Discount buses pose an idle threat

(Credit: Urbanite)

A private bus idles near a MTA bus stop on the corner of Allen and Canal streets last Thursday. (Alana Abel for amNY)

By Marlene Naanes

Discount bus companies are doing more than offering a cheap ride out of town—they are also clogging already congested streets, blocking city bus stops and idling too long, an amNewYork survey found.

More than a dozen buses were found parked in city bus stops, in front of fire hydrants or in the middle of traffic during less than a day’s time. Two buses were found idling longer than the legal three-minute limit, with one empty bus running its engine for about 30 minutes.

On a recent afternoon, one private bus in Chinatown blocked three M15 city buses from pulling into a city bus stop at Division Street and caused a man who uses a wheelchair to enter the street to reach the bus ramp. The bus received two traffic tickets.

“They park all over, all the time,” said Lenny Urban, 53, an M15 bus passenger, of the discount bus lines that sometimes exacerbate his breathing problems with long idling. “Sometimes they interfere with the city buses. They do that all the time.”

Intercity bus travel is growing at the fastest rate in more than 40 years, especially with recent growth in the discount bus lines, according to a recent DePaul University study. In the city, that growth is apparent on already congested city streets in Chinatown and midtown, leaving officials struggling for solutions. There are at least 15 companies offering discount bus service in the city.“It’s totally out of control and it’s only gong to get worse,” said City Councilman Alan Gerson (D-Manhattan), who represents Chinatown and whose office is continually contacted about bus issues. “It not only detracts from the quality of life it’s hazardous. We have more long-distance bus passengers in the Chinatown area than in midtown at the Port Authority.”

Gerson said there isn’t a management plan for buses in lower Manhattan, adding to the problem. He will be meeting with the city transportation department soon to discuss the problem in Chinatown.

Recently, police kicked a few companies out of an area near the Manhattan Bridge that the transportation department for a decade had designated for 30-minute layovers. Gerson’s office was told the companies were parking more buses than police allowed.

Buses from the three companies that used to park there were observed loading, unloading and parking in city bus stops.

“It’s terrible,” said David Wang, owner of Eastern Travel, who said his company received 40 traffic violations in just two weeks. “We try talk to [the local police inspector] several times, and he don’t let us meet with him to talk. If he needs us to do something, we do it.”

The other two companies did not respond to requests for comment. Police did not comment on the recent removal of buses from the layover area, but said that residents have been upset about the buses there for a long time.

Two community boards that represent the Chinatown area said there needs to be more enforcement of traffic and idling laws, and a centralized area where buses could layover would make such efforts easier. Community Board 3 held a hearing on designating one permanent area to control and regulate the buses, but two suggested locations couldn’t pass public scrutiny.

But even with designated areas, the private buses sometimes park in places they are not supposed to. A Bolt bus was recently found blocking a city bus stop on 34th Street while another one unloaded passengers while double-parked in a traffic lane next to the company’s designated spot further down the block.

A representative for the company, a division of Greyhound, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Despite causing some congestion problems, the companies’ popularity is hailed by some New Yorkers.

“For the poor people, their prices are very reasonable,” said Phil Stapleton, who works at Bondy Camera and Appliances in Chinatown, which is next to a private bus company. “In these times, everyone wants to save a penny.”

Alex Clark, 34, who’s lived in Chinatown for seven years, agreed, despite more buses whose passengers clog sidewalks outside his home.

“It’s a little bit worse, but whatever, people have to get to places,” Clark said. “It’s the price you pay in New York City.”

***

Idle threats

amNewYork found the following problems with discount buses. Attempts to reach these companies for comment were unsuccessful.

An Apex bus parked in front of a hydrant on Allen Street for at least 10 minutes on Wednesday.

One New Century bus idled in front of an East Broadway post office for nine minutes without loading passengers.

An unmarked white bus parked for about 10 minutes on Wednesday at an M9 bus stop on East Broadway, blocking one city bus.

Two New Century buses parked at an M9 bus stop on East Broadway on Wednesday, blocking one bus from the curb. One bus idled for more than 30 minutes without loading passengers.

-- Marlene Naanes

Tags: discount buses , chinatown , manhattan , traffic , congestion , environment , midtown , transportation , transit , development

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