LES Residents Oppose Long-Distance Buses

Chinatown bus (Photo by Emmanuel N., Creative Commons license)

Chinatown bus (Photo by Emmanuel N., Creative Commons license)

Manhattan’s Lower East Side, which encompasses Chinatown, has become a veritable depot for long-distance buses that offer cheap fares for out-of-state travel. That has drawn the ire of some LES residents, who have called on the Department of Transportation to stop allocating space for bus stops, saying the community is already over-saturated with buses.

On May 8, the Community Board 3 transportation committee held an evening meeting attended by more than a dozen residents, who poured in to address board members and to complain about the disruptions long-distance buses have brought to their lives.

Among the attendees were members of a group called SPaCE, which collected more than 300 signatures from residents adamantly opposed to the city’s creating more bus stops for private bus companies.

At present, there are 19 bus companies operating within Community Board 3, which covers the LES. Board members said that in the past they had voted to oppose creating bus stops for several bus companies, including one called “Yo! Bus.”

But in the end, the city DOT green-lighted the requests. Unless the current procedures are changed, board members explained, there is little the community board can do to prevent bus companies from establishing the stops.

Bus companies may begin using a stop only after receiving approval from the city DOT. Although the DOT asks the community board for input and a recommendation to approve or disapprove the request, the final decision rests with the DOT.

A representative (first from the right) for Happy Go Travel bus company proposes establishing a stop in front of 59 Canal Street. Many residents rose to their feet to protest. (Photo by Lin Jing via The China Press)

A representative (first from the right) for Happy Go Travel bus company proposes establishing a stop in front of 59 Canal Street. Many residents rose to their feet to protest. (Photo by Lin Jing via The China Press)

At the May 8 meeting, Community Board 3 considered bus stop applications from four bus companies; three of them were for locations along Canal Street and Allen Street.

Happy Go Travel, which offers service from Chinatown to Columbus, Ohio, and New Stanton, Pennsylvania, applied for a stop in front of 59 Canal Street; Diaspora Investment Association, with service to Boston, applied for a stop in front of 139 Canal Street; and Cash World Tours, with service from Chinatown to Buffalo, Philadelphia and Florida, applied for a stop in front of 50 Canal Street.

Residents opposed to the bus stops said that the LES has already been transformed into a “bus terminal,” with buses shuttling back and forth all around the community. In some places, there are numerous buses operating within just a short block. These buses emit exhaust fumes, opponents to the bus stops said, and riders block sidewalks and litter in the streets.

The areas where these buses operate also have several schools and senior citizen centers and imperil the safety of children and seniors, they said.

One resident pointed out that large numbers of passengers have disrupted the lives of LES residents. He said he does not wish to see riders urinating in front of his door, or men assaulting their girlfriends and then fleeing on these buses.

One restaurant owner said that the buses do not bring them any business, yet passengers usually run inside to use their restrooms.

A young mother who attended the meeting also said she does not want her child breathing in exhaust fumes from buses while playing in the park.

Some residents sarcastically asked why these bus companies do not seek permission to establish stops on 57th Street and the Upper East Side. They speculated that because the Upper East Side is home to many wealthy people, residents will not permit bus companies to create stops in their neighborhood. As a result, they all come down to the Lower East Side because it is cheaper.

Some LES residents posed a question: Besides bus companies, no one else benefits, so why permit these companies into our community?

Community Board 3 committee members explained that the issue with bus companies is two-sided. The positive side is that the bus industry is an important economic pillar of the Chinese community, and that it has already been around for a long time. Moreover, many people from the Chinese community go out of state to work part-time and thus need these buses.

A DOT representative said that if the community board opposes a bus stop, the DOT will reexamine the application and then decide whether to grant approval.

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