Your Ultimate Guide to Charter Buses in New York City
I love New York City. I love walking down the sidewalk and hearing four different languages. I love seeing The Starry Night at the Museum of Modern Art and the dinosaurs at the Museum of Natural History, and I love strolling through Central Park and watching as the world slowly becomes quiet and green. Every time I step foot on Lexington Avenue, I fall in love again.
But as a 13-year-old visiting New York for the first time, I didn’t love it. I was on my eighth-grade field trip, and our charter bus driver wasn’t used to the city. Unsure of where to unload us, he stopped the bus in the middle of Times Square and let us out on a crosswalk. Then the light changed and cars began honking. Panicked, I ran, tripped and fell to my knees in the middle of Times Square. I started to cry because I’d been told cars in NY didn’t stop, and I was convinced that my fate was to be run over outside the Hard Rock Café.
I want everyone who visits New York to have the experience I have now, not the experience I had then. And to ensure you do have an amazing trip, you need to understand where your group’s charter bus can and can’t drive, park, and unload. So I’m here to prevent anyone renting from New York Charter Bus Company from ending up like my 13-year-old self with this ultimate guide to charter buses in New York City. And when you’re ready to book your bus, call 917-388-9602.
When we talk about “charter buses in New York City,” we’re mostly talking about “charter buses in Manhattan.” Although Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island have roads that are off-limits to buses or trucks, they lack the specific and complex regulations that Manhattan has.
Even within Manhattan, the New York City Department of Transportation has released much stricter guidelines for Lower Manhattan than for the rest of the island. Lower Manhattan is roughly south of Spring Street and is home to the Lower East Side, Tribeca, the Wall Street financial district, and One World Trade Center. If you’d like a specific map of the streets that are more strictly regulated, you can contact the DOT’s Permits & Customer Service Unit at 646-892-1429.
Although Lower Manhattan carries the most restrictions on charter buses, much of the advice in this post can help you navigate Midtown and Upper Manhattan as well. Lower Manhattan has the narrowest streets (some of them cobblestone), but all of Manhattan has heavy traffic, specific rules, and limited parking, so planning ahead is important.
Making a Choice
When you travel to Manhattan with a group, you have two choices. The first option is to park your charter bus in a nearby location, such as New Jersey or Queens, and then use the subway to travel throughout Manhattan. If you park in New Jersey, your group will need to take the train or a ferry and then transfer to the subway. If you park in Queens, you have immediate access to the subway, though you can also take a ferry.
While the park and ride option is great for some groups, such as corporate travelers who need flexibility or college students capable of traveling independently, it could prove difficult for K-12 school groups, senior citizens, and visitors with disabilities. The second option, taking a charter bus throughout the city to all of your destinations, is great for keeping your group together but will require a little extra planning. I’ve broken down the two options and what you need to know about each one below.
Park and Ride
If you opt to park and ride, the best charter bus parking locations lie across the East River in Queens or across the Hudson River in New Jersey. Check out the benefits and downsides for each location before you make your decision.
New Jersey offers two sites where you can park your bus and take a ferry into the city. The NY Waterway Ferry Terminal, located at Port Imperial in Weehawken, provides free parking for travelers who have purchased a ferry ticket to Midtown or Lower Manhattan. (Bonus: it’s near where Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr had their infamous duel.)
If it’s easier for your driver to get to Jersey City, Liberty State Park features motorcoach parking from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. and access to the Liberty Landing Ferry. Someone in your group prone to seasickness? You can take the NJ Transit and PATH trains from Liberty State Park. These locations don’t provide overnight parking, so they’re better options if your hotel is located in New Jersey.
If you don’t want to leave the five boroughs, you can park at the NY Waterway Ferry Terminal in Long Island City. Parking is free with your purchase of a ferry ticket. This ferry is great for reaching Midtown Manhattan, but the subway might be a little faster if you’re going downtown.
Park and ride options could help you save money if you’re part of an independent group that embraces the adventure of NY public transit (and trust me – it is an adventure). But if you’re in charge of sixty eighth-graders or have many guests using wheelchairs, scooters, or canes, you may not be prepared to take on the subway. In that case, keep reading to find out how to maneuver your charter bus around Manhattan.
