In Lower Manhattan, where the population has doubled in the last decade and where several new tourist attractions have recently been built, residents are concerned about the side effects of extra attention. Especially when it comes to tour buses.
The number of such buses with active licenses has tripled since 2003, according to Council Member Margaret Chin, who represents District 1. Chin and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer introduced legislation to the City Council last week that proposes to limit the number of buses in the area.
“Oftentimes you see these double-decker buses that are empty on the bottom, and on the top they’re not full either,” Chin said.
In testimony given on behalf of the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) at the bill’s introduction last week, Assistant Commissioner for Legislative Affairs Margaret Cooley said eight bus lines with 237 buses currently operate in Lower Manhattan.
While the more than 50 million tourists who visit each year do contribute around $40 billion to the economy, they also contribute to polluted air and congested streets.
As the oldest neighborhood in the city, Lower Manhattan is not laid out on the same structured grid that governs the rest of it and thus feels more strongly the consequences of the bus industry.
“Our street grid is very irregular and with lots of small streets,” said Community Board 1 President Anthony Notaro, who described the tour bus issue as a very prominent concern of his constituents.
“The main street through it is Broadway, which is heavily congested,” Notaro said.
Since buses are “idling or cruising around in a very congested area, it causes a lot more fumes and exhaust,” he said.
A 2000 study showed that double-decker buses like the ones used for sightseeing emit 25 times more diesel particles than a 40-foot MTA bus.
Though the tourist buses aren’t always sold out, Chin speculated that the operators choose to run them anyway because of the money they get for hosting ads on the sides of the buses.
“You have these buses roaming our narrow streets like a rolling billboard,” she said. “One of the questions that I asked at the hearing to the Department of Consumer Affairs and later on to the tour bus companies is, how much money are these companies making.”
In her testimony, Cooley expressed a willingness to work on a solution, but she cautioned that limiting the number of buses could disadvantage smaller bus companies.
The proposal “could have the consequence of granting a particular company or handful of companies an unfair advantage over new entrants into the market,” she said. “New and smaller companies would not have the flexibility to grow and the dominant positions of larger companies could be locked in.”