NYC's Port Authority Bus Terminal Could Get Replaced

Thursday, June 27, 2013 - 11:23 AM


UPDATED 4:15 p.m. The world's busiest bus facility, the Port Authority Bus Terminal in NYC, could face a major overhaul or even a replacement. 

The Port Authority of NY/NJ has awarded a contract for a "Midtown Bus Master Plan" to "revitalize" the squat hulking gateway to Midtown Manhattan as part of a plan to accommodate expected increases in bus traffic. The study will also consider "possible terminal replacement," which would dramatically change the face of, and commuting experience in, the Times Square area. 

Around 8,000 buses and 225,000 travelers pass through the bus terminal every day, mostly from New Jersey.

Often maligned as drab, intimidating and by turns cavernous and cramped, the PABT suffers from a dated image as much as a contemporary space shortage. 

Many New Yorkers and New Jersey commuters may delight at the prospect of a revamped bus terminal recalling the PABT's dark days in the 70s and 80s when the homeless and criminal population occupied as much waiting area as the commuters. The online travel site VirtualTourist went so far as to deem the building one of the 10 ugliest in the world, saying: "Those who pass by this iron monstrosity might be tempted to ask about a completion date, but alas, this is the finished product."

But the bus terminal is already on the up. The exposed iron frame has largely been sheathed in a curtain of flickering digital advertising, a gaudy touch in most places, but humble by Times Square standards, and profitable. The attics where homeless people dwelt have long since been sealed up. Columns were shrunk, lighting and paint brightened to improve visibility and deter crime. And the vast once-sparsely used atriums have been populated by retail. All of this earning the bus terminal the redeeming honor of a "great public space" from the experts on that designation at the Project for Public Spaces

The bus terminal is, however, running out of bus space. 

The contract for a Master Plan with such a sweeping purview is an acknowledgement that more Manhattan will need more space for bus commuters in the years to come. About 65 million people pass through the PABT each year, and at peak times the facility is at capacity. 

Following Sandy, with train tunnels out of service, the PABT became a daily test of endurance (see pic) with New Jersey residents waiting on lines well over an hour as a line of borrowed buses stretched for blocks down 8th Avenue, unable to fit into the bus terminal fast enough. 

Even with a surge of curbside competitors draining off some of the long distance bus market from Peter Pan and Greyhound, the daily commuting needs are demanding expansion. 

"The development of a Master Plan underscores the Port Authority's commitment to make the Bus Terminal a world-class facility and bus transit the most reliable mode of access to midtown Manhattan," said Port Authority Chairman David Samson in a statement. "While the Port Authority has already begun the work of revitalizing the Bus Terminal, including the recent acquisition of top-shelf tenants like Starbucks and Cake Boss Café and the installation of WIFI in the South Wing concourse, this comprehensive approach is the best way to ensure the Bus Terminal keeps pace with future passenger growth over the next fifty years."

The Master Plan will be conducted by Kohn Pedersen Fox and Parsons Brinckerhoff factoring growth of interstate travel, impacts on the local community including idling buses on local streets, and "more equitable funding from carriers operating at the Terminal." The study will cost $5.5 million and be completed in 18 months, according to the Star Ledger.

It is unclear if Fox and Brinckeroff will take into consideration the other design suggestions for the PABT over the years, including this rendering with rows of evergreen trees besides stacked bus gates, or the plans to build a tower over the terminal that got some attention in 2008. 

The Port Authority Bus Terminal opened in 1950 with significant expansions or re-construction projects happening up through 2007. 


QUESTION: What would you "revitalize" about the PABT? Tell us. @tranportnation or in the comments below. 


Comments [3]

TOM MURPHY from Brooklyn

There is talk of establishing a terminal in Downtown Brooklyn, another growing job center and on top of multiple subway connections. Queens is an obvious hub for travel to all of Long Island. Both locations could draw business from both PABT and Manhattan's Chinatown, including college students. Long-distance commuting(as far as Philadelphia, Albany and points in between) is happening. Just ask Michell Moss.
As long as you're thinking BIG; think WIDE.

Jul. 01 2013 02:53 PM

I think now in my opinion, the PABT in Midtown Manhattan has outlived its usefulness when you have all those extra buses using the PABT for transportation purposes.I will say this though: I believe that a new Port Authority Bus Terminal should have a new very high space for new double decker buses that may wish to use the PABT as a launching pad (so to speak) to get to places like New Jersey for example.Also, space should be made above or below ground at the PABT for any new light rail line that might be built in the near future coming into New York City.

Jul. 01 2013 10:36 AM
Tom Farmer from Edmonds, Washington

Well, this is incredibly interesting. I have been transiting PABT for more than 40 years and it's always been a fascinating transport terminal to me -- because its balletic efficiency at moving buses to and from the Lincoln Tunnel is matched by very high inscrutability and impenetrability on the user/passenger side of things. Moving through the space is very difficult for a novice: platform distribution and numeration are nonsensical, signage is cryptic with color codes that don't seem to denote anything, and the ultimate paths to most destinations are labyrinthine and non-intuitive. I marvel at the level of familiarity you have to have to deal with PABT, yet I was just down in the below-decks Greyhound gates in March and not much has changed since about 1968. In fact some of the small details (tile designs, minor signage like gate number plaques in the bus bays) are EXACTLY as they were in the mid-1960s. It's incredible.

The overall weirdness and forbidding non-navigability of PABT, to say nothing of the homeless/crime element, probably went a long way toward fracturing the image of intercity bus travel for New Yorkers - an image the top-end curbside entrants like Megabus are now rehabilitating.

I tend to think PABT has outlived its utility despite its logistic bus-moving efficiency and the PA's game efforts to market the terminal as some kind of chic shopping-and-dining destination. But there is a huge battle going on just eight blocks south over the fate of Penn Station. Isn't this an opportunity to consider building one huge intermodal facility serving both buses and trains, occupying the space between 8th and 10th, 31st to 34th? Why not a second, holistic look at the whole bus-and-train problem on the west side of Midtown? This seems like a great opportunity.

Will watch with interest.

Jun. 27 2013 05:36 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.