Chin doesn’t want to gamble on Chinatown casino buses

Councilmember Chin is chipping in on the effort to restrict casino buses, saying they masquerade as normal city buses but “they don’t respect the community.”
Councilmember Chin is chipping in on the effort to restrict casino buses, saying they masquerade as normal city buses but “they don’t respect the community.”

By SAM SPOKONY  |  New permit applications from intercity bus companies continue to flood Chinatown and the Lower East Side after statewide permit legislation took effect in July. Councilmember Margaret Chin is calling on the city’s Department of Transportation to be more stringent in its consideration of new permits, especially for “casino buses” that she said can do more damage than good for the community.

So-called casino buses transport riders from Manhattan directly to casino resorts in the Northeast, for the primary purpose of gambling, as opposed to typical intercity buses that provide a more affordable way to travel and visit family members around the country.

Last month, Community Board 3 debated two permit applications for new dedicated casino bus stops in Chinatown — at 30 Pike St. and 9 Chatham Square. As part of the new permit legislation, the Department of Transportation is required, among other things, to receive a recommendation from the local community board before approving or denying a request.

The two entities, Asian Express Travel and A&W (which are actually part of the same company), sought to provide service to and from Bethlehem, Penn., whose main attraction is the Sands Casino Resort.

Chin wrote to C.B. 3 on Sept. 9 — a copy of the letter was also sent to D.O.T. — advising the board to recommend denying the two applications, citing a lack of transparency in the bus company’s proposal and community engagement, as well as the “oversaturation” of bus stops that Chinatown already faces.

C.B. 3 agreed, and recommended that D.O.T. deny the permit applications. But under the law, D.O.T. does not require C.B.’s O.K. in order to approve new permits.

As of Sept. 24, D.O.T. did in fact approve the permit application for an Asian Express Travel bus stop at 30 Pike St. A department spokesperson said the application for 9 Chatham Square is still under review.

In an interview, Chin said that conflicts regarding the new permitting process have compelled her to schedule an Oct. 9 meeting with D.O.T. representatives, to stress the importance of issues like transparency, community engagement and recognizing the negative impacts that can be caused by crowding too many new bus stops into the neighborhood.

“We really need to sit down and review the purpose of that legislation,” Chin said, adding that she tried previously to broach the subject during D.O.T.’s public hearing on the permit system in June.

Chin also explained that part of her meeting with D.O.T. will be devoted to pointing out the problems of casino buses essentially masquerading as typical intercity buses.

“The casino buses don’t respect the community, they don’t help the community, and that’s why we’ve already gotten complaints about current casino bus stops [outside Confucius Plaza],” said Chin. “It was not the intent of the legislation to allow these types of buses to get permits.”

Even Wellington Chen, executive director of the Chinatown Partnership, who often touts the economic benefits of intercity buses, took a strong stand against casino buses.

“Chinatown buses can be a lifeline for the community, but the casino buses take those lifelines away,” said Chen. “All they do is draw people out to gamble away their money, and it destroys families here.”

Four additional new bus permit applications are being debated by C.B. 3. While one of the proposed bus stops is also slated for 30 Pike St., it’s unclear whether any of the applications are for casino buses.

A Chin spokesperson pointed out that such uncertainty is part of the ongoing transparency problem the councilmember hopes to tackle when she meets with D.O.T.