Barring a change of heart by Common Council, intercity buses will continue using Green Street as their main downtown Ithaca stop location after the Planning and Economic Development Committee approved the measure indefinitely Wednesday night.
While the word "indefinitely" was only included after some debate, the committee decided that it would stay included as long as there was an amendment added which requires planning department staff to submit a report within six months documenting efforts to collaborate with Tompkins County on a long-term alternative location for a bus stop. The decision will now go before Common Council at next month's meeting.
Three bus companies have been using Green Street's 100 block, which also has the Tompkins County Public Library, the Green Street Pharmacy and other businesses, as the main downtown Ithaca bus stop for intercity bus trips for the last year. Since late summer 2018, the location has been used on an interim basis so city officials could monitor the impacts of having the stop there, and have apparently come away tentatively impressed.
"Just as we had hoped, planning staff, working with the Downtown Business Alliance, has observed the positive outcome of having the intercity buses in the heart of downtown," stated a memo from Planning Director JoAnn Cornish. "One of the biggest benefits is that riders can reach their Ithaca destination (both coming and going) via TCAT buses. Increased foot traffic on and near the Commons has increased as a result of the intercity bus operations, boosting downtown businesses."
City Attorney Ari Lavine informed the PEDC that OurBus, which had been the fourth bus company operating at the stop, has not renewed its operating permit since the end of their lawsuit against the city, but that there has been communication between the two parties as the city looks for a bus stop elsewhere. Alderperson Ducson Nguyen, who leads the TCAT board, said he had been pleasantly surprised by the lack of problems local buses had faced with the neighboring intercity stop.
Committee member Laura Lewis cautioned that although the area is free of problems now, it's important to keep an eye towards fall when the annual influx of students will enter the area again. She added that the impending Green Street Garage construction should also be taken into account.
"I'm concerned that we will be put into the position of responding rather than planning and setting some things in advance," Lewis said.
The city was caught flat-footed last year when the owner-operators of the West End Bus Station decided to retire, leaving intercity buses without an official place to pick up and drop off customers before Green Street was hastily chosen.
Committee member (and Chair for the night) Donna Fleming echoed those thoughts, and said she still feels that the stop's location should be "very temporary."
Bolstering that thought, Cornish noted in her letter that staff would continue looking for other options that could serve as intercity bus stops on an interim basis as well as a permanent landing spot for the buses. There has been some sentiment from city officials previously that when the Seneca Street garage is inevitably rehabilitated or redeveloped, that its ground floor could serve as the permanent intercity bus stop.
"Meanwhile, staff continues to look for other suitable interim locations for intercity bus operations while planning for a long-term permanent location for an intercity transportation depot."