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BY COLIN MIXSON
A Downtown lawmaker and Manhattan’s Commander-in-Chief have renewed their push to reign in New York’s relatively unregulated sightseeing bus industry, introducing new legislation to cap the number of permits the city is allowed to issue the noxious tourism business.
Councilwoman Margaret Chin and Borough President Gale Brewer’s legislation comes following a failed 2015 bid for stricter regulations against Downtown’s double-decker blight, but increased congestion promised by the L train’s impending closure spurred the local pols to action, Chin said.
“Lower Manhattan is no stranger to traffic congestion and this year, with the L train shutdown looming, residents want to know what can be done as soon as possible to mitigate the seemingly endless congestion that endangers our safety and quality of life,” said Chin.
Sightseeing buses have proven a perennial quality-of-life nuisance that disproportionately affects those living in New York’s fastest growing residential neighborhood, where residents are already plagued by non-stop construction, a narrow, tangled, colonial-era streetscape, and numerous world-class tourist destinations that drew more than 14 million eager-eyed outsiders in 2016, according to statistics from the Downtown Alliance.
Members of Community Board 1 voted to endorse the bill to limit tour buses when it was first introduced in 2015, and former board staffer Noah Pfefferblit testified at a City Council hearing in 2016, where he described the sightseeing buses as “significant contributors” to congestion on Lower Manhattan’s already clogged streets.
That legislation, along with two other bills that would have stiffened regulations for tour-bus companies, ultimately failed to make it to de Blasio’s desk, and the industry remains as big a pain for locals as it ever was, according to one CB1 honcho.
“The tour buses have been an issue for many years,” said Pat Moore, chairwoman of CB1’s Quality of Life Committee. “It is under-regulated, and it affects all of New York, but especially Lower Manhattan.”
Downtown’s clogged traffic arteries are now poised to get even worse when the L train shuts down for 15 months beginning in April 2019, with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to run 70 shuttle buses — per hour — shuttling folks in and out of Manhattan along the Williamsburg Bridge.
Chin and Brewer expect those shuttle buses — and the full-blown traffic nightmare they will bring — to give their bill the juice it needs to sail through the Consumer Affairs Committee — to which Chin was recently appointed — and pass City Council, providing at least a modicum of headway towards regulating the business.
“Instituting a reasonable cap on sightseeing tour buses is a step the city can take right now,” said Chin.
But locals shouldn’t expect to see fewer buses on the road as a result of the new bill, which would cap the number of sightseeing buses at 225.
Compared to the currently licensed 197 buses, the cap would actually permit a modest expansion of tour buses Downtown, according to statistics provided by the Chin’s office.
The cap is lower than the 239 valid licenses that were rolling around in 2016, but it doesn’t feel like there are fewer buses on the street, according to Moore, who said that, if anything, Lower Manhattan seems more congested with sightseeing buses — and just about everything else.
“Our experience of living in the area is it doesn’t feel like there’s less tour buses,” said Moore. “We have street closures, we have three times as many people living here — it doesn’t feel like there’s less vehicles of any sort.”