Community Board 3’s transportation committee voted last night in support of a taxi relief stand near Punjabi Deli, the beloved cheap eats spot at 114 East 1st St. But there’s a catch. The city says a decision on an exact location must wait until the end of the summer, when a long-delayed construction project on East Houston Street is expected to be completed. In the meantime, the city’s Department of Transportation has agreed to set up a temporary taxi stand on the west side of Avenue A, just above East Houston.
Last summer, a petition drive was started to persuade the Taxi & Limousine Commission that a cabbie stand was needed in front of Punjabi Deli. Owners Satnam and Jason Singh, however, faced many frustrations navigating the city bureaucracy. Earlier this spring, they launched a media offensive, culminating in a short film that was showcased this week on the Tribeca Film Festival’s website. In March, Jason Singh told TLD contributor Linda Li that 70-80% of the restaurant’s business dried up after the road work began five years ago.
Last night, a large group of supporters crowded into a meeting room at University Settlement’s Houston Street Center to voice their enthusiasm for the much-loved small business. Ali Najmi, an attorney working with the Singh family, did most of the talking. While the owners respect the effort to create a temporary “daytime only” taxi stand for four cars on Avenue A, Najmi said, “it’s not enough.” Before the construction began, he noted, a dozen or more cabs lined up in front of the restaurant. Najmi said either East Houston Street or East 1st Street between Avenue A and 1st Avenue would be acceptable locations. Pointing out that the road project and work on a new public plaza has been repeatedly delayed, he added, “We’re asking for a timeline for the end of construction (and the dismantling of the staging area)… We would like to get an answer on when a survey (by DOT) could happen.”
In recent months, Community Board 3 and the office of City Council member Rosie Mendez have been speaking with the Punjabi team and various city agencies to resolve the situation. At last night’s meeting, Mendez said, “I believe there should be a relief stand,” but it’s a question of the “best location.” One issue is the possible move of a city bus stop from a location in front of Union Market (at Houston Street and Avenue A) to a spot closer to Punjabi’s storefront. It’s a change proposed by the community board’s office and could be considered by the transportation committee next month. Mendez said she’s also wants a site for the taxi stand that doesn’t disturb the seniors who live in nearby Meltzer Towers.
Colleen Chattergoon, DOT’s Manhattan community liaison, said her agency “understands the issues” and is willing to work with Punjabi Deli. Construction is being managed by another agency, the Department of Design and Construction. Once they wrap up the job, anticipated in August, a survey will be conducted, she said, and “we’ll let you know how many spaces can go there.” When Punjabi supporters underscored the urgency of the restaurant’s situation, Chattergoon added, “We will expedite it. We will definitely expedite it.”
The resolution approved by the the committee noted that the East Houston Street project is three years behind the original schedule. It stated that preserving “mom and pops” on the Lower east Side is a top priority of Community Board 3. The resolution offered support for the temporary taxi stand on Avenue A (with hours 7 a.m.-7 p.m.) and a permanent 24-hour stand within the vicinity of Punjabi Deli.
The full community board will vote on the resolution Tuesday, May 26, at P.S. 20, 166 essex St., 6:30 p.m.