Photographer: Ramin Talaie/Getty Images

Riders on Port Authority: Fix It. Light It. At Least Mop It

  • Patrons of world’s busiest depot unload in agency’s surveys
  • ‘PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD JUST CLEAN IT,’ a rider pleads

As the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey lays plans for a $10 billion replacement for its Stygian bus terminal in midtown Manhattan, commuters have modest desires.

They want Wi-Fi, natural light, no homeless people sleeping on the floors, no buses idling in the streets. And in the meantime ...

“CLEAN THE TERMINAL,” wrote one respondent to a survey the authority conducted online from March 11 through June 20. “PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD JUST CLEAN IT POWER WASH BLEACH OXY CLEAN JUST CLEAN IT.”

A man sleeps at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York.

Photographer: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg

Bloomberg obtained the responses, with the names of 1,596 participants redacted, via a Freedom of Information Act request filed with the Port Authority. Though the survey didn’t break down responses by positive and negative, the word "clean" was invoked 335 times and "homeless," 174.

Neal Buccino, an authority spokesman, didn’t respond to questions about the results of the survey. He said it’s among several channels of information officials are using as they plan the replacement for the 65-year-old depot.

The agency also administers the George Washington Bridge and Hudson River tunnels, the New York City area’s major airports, ocean terminals and the World Trade Center. In 2011, it raised tolls by 56 percent over five years to fund a $27.6 billion capital program. When the plan included reconstructions of the trade center and LaGuardia Airport, but not the bus depot, New Jersey lawmakers successfully pressed for a replacement. A year ago, the Port Authority approved the plan for a replacement one block west, though construction may take 15 years.

Easily Pleased

In the meantime, the existing hulk on Eighth Avenue will continue to accommodate what the authority says is 220,000 passenger trips each day. A scant few who answered the authority’s survey liked what they saw.

"It’s a fine bus terminal," one wrote.

But many who responded had visions of what might be. Several complained about dark hallways. More than one-third asked for the new design to include sunlight; one dreamer requested booze aboard the buses.

Someone living nearby is wary of the potential for a cost overrun: “Under no circumstances should there be any involvement with Santiago Calatrava."

Calatrava designed the $4 billion PATH subway station at the World Trade Center site, a facility budgeted at $2.2 billion. The 65-year-old Spanish native isn’t among the five design finalists announced Sept. 22.

Whoever does design the replacement may be a savior to the hordes who traipse daily through the station’s begrimed passages. The bus terminal reached peak capacity in 1966 and has been loathed ever since by New Jersey Transit commuters and residents of its neighborhood, between Times Square and Hell’s Kitchen.

“The ceilings are not even waterproof,” a patron wrote, “and when it rains, you have to cover them with plastic sheeting that funnels into garbage cans.” Another: “There is always water leaking from somewhere.”

Pleasure Dome

In 2014, the Port Authority was ridiculed on late-night national television after the agency tried to stop a housewares store from using images of the Brooklyn Bridge and the World Trade Center towers in a skyline dinnerware pattern, saying it was trying to protect its reputation.

Comedian John Oliver, who called the bus terminal “disgusting” and “the single worst place on planet Earth,” responded by designing mock plates featuring “all the most famous Port Authority sights.” They included a woman throwing up in a garbage can, a man urinating in a water fountain, a used condom and two pregnant women fist-fighting.

That same year, the Port Authority committed $90 million to repairs and better service, beginning a program called “Quality of Commute.” Its focus is fixing leaks, repairing elevators and escalators, and reassigning gates for better rush-hour traffic flow. The agency’s blog chronicled the renovation of all 14 restrooms, including “state-of-the-art, aesthetically pleasing fixtures that will make the necessary act of using public restrooms a more pleasant experience.”

Not everyone’s impressed. “I can’t stress it enough keep the bathrooms smelling good and absolutely spotless!” one wrote. Others requested that homeless people stop “taking showers in the sink” and “living” inside the stalls. One suggested bathrooms “that can be steamed, hosed down and reopened in 15 minutes.”

Neighbors of the station cited their top needs as security and relief from street congestion, and hundreds said they feared changing the nature of their neighborhood through eminent domain, citing displacement and blocked views. At the Port Authority’s July meeting, U.S. Representative Jerrold L. Nadler of New York and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said city, state and federal officials were left out of the planning. The neighborhood, Nadler warned, has blocked such projects in the past, including a football stadium and the highway known as Westway.

New Jersey commuters account for about 80,000 daily boardings at the terminal. In the survey, riders said their top priorities for design were improved seating and waiting areas, natural light and Wi-Fi. Less than 2 percent named “best-in-class retail and dining” as a priority.

“Please do not construct a mall under the guise of the transportation terminal,” one wrote. “Your mission creep is out of control and this should be about transportation." Another rider got right to the point: “This is a bus station. We don’t need best in class dining BS.”

And one found a little corner of his or her heart for those who preside over the Port Authority.

"It’s a thankless job you do,” the commuter wrote. “Keep your head up."

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