No one in his or her right mind would ever mistake the Port Authority Bus Terminal as a pleasant place to spend any amount of time. It’s dirty and dingy with little in the way of amenities and much in the way of dripping and collapsing ceilings, permanent residents and an overall feeling that it’s best days aren’t just decades in the past but may never have happened at all. The building is an eyesore amidst Midtown Manhattan and somehow manages to shepherd 225,000 per day through its doors. Imagine if it were actually something approaching state of the art.
At some point, the Port Authority will have to figure out how to tear down and rebuild Port Authority without disrupting travel plans. They should get around to advocating for permanent bi-directional bus lanes through the Lincoln Tunnel as well. For now, though, the PA is going to slap $90 million worth of improvements on the Bus Terminal and call it a day — or a Quality of Commute program. The problem is that $90 million in New York City just doesn’t go that far.
In a release on Wednesday, the PA heads announced the new expenditure. “The Port Authority Board of Commissioners today authorized $90 million to a “Quality of Commute’ improvement program for the Port Authority Bus Terminal,” Executed Director Pat Foye and Deputy Executive Director Deborah Gramiccioni said. “The functionally obsolete facility no longer meets the transportation needs of the hundreds of thousands of riders that pass through the terminal every day, and the Port Authority is committed to identifying comprehensive improvements within the context of its existing Capital Plan. This initiative will make interim improvements to the terminal as the agency explores a program to deliver a redeveloped facility.”
The exact details of the investments will be unveiled at a Port Authority board meeting in September, but PA officials let slip some details surrounding the plans. According to Foye, the bus terminal will see an improved heating and air conditioning system, better cellphone and wireless service and a more aggressive outreach program for the homeless New Yorkers who, for better or worse, call the bus terminal home. The bathrooms too may see some upgrades.
Ultimately and unfortunately, it’s insulting to pigs to say this is putting lipstick on a pig. The Port Authority Bus Terminal, simply speaking, is an embarrassment and likely an impediment to more transit service in New York City. People eschew buses because trying to travel through the terminal is a singularly unpleasant experience. But something is better than nothing.
At some point, the Port Authority will have to make some tough decisions with regards to its bus terminal. The agency estimates that it could take 10-15 years and at least $1 billion to replace the thing (though a future replacement could include lucrative air rights and development upward). For now, we get air conditioning and some better cell service. I guess that’s forward progress, but it sure ain’t reinventing something that sorely needs to be reinvented.