My company, OurBus, has been in the news lately, as part of the larger discussion of where intercity bus stops should be located in Ithaca. For many years, bus routes to and from Ithaca had been operated by a number of other companies from an off-street, privately owned terminal located on State Street.
In 2017, OurBus, which is a technology company that acts as a broker, connecting passengers with independent, high-quality and family owned bus companies, entered the Ithaca market. We set up a daily service to New York City, operated by Martz Trailways. Unable to access the State Street Terminal, OurBus cooperated with the City to establish a boarding and discharge location on East Green Street. This location was successful for all involved and convenient for riders.
Following the closure of the State Street terminal, the City chose to relocate Greyhound, New York Trailways, and Short Line intercity bus service. Starting on October 1 of last year, these companies were moved to the same Green Street location that OurBus had established one year earlier. Instead of allowing the carriers to select new locations on their own, the City chose to force all intercity buses to operate from a small space that had enough room for the buses arranged by OurBus, but not enough room for all. The resulting congestion was foreseeable, and entirely of the City’s own making.
October 5, 2018, the start of Cornell’s fall break, was a busy travel day . All four intercity travel companies, including OurBus, made sure that extra buses were available to meet the needs of the traveling public. The way New York Trailways, Greyhound, and ShortLine dispatched their buses on a fixed schedule caused severe congestion on Green Street. When high demand is expected, they send two, three, or four buses to pick up passengers, all at the same time. The Green Street bus stop only has room for two buses at once. You can imagine the results. The congestion was compounded because none of these companies modified their timetables to prevent multiple scheduled departures at the same time.
OurBus also adds extra capacity on busy travel days. But in contrast to our competitors, each additional bus is scheduled to depart at a different time. One bus loads, departs, then another comes later. This is specifically designed to minimize congestion at the bus stop. We also regularly modify schedules to avoid a bus being at the stop when no space is available.
Somehow, despite having operating practices that create the least impact on the space, the mayor and council decided that the buses that OurBus brought to Green Street were the source of the congestion problem. Yet in reality, the bus service arranged by OurBus had been operating from that location for more than a year without incident.
The City’s failure to identify any other possible loading area for intercity buses led to this problem. There are many possible locations, such as stops lightly used by TCAT or commercial loading zones that could have been adapted for intercity buses. Or, to create more capacity, the city could have simply removed three parking meters.
Despite knowing for months that more space was needed, the city developed no workable short-term plan to accommodate intercity buses. There is also no long-range plan for a solution like a municipal intercity bus station, which many communities, like Binghamton and Syracuse, have received federal funds to construct.
This year, the City decided to deny OurBus a renewed permit. The City has declared that with ShortLine, New York Trailways, and Greyhound on Green Street, there is no room for OurBus.
We have essentially been used as a scapegoat for problems that were caused by our business competitors. The City demanded that OurBus move off of Green Street, prohibited any other on-street locations, and told OurBus to pay for a private bus terminal somewhere else in town (which does not exist). This is completely unfair to OurBus, an innovative company offering quality and affordable travel options that were on Green Street before any of the others.
But more importantly, the City’s actions towards OurBus will not even solve the root problem. Unless the City comes up with a workable plan for intercity bus stops—or better yet, allows intercity bus companies to do so themselves—congestion on Green Street will continue. A well-planned solution to find new space for the companies that formerly used the State Street terminal is crucial, and it needs to happen quickly. The congestion seen on Green Street will not be solved by harassing or driving out OurBus and depriving OurBus customers of transportation.
We fully intend to fight and retain our stop on Green Street in order to continue serving the people of Ithaca. Tickets will continue to be available for purchase on our website and these tickets will be valid for travel.
– Axel Hellman, co-founder