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BY JOHN BAYLES | It has been referred to as the “wild west” of the tour bus industry. Bus company operators that pull up to random curbs throughout Chinatown and Lower Manhattan and transport passengers to places such as Philadelphia, P.A. or to the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut, at a cut-rate, have been under scrutiny since a rash of crashes in 2010.
After a year of negotiations between the city and the state, concerning how to govern the industry, it was announced on Monday that an agreement had been met to create a system that would require permits, institute stiff fines and better regulate the increasingly popular mode of transportation.
The impetus for the legislation announced at the April 23 press conference, held at 250 Broadway, the office of the NYS Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, was a March 12, 2011 crash of a motor coach operated by World Wide Tours on I-95 in the Bronx. The accident resulted in 15 deaths and 18 injuries. When the crash happened, World Wide Tours was running up to 14 buses daily, making roundtrips between NYC and Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Connecticut.
“We have agreed with the city on legislation to regulate the private intercity bus industry,” said Silver. “For too long the streets of Lower Manhattan, particularly Chinatown, have been over run by private intercity buses, which have no clear rules for where and how they’re allowed to operate. ”
Silver pointed out that a “lack of information” about the cut-rate tour bus companies and “where they are supposed to be has caused confusion and raised serious safety concerns and negatively impacted responsible bus owners who are striving to be good neighbors.”
“New Yorkers have had to contend with traffic congestion, pollution caused by idling buses and dangerous conditions for pedestrians,” said Speaker Silver.
New York State Senator Daniel Squadron, NYC Councilmember Margaret Chin and Janette Sadik-Khan, the NYC Department of Transportation commissioner, joined Speaker Silver to announce the landmark legislation.
“This is new — the idea that New York City has the ability to regulate their curb space, regulate intercity buses in this way,” said Sen. Squadron. “This was the first attempt at it and many, many hours went into crafting legislation that is appropriate, makes sense and will achieve its goal.”
“This legislation is an important first step in closing the door on the chaos that has reigned at the curbsides [in Lower Manhattan] and allow us to better regulate our streets,” said Sadik-Khan.
Under the proposed legislation, bus operators will have to apply for permits, which will last up to three years and will cost $275 per year. Sadik-Khan noted that more importantly the permitting system would allow the Dept. of Transportation to “deal with operators that don’t do the right thing.” Fines of up to $1,000 for a first offense and $2,500 for subsequent offenses would in theory keep the bus operators from disobeying the law.