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Chinatown Buses, Long Denied Legal Drop-Off Zones, Lobby for Downtown Curb Space
2010-03-18
By Suzanne Ma

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

CHINATOWN — Chinatown bus operators are lobbying the city to establish designated pick-up and drop-off locations in a ferocious competition for the neighborhood's limited curb space.

The buses, which provide cheap fares to and from Chinatowns across the East Coast, currently do not have set depots or stops in Manhattan where passengers can get on and off.

Drivers claim they have no choice, but to illegally stop their large vehicles on congested neighborhood streets.

On Tuesday, Community Board 3 barred yet another bus operator — Double Happiness Travel — from establishing two pick up and drop off points in Chinatown.

It was the fourth time in the last year that CB3 has denied such a request.

"It's a bad situation, but there's no way to do it fairly," said CB3's transportation committee chair David Crane.

"We need regulations, but the regulations do not exist. And I don't think we are in a position to evaluate who gets limited curb space."

Crane claimed the onus to give permits to Chinatown buses fell on the Department of Transportation.
Chinatown Buses Fight For Curb SpaceThe Department of Transportation conducted a study observing Chinatown buses and their effect on the neighborhood. (Department of Transportation)

But the Department of Transportation told DNAinfo bus operators should lobby elected officials and the mayor's office.

Chinatown buses — originally established in 1997 to transport restaurant workers to and from Chinatowns across the East Coast — have become the popular choice among students and other budget-conscious travelers looking for a cheap way to get from city to city.

As the industry boomed, dozens of companies began to compete not only for passengers, but for coveted curb space.

It's a problem for Chinatown bus operators, who are frequently ticketed by police and say they want to work something out with the city.

And it's a problem for the community, where nearly 300 buses arrive and depart from Manhattan's Chinatown every day.

The city and community boards have received numerous complaints about the noise, pollution and litter coming from the vehicles and the passengers that line up on neighborhood sidewalks to board those buses.

But no one can decide on what should be done about it.

In October, the Department of Transportation released a report advising that the city institute a permitting process to require bus operators to pay for curbside use, just as commercial trucks are required to pay for parking. But instituting a permitting system requires state legislation.

At Tuesday night's community meeting, Zach Bommer, representing Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, said his office was "working on it."

A spokesman for Double Happiness Travel — a company operating 19 buses with daily service to Baltimore and Wilmington, DE — expressed his frustration.

"We went through the trouble of coming here tonight," Teddy Gonzalez said. "Can't you give us suggestions on what we can do instead of just flatly rejecting us?"

DOT representatives told Gonzalez to continue lobbying the community board, local officials and the mayor's office for action.

The DOT's Chinatown Bus Study also highlighted empty lots that could be considered for a bus depot: On Forsyth Street North of Division Street, on Pike Street Between Monroe and South Street, and at Seward Park.