Thursday, March 12, 2009

Greening New York: An English view

An English traveller shows up in New York City with open eyes and here are some of the things he finds out, with a little help from some new Chinese and Mexican friends that even many New Yorkers quite prossibly do not know about. World streets, eh?
From: Ian Perry [mailto:ianenvironmental@googlemail.com]
Sent: Wednesday, March 11, 2009 12:41 AM
Subject: Greening the BIG apple!

Dear Eric,

In response to your request, I have jotted down a few of my experiences of travelling in and in and out of NYC using public transport. I hope that they will be of use to you and I’d be happy to fill in some more detail if required.

I visited New York a couple of years ago. I found Amtrak to be too expensive and I always avoid GreyHound after a number of bad experiences with other passengers and the maintenance and cleanliness of their buses - though things may have improved recently...

I arrived at Newark airport and took the train to the city. I was heading to Washington DC and had decided to take the "Chinese bus" from NYC China Town. It was after dark on an October evening and I struggled to identify where China Town is. I took the Subway to the nearest station and climbed to the surface. I asked three girls on a corner which way China Town (and the Chinese buses) was and the three immediately pointed in three different directions...

Eventually I made it to where some of the "Chinese buses" depart and found a lady selling tickets who told me that a bus to Washington DC would arrive in ten minutes. Three hours later the bus arrived, on time... When we had enough passengers, we finally departed. Such is the cut throat competition between the different companies and ticket sellers for these services that those selling the tickets by the roadside will tell you whatever they need to sell you a ticket... I eventually arrived in DC at 4:30 am, much tpo late for dinner, which my afternoon arrival time in NYC had suggested I'd make.

Taking the bus back from DC was also an adventure and a case of checking on the internet to see what times buses departed, and then walking around China Town until a bus was spotted parked up on some random side street. Chinese buses operate throughout the US, in Vegas they depart from hotels in Boston form the bus station and in LA, I have no idea where I arrived, but I would not have been able to take a Chinese bus out of LA...

I believe that these buses, which are clean and comfortable, should be integrated into NYC's metro system so that people can easily find them and have ticket information and times clearly displayed at "proper" bus stops. One company does drop off at Union Street station, but finding the bus for that company is a total lottery..

If the various companies worked together instead of competing, it is likely that passengers would not be so upset that the bus left hours after they were told it would, and the buses would be more visible to the public- rather than randomly parked where there is a space.

When in NYC, to travel locally between my friends’ home and Manhattan, I used the "Mexican" buses. The regular/official/state buses were relatively expensive and the drivers unhelpful... once the door shut, they would not reopen them and would then leave passengers and reverse out of the bus station. These buses were also infrequent and crowded.

The "Mexican" buses operate 24/7. Waiting by the roadside outside Union Street station, a short walk from Time Square these buses depart once full. Being the first onto the bus can mean a long wait. At night time this is a much better system than taxis for those on a budget or wanting to minimise their environmental footprint. The wait for departure can be seconds if you take the last seat, or much longer, as you wait for the last seat to be filled - or pay the driver for the empty seat! The British can be impatient!

Catching the bus into the city during the day is as simple as spotting one and the first bus with an available seat will pull over and let you onboard, taking your cash (fixed fare of $1) as you alight. These buses are constantly looking for passengers as every fare is money in the drivers’ pocket. Speaking Spanish (not English) does help if you need to speak with the driver, and many of the other passengers.
The drawback of these buses at the time was that they got stuck in traffic, though I note that bus lanes have since been appearing in NYC. There was also the issue of getting around Manhattan, particularly at night as much of the nightlife is away from the departure street of the “Mexican” buses. Once in a taxi, it would be tempting to ride all the way home.

Best regards,

Ian

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