On Friday afternoon, a young traveler banged through the door of the 33 Gourmet Deli in Midtown, suitcase clattering in tow. She barked a strange lunch order at the cooks behind the counter.
“Where can I charge my cell phone?” she huffed.
The cooks rolled their eyes. The explosion of intercity bus travel has brought huge crowds and their occasionally prickly attitudes to New York’s sidewalks.
In early February, State Senator Daniel Squadron teamed up with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and City Council member Margaret Chin to draft legislation that would bring the sidewalk chaos under control. Their bill intends to implement a permit system for curbside bus operators, who will have to certify their departure and arrival points and work with community boards to ensure that the lines for buses are not safety hazards.
“With no rules to regulate buses, the streets of Chinatown are like the wild west and that doesn’t work for bus companies or the community,” Senator Squadron said in a press release.
The bill arose out of complaints from residents near the curbside bus stops, who grumble about congestion, air pollution and noise.
Kevin Kim, a manager at 33 Gourmet, said the clamor from idling buses is so bad that it affects people who live high above street level.
“Even up on the sixth, seventh floor, they complain,” he said.
Statistics show riders are willing to forgive such problems in exchange for a cheap ticket to a major city. A December 2010 study by the Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development at DePaul University found that intercity buses are the fastest growing mode of transportation in the U.S. for the third straight year.
Becca Dunne, a student from Boston, revealed the driving factor behind this explosive growth: price.
“I got this bus ticket I booked two months ago for 13 bucks one way, and compared to flying or anything, it’s a really good deal,” she said while waiting in line for the Megabus.
But even with more passengers creating more foot traffic in front of nearby businesses, some employees say bus lines actually contribute to a decline in sales. Steve Dane, a magician at Fantasma Magic on 33rd Street, complained that suitcases frequently block his store’s sign, preventing new customers from finding the entrance.
He wondered how the rate of growth in the curbside bus industry could go unchecked for so long.
“I can’t believe that the Mayor, or whoever is responsible, would allow a situation like that to happen at such a random place, and whoever happens to be in business suffers the consequences,” he said.
Megabus, Bolt Bus, and Fung Wah—the major curbside bus companies operating in New York— expressed their uniform desire to work with the city’s Department of Transportation to make sure the buses are safe for everyone.
Tim Stokes, a spokesperson for Bolt Bus, said in an email that the company wants to be “good corporate citizens.” He stressed Bolt Bus welcomes the new regulations as long as they are applied evenly.
“As long as each curbside carrier is treated equally in their operations, we are fine with any changes the cities or government deem necessary,” he wrote.
He did not speculate about whether or not the new regulations might make it necessary for curbside bus operators to raise prices.
Though Dane and other employees are frustrated by the chaos, many consider the proposed legislation a step in the right direction.
“I think it sounds like a good first step,” Dane said. “Keeping track of things would be a good idea.”