HL Central hopes to restart NYC bus


Students used to meet the
HLS-NYC bus in front of Pound Hall.

HL Central’s HLS-New York City bus was ultimately a victim of its own success. In the ten weeks the service ran, from January to March of this year, over 3,000 passengers made the four-hour coach trip from Cambridge to Manhattan. In the end, that very popularity led to noise complaints, competition from other operators, and problems with the city-licensing officials. Now, after months of no busses, HL Central says that it’s getting things worked out and hopes to have the service up and running before Thanksgiving.

An Instant Hit

The idea for a bus service, like HL Central itself, started in the head of T.J. Duane ‘02. While there were buses that ran from South Station to New York (and of course the famous “China Town Bus”), Duane felt that a lot of students at the Law School would take advantage of a more direct way of getting to New York. While he’d been thinking about the service for years, Duane finally decided to make it happen after September 11.

“I really started to move on the idea after 9/11, when it seemed like there was a more pressing need/desire to go to New York,” Duane explained. He now works for a law firm in New York City, but maintains some ties to the organization.

To make the service happen, HL Central approached a number of bus companies about the possible service, including Entertainment Tours, Greyhound and Peter Pan Tours. While some of the companies were skeptical, Entertainment decided to give it a try. HL Central was to advertise the service, while Entertainment would run a $20 per way route catering to weekend commuters from the Law School to New York City.

Neither Duane nor Entertainment could have imagined how popular the service would be. What started as a weekend service with a few buses per weekend proved to be so popular that Entertainment and HL Central decided to expand it to a seven day a week service with three buses running daily in each direction. Entertainment Tours even replicated the idea at Northeastern University and Boston University after the HLS route proved so successful.

Karen Abravanel, a 3L, who rode the bus a number of times and has worked to help HL Central revive the service, told The RECORD that she was happy with the service. “It’s comfortable, convenient, and relatively quick. The driver usually shows a movie, which helps to pass the time,” she said.

The Problems of Success

Convenience led to success and success led to competition. Initially skeptical, Greyhound and Peter Pan decided it was time to get in on the act, and were soon offering a competing service that ran on basically the same schedule and picked up passengers at the same location.

“I was very disappointed to see the Peter Pan/Greyhound service on campus — mainly because they were unwilling to do it until they saw how successful it could be, but then tried to jump on board by just pulling their own bus behind the one we arranged to have there at the exact same times,” Duane said.

With as many as six buses pulling up daily in front of Pound Hall for just Entertainment’s route, neighbors began to wonder whether HLS was turning into another South Station.

“There were complaints in the community about noise levels being too high. The buses were waiting about six in the morning to get the first shipment of people in for morning traffic into New York. Neighbors were complaining there were big buses,” Dave Flechner, a member of HL Central who is dealing with the bus issue, told The RECORD.

It didn’t take long for complaints from tired neighbors to the City Council to reach to Cambridge Licensing Commission, which sent out a police officer to warn the coach operators that by picking up passengers on a public street without a city license they could be cited. And with that, all of the New York-HLS services ended.

Flechner explains that the original plan was for the buses to stop on Jarvis Street (behind Pound Hall), but that many of the drivers found the maneuvering to be too difficult and they began to stop on Massachusetts Avenue. He also says it was the Greyhound and Peter Pan buses that were the main noise culprits.

Whatever the cause, a meeting of the Commission (at which Duane spoke) confirmed that the operators would need a license to continue to operate on Mass Ave. And as Flechner explained, “Cambridge doesn’t like to give licenses very freely.”

A New Plan

At the end of May, with the service ended, HL Central began the long process of searching for a location on the University’s private property where the buses to stop without a Cambridge license. But navigating the school’s bureaucracy is never easy, and it is certainly never quick, as Flechner and HL Central soon discovered. However, Flechner is hopeful that a solution is near and the service be back in operation in the next few weeks, possibly before Thanksgiving or next week’s Harvard/Yale game.

The plan is currently for the service to operate of out a driveway near Memorial Hall. All that is needed is approval from Harvard’s transportation office. As a backup, Entertainment may try to use the University-owned Jarvis Street again (this time not stopping on Mass Ave.), but some administrators are wary about upsetting neighbors again with complaints about noise.

Plan C? There isn’t one, but Flechner says HL Central is doing its best to get the popular service back.

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