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BY SAM SPOKONY | It’s been more than a week since Lower East Side residents and politicians fought off an intercity bus company’s attempt to place a loading stop outside Seward Park — a tense struggle that culminated in a surprising reversal by the city’s Department of Transportation.
D.O.T. had initially granted Greyhound a six-month permit to launch its new YO! Bus service at the curb at 3 Essex St., amid protests from neighborhood residents and an outright denial of the proposal by Community Board 3. But the agency switched gears days after Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, state Senator Dan Squadron and City Councilmember Margaret Chin sent a letter urging D.O.T. to reconsider the location. The permit was rescinded, leaving Greyhound empty-handed at the eleventh hour.
Many residents immediately celebrated their victory on local blogs, and the politicians lauded the grassroots effort in a joint announcement of the news, saying, “Our community has spoken loudly and clearly.”
But this week David Crane, head of the C.B. 3 committee that recommended against Greyhound’s plan, told this newspaper he thinks area residents need to refocus their priorities in future struggles as low-cost buses continue to spread in Chinatown and beyond.
“Two hundred fifty angry people at a meeting isn’t going to work once the legislation is in effect,” said Crane, who chairs C.B. 3’s Transportation Committee. “It’s not productive for the community board simply to discuss where there should or shouldn’t be a stop; we should be talking about how the industry is organized and regulated.”
The legislation he referred to — which creates the first-ever permit system for intercity buses that make curbside pickups — was authored by Silver and Squadron, signed by Governor Cuomo in August and will go into effect in several months. The new rules will, among other things, require the city to consult with local community boards before issuing or amending a bus-stop permit, including a 45 day notice and comment period.
Crane stressed that while the law’s community input elements are positive steps, they might be misleading to residents who believe that they can keep new buses off their streets simply by voting down proposals.
“People tend to forget that everything we do is advisory,” he said. “In the end, D.O.T. will always be able to put in the stops they want. They’re free to ignore our advice.”
So instead of just expressing their disapproval for a certain location, he added, residents need to be more concerned with lobbying for reasonable restrictions on bus permits — elements such as pollution-control devices, garbage collection or the number of trips per day.
Compiling a hefty list of recommended restrictions was one of Crane’s primary goals during the Sept. 11 meeting at which his committee put together its resolution on Greyhound’s plans for the Essex St. stop. But he barely had a chance to pursue that course of action, he explained, because many of the residents in attendance that night were so angry that they lost sight of the big picture.
“My committee was willing to work on stipulations to the permit that, if it were eventually approved, could have really had an effect on forcing the bus company to comply,” Crane said. “But every time we tried to bring it up, we were getting yelled down by various people. Some of them were just extremely rude.”
Aside from revealing a lack of courtesy, he concluded, that shortsightedness could actually leave residents worse off once the new permit legislation goes into effect. If the community board were to recommend few or no restrictions on a permit, bus companies would get somewhat of a free ride to further irk the local population if D.O.T. ended up approving the stop, regardless of the board’s overall resolution.
Crane will attempt to drive that perspective home on Oct. 10, when the next C.B. 3 Transportation Committee meeting will include a discussion of the guidelines for bus permit applications under the new legislation.