints.
Meantime, residents are continuing to monitor the bus industry on their own. In the past few days, SPaCE, a block association that mobilized against the bus industry several months ago and launched a petition drive, urged its members to help collect information and photos regarding “illegal bus activity” via the Save LES Streets site. “If the governing bodies of NYC are unable to successfully surveil the private bus industry,” an email message read, “then we will do it for them. The DOT and the city must be made fully aware of the gravity of this situation and held accountable.”