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Decree for 'Chinatown Buses' Goes Nowhere

Riders bound for New York City board a
Riders bound for New York City board a "Chinatown bus" at K and 15th streets Northwest. The buses provide a thrifty ride for East Coast travelers looking to avoid high gas prices and train fares. (By Kevin Clark -- The Washington Post)
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By Simone Baribeau
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 5, 2008

The District made an emergency rule May 28 requiring all "Chinatown buses" to move to L'Enfant Plaza immediately.

Only problem: No one knew about it.

The notice wasn't made public until June 6, posted on the District's transportation department Web site and published in the D.C. Register.

Many operators of the buses, which also stop at Dupont Circle and McPherson Square, didn't learn about the regulation until the Washington Examiner wrote about it more than a week later.

Anyone who happened to click on the "Public Space Management" section of Web site would learn that DDOT uses the term "effective immediately" loosely. Buses had until Thursday to apply for a newly mandated permit, almost a month after the rule was posted.

It was unclear how soon the buses were to move their pickup locations until Thursday, when the agency posted a note online saying the regulations originally were intended to begin in "early July."

The move would be a major change for area bus companies, at least one of which says its two stops attract customers because of their safety and convenience. DC2NY sent an e-mail to its 70,000 passengers asking them to urge the city to let it continue to operate at its current locations.

Chief executive Asi Ohana said thousands of DC2NY's customers had e-mailed the transportation department.

The buses, which started serving the Chinese communities in East Coast cities, now provide a thrifty ride, sometimes with Internet service and cold drinks, to diverse intercity travelers looking to avoid high gas prices and train fares.

According to the D.C. Register notice, the "emergency action is necessary because of rapidly expanding demand" for the buses.

The rule would pack at least eight bus companies with scores of daily trips into a block-long covered area at L'Enfant Plaza. The companies expressed skepticism that the area would be big enough for all of them.

Transportation department spokeswoman Karyn LeBlanc said Wednesday that the agency was suspending the rule until it reevaluated the program.

"We quickly determined that we really needed more than one location," she said, emphasizing that the agency supports intercity bus carriers and saying it would reach out to the companies as it moves forward.

The regulation was suspended Thursday as quietly as it was created, with a note posted on the DDOT Web site.

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