ITHACA, N.Y. — East Green Street will continue to be Ithaca’s main hub for intercity buses in the near term.
For the past several months, the city has been testing out having intercity buses — like Greyhound, New York Trailways and Shortline — pick up and drop off passengers on East Green Street by Urban Outfitters after the former bus depot at 710 W. State St. closed in October.
The vote by the Planning and Economic Development Committee on Wednesday will allow East Green Street to be used “indefinitely” until a new regional bus station opens. This comes after two resolutions allowing a pilot period to use the stop. Common Council still needs to vote on the resolution.
Along the way, the city has made some adjustments to the pick-up and drop-off area, after, as JoAnne Cornish, director of planning and development put it in a memo to PEDC, there was “mass confusion” when the stop was first used in September 2018.
“We have, since then, been able to work out many of the issues,” she said. And this summer, with students largely gone, the city has received few to no complaints about intercity bus operations, she said.
Some of the improvements to the bus stop include adding a Jersey barrier to keep Gadabout services from being affected and installing a bench in front of Urban Outfitters. The city is currently waiting on NYS DOT approval for bus lane painting, signage and curbs. Local TCAT buses have not been affected by the addition of intercity buses.
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All bus companies have not been happy with the change, however. In April, OurBus, a third-party bus broker that coordinates buses to and from Ithaca filed a lawsuit against the City of Ithaca after the city notified the company it would not renew its permit, according to the lawsuit. But, OurBus recently discontinued that lawsuit, according to a statement from Axel Hellman, co-founder and head of transportation planning for OurBus.
“Ourbus has discontinued its lawsuit and looks forward to a productive discussion with the city about how to move forward,” Hellman said in a statement. “We believe that the Green Street location is best for our clients and the bus lines that transport those clients. However, we are open to other locations downtown as long as they don’t cause an inconvenience for our clients and the bus lines. We are working directly with the city of Ithaca to identify options that will work for all involved.”
City Attorney Ari Lavine said because OurBus is a brokered service and not on a fixed schedule, it can pose a safety issue to have too many buses in the area at once unloading and loading passengers. However, he said the city is exploring alternative sites for a bus station.
“Nothing against OurBus in particular, but it’s about managing traffic flow and avoiding safety issues by unscheduled buses in the area,” Lavine said.
Though there is a permit fee for bus operators, dealing with the bus stop issue has so far been costly for the city, which has had to remove paid parking spaces, dedicate a large amount of staff time, and defend a lawsuit. “The costs of operating the bus area probably greatly exceed the permit fees.” In the resolution discussed Wednesday, the fee increased to $15 per bus arrival or departure.
Though the resolution contains the phrase “indefinitely,” the bus stop on East Green Street is still not a permanent solution. The city will continue to pursue options for a permanent location for an intercity transportation depot.