Free Downtown bus service to start this Thursday


By Josh Rogers

The long and winding road leading to a free, low-pollution bus shuttle in Lower Manhattan will end Thursday when the Downtown Alliance launches the Battery Park City –South Street Seaport service at high noon.

“I’m relieved we’re finally getting it off the ground,” said Mike O’Connor, senior vice president of operations for the Alliance, which manages Downtown’s business improvement district.

The Alliance suspended its temporary bus service in 1999 for a variety of reasons including a confusing route that had no bus signs. The BID planned for years to come back with an electric-bus shuttle, but after several delays, Alliance officials concluded they would not be able to get a climate-controlled bus to meet the demand of New York’s winters and summers.

O’Connor said the $75,000 low-sulfur buses hitting the streets next week are the lowest-polluting busses around short of electric and because they run on fuel, they don’t have to worry about whether the buses can go all day without a recharge. The electric buses would have cost over $200,000 and would have had to go a shorter distance, O’Connor said.

The route begins on North End Ave. near Chambers St. on the west side and at Water and Fulton Sts. on the east. The U-shaped route has 32 stops and only goes along two-way streets, so a newcomer to Lower Manhattan can return to roughly the same spot they got off the bus to take it back.

The busses will travel through Battery Park City down North End Ave. to West St. and then down South End Ave. It will loop to the east side along Battery Place and State St. before traveling up Water St. to Fulton. The service will run every day from 10 a.m.- 8 p.m. The goal is to have buses come in each direction every 10 minutes during the week and 15 minutes on the weekend, when fewer drivers will work.

The buses have handicapped lifts and the front seats fold up to allow room for wheelchairs.

O’Connor said the service can’t begin before 10 a.m. because the 30-passenger vehicles could not accommodate the hordes of people exiting ferry terminals and subways at the exact same time in the morning.

“During morning rush hour, we’d be overwhelmed,” he said. The afternoon rush hour out of office buildings is less concentrated, O’Connor said.

The Battery Park City Authority will cutback its free shuttle service through B.P.C. to weekdays between 6 a.m. –10 a.m. and weekends between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m. once the Alliance shuttle, called Downtown connection begins.

The new service is typically marked at city bus stops with the service’s logo, based on the double-N in the word connection. Most stops have no map or explanation so passengers will have to know about the service either through Alliance handouts at various locations, publicity or word of mouth.

On a test drive with a reporter on a windy day last week, O’Connor looked out at people bundled up and said the service will be “very inviting when it’s cold and the wind is biting.”

He said the Alliance hopes to make the U into a circle perhaps sometime next year by allowing the bus to go on Vesey St. near the World Trade Center site

“Kind of like Lewis and Clark, we’re looking to find the east-west passageway of Downtown,” he said.

Jerry Delacorte, who left the city’s Sanitation Dept. to supervise the Alliance’s program, said although the cargo he is carrying is more important, it will be easier to coordinate the service. “Six thousand vehicles there and six vehicles here,” he said.

Actually the Alliance has seven buses, but they will always keep at least one off the road in reserve.

The Alliance lost some of its federal and state environmental grants by switching away from electric buses, but they still have a $300,000 grant from New York State. They are also hoping to get a private $83,000 grant as reimbursement for the costs of the low-sulfur additions to the buses.

There will be a kick-off ceremony on 10:30 a.m. on Nov. 20 near Battery Park and the service will begin for the public at noon.


Reader Services