Navigating the City by Charter Bus
If it sounds like park and ride isn’t for you, it’s possible to travel throughout Manhattan by motorcoach—but only if you know the regulations you’ll be dealing with. We’ve outlined them below, and you can contact New York Charter Bus Company at 917-388-9602 to ask questions related to your specific trip.
Permits and Fees
Charter buses need a permit to use parkways or the Battery Park Underpass, which essentially means you need a permit to get anywhere in the city. A few weeks before your trip begins, call DOT’s Permits & Customer Service Unit at 646-892-1429 to complete the process for your bus.
All charter buses must pay a fee of $1.50 per trip for that permit. You can also buy trip stickers in groups of 10. If you have questions, contact the Department of Finance Special Program Unit at 212-291-4072.
Charter bus drivers must have a routing plan on them at all times while in New York City. This map should include every location the bus will stop at and the streets it will take to get there.
It’s important to check traffic advisories on the New York City Department of Transportation website while planning your route to make sure you won’t run into detours or severe traffic. The city also places additional restrictions on buses during the winter holiday season, which lasts from Thanksgiving until Jan. 2. Those updates will be on the DOT website too.
Charter buses must use NYC’s truck routes unless local bus routes or other roads are required to reach the next destination on your route plan. If you do need to use other roads, your bus must leave the truck route at the intersection closest to your destination and return to the truck route as soon as possible.
When a motorcoach has multiple destinations that cannot be reached by the truck route, the driver is allowed to use alternative routes, only returning to the truck route once a destination lays along it. However, if NYPD officers see a charter bus outside of designated truck routes, they can stop the bus and ask to see the routing plan, so make sure you have one!
The rules become even stricter in Lower Manhattan. Many roads don’t allow buses at all, and drivers will need to minimize their use of residential streets. If you’re going to be spending a lot of time in SoHo or the Wall Street area, your best bet is to get off the bus, let your driver park, and explore by foot.
Passenger Drop-Off and Pick-Up
If you do decide to get off the bus, make sure you do it correctly, unlike eighth-grade me. Contact the NYC DOT (646-892-1429) and request an updated charter bus map that shows designated loading and unloading areas. You’ll want to organize your routing plan around those stops.
Many loading and unloading rules come down to a mixture of laws and common sense. You can’t load and unload in travel lanes or crosswalks (those lights change fast!) Don’t stop at MTA bus stops, and don’t use loading or unloading areas as parking spaces.
NYC also has specific laws about idling. Idling isn’t allowed at all when the temperature is above 40 degrees and is only allowed for up to three minutes when the temperature drops below 40. It might be a good idea to practice loading and unloading the bus to ensure your group can do so quickly and safely. Once everyone is unloaded, your driver should proceed to a designated parking area.
You know that charter bus map you’re going to request from NYC DOT? It also shows designated parking areas. These may be a good distance from your loading and unloading spot, especially within Lower and Midtown Manhattan. (Luckily, the drivers at New York Charter Bus Company are used to that. They work in NY, after all.) Don’t take the risk of parking in an unauthorized area. The NYPD won’t hesitate to give you a ticket.
Designated bus parking spots have a 3-hour maximum stay. Most require you to pay the parking meter $20 an hour, though a few have flat rates. You can pay using a credit card or the ParkNYC mobile app. Make sure to display the receipt from the meter on your dash, and don’t idle or double-park. No one likes people who double-park when there aren’t enough spots for everyone.
Following these regulations should get you safely through most of Manhattan. There is one exception, and that’s the September 11 Memorial.
National September 11 Memorial & Museum
Because of security concerns, the National September 11 Memorial & Museum has stricter regulations for charter buses than any other part of the city. You’ll need to contact the NYC DOT to obtain a separate permit for bus parking. Unless your group has members with major mobility concerns, you’ll probably have more luck parking elsewhere in the city and taking the subway or a ferry to the memorial.
You’re now prepared to tackle navigating New York City in your motorcoach. Although figuring out the rules and regulations can be tricky, it’ll be worth it when you climb into an air-conditioned bus with a reclining seat after a day of hiking through Central Park and maneuvering through the streets of Chinatown. Contact New York Charter Bus Company at 917-388-9602 to reserve your bus. Then call the NYC DOT to get a map, draw up your routing plan, try not to trip, and go fall in love with my favorite city in the world.
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