By STACY DRIKS
All it takes is a key in the ignition. If the wrong city official saw that when inspecting a bus out in the field when it’s not in operation, that driver could be cited with breaking the law.
Yet, idling buses is not exactly at the top of the city’s enforcement list. So many in the Metropolitan Transportation Authority fleet will keep their engines running — even when they have nowhere to go. That might keep the cabin warm, but it’s wreaking havoc on neighbors who complain about noise and gas fumes.
It’s been especially problematic as of late for those living around West 263rd Street and Riverdale Avenue. Well, not “as of late.” For some of them, they’ve complained for years about bus idling. And some families have had enough — especially when young children are involved.
“I’m literally begging and pleading with the city to do something about it,” said Danny Rogers, who moved into the neighborhood six months ago. From his back porch, he can easily see buses that typically traverse the Bx7 and Bx10 local lines, as well as the BxM1 and BxM2 express routes.
More often than not, anyone standing on his porch will get a face full of diesel fuel smell. It’s worse in the winter than it is in the summer, primarily because it’s cold, and heaters don’t work well without the engine.
In fact, the city’s anti-idling law makes exceptions for weather — especially if temperatures drop below 40 degrees. Still, even buses are required to limit idling time to three minutes, unless it’s near a school. Then that engine can only stay on for 60 seconds.
The buses in Rogers’ neighborhood are near a school — the College of Mount Saint Vincent. Yet, the city doesn’t really consider universities or colleges equivalent to a typical elementary or high school.
Rogers didn’t notice the bus smell too much when he first arrived in the North Riverdale neighborhood. But then again, it was summer. When late September rolled around, the smell became constant, and unbearable.
Rogers’ health, and that of his wife’s, is important. But he’s more concerned about his 2-year-old daughter. Rogers fears the fumes could cause long-term lung problems, or even worse, disrupt brain development when she becomes an adolescent.
“I’m feeling just a completely helpless, watching my kid inhale diesel smoke,” Rogers said. “There’s like nothing I can do about it.”
One of his neighbors, Mandi Susman, has lived in the area longer, but says she didn’t really notice the smell until after the coronavirus pandemic shut down society.
“I’m working from home, (and) it would happen during the day,” Susman said. “When I would go out for like a lunchtime walk, then I would notice it.”
While aerobic activity is one of the keys to a healthy lifestyle, air pollution and exercising probably isn’t a good combination. Susman tries to remain in perfect shape. However, she’s finding it more difficult to keep that confidence, fearing simply walking in her own neighborhood negates any other help benefits she’s developed.
“I have to go down to Van Cortlandt (Park) to do my run so that I don’t damage my lungs,” Susman said.
Two bus depots — one in Yonkers and the other just outside of Kingsbridge — are just 15 minutes away.
Rogers reached out to Councilman Eric Dinowitz to see what the city can do about it. One of his people passed a message on to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, but the response there is typically asking Rogers to provide a specific bus number for the state agency to track.
This confuses Rogers because it’s not isolated buses, but more a general, 24/7 occurrence.
“I have no ability to be out around the clock policing the MTA’s activities,” Rogers said he told the councilman’s office. “That’s why I pay taxes.”
Dinowitz’s office did not provide further comment on the issue.
Rogers and Susman are a part of a hyperlocal online social media group called NextDoor where they discuss just about anything — good or bad — in their North Riverdale neighborhood. Rogers shared with the group his intention to keep bus idling at the top of the agenda for anyone he can find in and around City Hall.
He was surprised by the response — many said this has been an issue going back not 10 months, but instead 10 years. The city’s investigation department found nearly a quarter of sitting buses ran their engines longer than three minutes — typically as long as seven minutes.
The MTA takes such complaints seriously, according to a spokesperson. In fact, the agency conducts monthly bus idling surveys to ensure the law is followed.
“Staff (members) have been at the intersection of Riverdale Avenue and (West) 263rd Street at various hours to ensure all operating procedures are followed,” according to the MTA.
Rogers regularly sends complaints through email, texts and 311. Each request went unnoticed, he said, and were ultimately closed without anything happening. They claim they’re not seeing anything that’s breaking the law.
“I will go to the max to protect my child’s health,” Rogers said. “And if I have to spend $100,000 to move, I’m not doing it quietly.”