June 2009

Coach parking options shrink, rules increase

by METRO Staff

With the busy spring season upon motorcoach operators, cities across the nation focused on more strictly enforcing parking, idling and pickup/drop-off rules, by fining operators who didn't obey.

"We've seen from many cities that they just want to remind motorcoach operators that they love having them and the group tours, but they just want to make sure that they aren't surprised by specific designated pickup and drop-off points, idling rules, parking regulations, street usage guidelines and so forth," explained Eron Shostek, senior VP, communications, marketing and media relations, for the American Bus Association (ABA).

In Alexandria, Va., for example, officials began enforcing its rules to prevent motorcoach operators from blocking lanes of traffic, idling long periods of time, and taking too long to load and unload passengers or face a $100 fine. The increased attention was caused by complaints from local residents, according to a local television news report.

Meanwhile in New York City, one of the busiest tourist areas in the nation, the laws stating where motorcoach operators can park have become muddied in recent months, leaving many operators with an unclear understanding of where they are allowed to stop after unloading customers at a destination.

"The issue that we have been dealing with most recently is the fact that, in general, there aren't enough layover locations in New York City to accommodate all of the buses that are in town during the busy season," said Mike Neustadt, co-president of Brookfield, Conn.-based tour operator Coach Tours.

Neustadt explained that the New York Department of Traffic had posted a list of Manhattan streets where buses can layover for an unspecified amount of time, since around 2007, but just last February he noticed the page had been changed to state that layover times are limited to 15 minutes.

"What that means is, if a bus has no place to pull over and park legally and safely, the driver is going to be forced to drive around the block slowly for a couple of hours until his group is ready to be picked up," he said. "That is a ridiculous solution. It is unsafe, causes pollution and just isn't right."

When Neustadt asked the New York Department of Transportation (NY DOT) for an explanation, he was referred to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's New York City Transit, who in turn referred him back to the NY DOT.

For many years, there were plenty of uninhabited or less popular areas in Manhattan where operators were able to park. But, with many of those sections of town now becoming more trendy to live in, those parking spots have dwindled, and the spots that remain are often used by other vehicles.

While straying a bit into the extreme circumstance, the situation in Manhattan has served as sort of a microcosm of issues that operators were faced with during the spring season. The ABA's Shostek said that while the situation may appear to be more combative in some areas, there are other areas, such as Toronto, which sets aside parking spaces exclusively for motorcoaches because they realize the benefits as an environmentally-friendly travel mode. He also explained that more and more cities are sending the ABA their rules and requirements that motorcoach operators must adhere to.

"It's an interesting dynamic because the cities, especially in this economic climate, want the travel business, they want the tourism dollars and they understand the value of motorcoaches in providing those tours," he said. "The flipside is they also want to make sure that there is no parking or dropping off or picking up in areas where it may not be safe."

The list of city-by-city rules is available at www.buses.org/node/939.

As for finding a solution in Manhattan, Neustadt said, if it was clear where they could park and how much it would cost, he and other operators would not bristle at the necessity to pay for parking spaces, but rather would see it as an additional cost of doing business in the area. Still, he suggested both short- and long-term fixes for the worsening situation.

"Solutions I've been fighting for are more sensible and clearly communicated regulations about where the buses can go and where they can stop, and not change them every month or two at the whim of one agency or the other," he said. "For the long term, we need to build into the zoning regulations, in New York, requirements that if somebody is going to build or substantially remodel a building or location that will attract charter buses and tourists they have to be able to accommodate them."

 


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