Fox 29 Investigates: Concerns about local bus company

PHILADELPHIA (WTXF) FOX 29 Investigates has been digging into questions about bus fumes and several companies using a single bus stop along Race Street meant for only one company.

Now city officials are taking action.

"It's cheaper and it's convenient."

At least, that's what riders have to say about the bus company that has set up shop at 9th and Race in Chinatown. But while they like the price and the location where they catch the bus to New York, let's say they're not exactly overwhelmed.

Still, plenty of people ride the bus each day. They head to the makeshift bus stop next to the Temple University School of Podiatric Medicine, marked United Bus and Travel, and they wait.

A woman collects the$8-$12 dollar fare and off the bus goes to New York right on time.

While riders say they're satisfied with the bus company, some along the stretch of 9th Street have complained about the number of bus companies actually using the stop designated for united bus and travel and about exhaust fumes from buses idling there for too long. 

"We did hear reports that there were issues related to the exhaust from the buses impacting the temple university site there," admitted Acting Philadelphia Streets Commissioner  Mike Carroll.

Carroll says his office investigated the bus company recently after the folks at the Temple University facility complained that fumes from the idling buses were entering this air vent near the bus stop and spreading through the building and a clinic here. Temple confirmed those complaints to FOX 29 and said they were waiting for a remedy from the city.

"we'll be putting signs up which indicate that there is no idling and hopefully that will help as well," Carroll explained.

Carroll went on to say that the Streets Department was also concerned about the number of bus companies using the 9th and Race Street stop.

"We have some evidence that there were multiple companies operating at that location which is permitted just for United bus," Commissioner Carroll said.

In fact, FOX 29 Investigates also found several different companies using this stop. Some buses were marked Harmonious Grand Tour Bus Company. The ticket taker actually handed out schedules with HG Bus Inc. On them and we found some buses actually belonged to United Bus and Travel. But all of the buses that stopped here were registered out of Massachusetts, where Harmonious Grand Tour is actually located.

"We warned United bus that they needed to comply with the terms of their permit," Carroll explained.

A woman sitting in this Lexus SUV parked across the street from the bus stop appeared to be supervising the operation, and collected money from customers on the bus. Through a translator, who did not want to be identified, we asked her why so many companies were using the stop designated for United Bus and Travel.

She told FOX 29 she just sold tickets and didn’t know the operation.

There were also complaints from businesses and residents in the area about these red chairs that mysteriously popped up along Temple University's facility in late may. They lined the sidewalk for weeks. And while restaurants and bars need an L&I permit chairs and tables outside, city officials told us no such permit is required for the bus company.

We asked Streets Commissioner Carroll why the bus company was allowed to put dining room chairs on a public sidewalk along 9th Street while other businesses are required to have a permit from the city.

"There's no explicit restriction against that we've implemented as part of their permitting process, we understand that they're trying to accommodate the passengers. They got elderly passengers sometimes can't stand for long periods of time, so we want to work with them to make sure the impact is minimal as possible. So there's space available for pedestrians to get by without being impacted by that," Carroll said.  

We wanted to see if other bus companies operated like this so we went to visit the Bolt Bus and Mega Bus site near 30th Street Station. We found customers lined up waiting for buses along this stretch of 30th Street designated for Bolt Bus and Mega Bus. There were no chairs on the sidewalk and workers were equipped with electronic devices to take payment and issue tickets.

"It's the business, they all have to figure out how to run their business in the best way for them. We don't want to restrict that business, we want to encourage business. We are evaluating it and we want to make sure the impacts are minimal," Carroll explained.

Commissioner Carroll told FOX 29 he is taking some action against United Bus and Travel. They have been warned not to allow other bus companies to use their site. They have also been told that buses can no longer idle at the bus stop near that Temple Air Ventilation Vent.

"If they continue to do it, what happens? Well we can issue violations and if necessary we can revoke the permit. We have that authority," Carroll said.

The Streets Department also plans to move the bus stop up the block away from the Temple Air vent where all those fumes were entering the facility.

"That should address the issues we feel with respect to their impact on Temple with the location of their air vent there," Carroll explained.

FOX 29 called the bus company owners in New York. They did not return our call. As of Friday the bus stop has not been moved up the street away from Temple's air vent, and those signs that were supposed to go up prohibiting buses from idling at the stop have not been put up either. We will continue to address this with city officials.

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