Silver announces an attempt to impose order on those Chinatown buses

Sheldon Silver and Janette Sadik-Khan (Dan Rosenblum)
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Citing concerns about intercity buses, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and State Senator Daniel Squadron announced progress yesterday afternoon on a bill that would give City Hall the authority to force bus companies to apply for a permit to pick up or drop off customers.

Framed by pictures of bus-choked streets on Chinatown, Silver talked up the agreement between the city Department of Transportation and state legislators.

“Because of a lack of adequate regulation of this industry, New Yorkers have had to contend with traffic congestion, pollution causes by idling buses and dangerous conditions for pedestrians,” said Silver, in whose crowded downtown offices the press conference was held.

He added that the bill, which passed the Assembly earlier this month and whose Senate counterpart is in the Senate’s Rules Committee, should pass “somewhere before the end of the legislative session.” The bill wouldn’t need City Council approval.

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Essentially, it would give the city authority to approve, or more importantly, deny permits for bus companies to stop for passengers. The bill would also add a 45-day comment period and give community boards more input on potential bus stops. Bus companies would pay up to $275 per bus and violators could pay from $1,000 to $2,500 before losing permits. 

Squadron said it was the first time the city would be able to regulate intercity buses.

“We’re real glad there’s a whole new low-cost bus industry,” he said. “It’s good for riders, it’s good for commerce, it’s good for the country. But an unregulated wild west atmosphere is bad for everyone.”

While the bill would affect the entire city, the bill’s real focus is the sprawling network of Chinatown buses, like the Fung Wah, which pick up and deposit passengers around Canal Street.

According to city transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, the application would replace a voluntary system for operators to request stops.

“The proliferation of intercity buses has been growing rapidly over the course of the last 15 years and these buses are leaving an ever-larger footprint on city streets,” she said.

Last year a series of crashes of Chinatown-bound buses, including one that killed 14 people on Interstate 95 in the Bronx, spotlighted the sometimes-tenuous safety record of Chinatown buses. It at least one case, companies cited as unsafe have stayed open.

Asked how many buses the new rules would affect, Sadik-Khan said that one of the reasons the bill was needed was that the city currently can't track all the buses, passengers and guidelines.

“I think that’s part of the problem, is that we really don’t know,” she said.