Princeton governing body members Monday night said the town should ban tour buses from parking, picking up, and dropping off passengers on Nassau Street between Moore Street and Route 206.
Under a new system that will be developed by a committee in this summer, buses would likely drop passengers off at one end of town, possibly on Williams Street, and then the drivers would head to the Dinky station parking lot on Alexander Road and park there until it is time to pick passengers up. The buses would pick the passengers up at the opposite end of town, for example at the former borough hall parking lot.
The tourists who come to town on the tour buses usually visit the Princeton University campus and shop in some stores on Nassau Street. The tour buses, most of them carrying Chinese passengers, stop in Princeton for about an hour and then head to their next destination, usually Philadelphia or Washington DC. Some Princeton store owners have hired Mandarin-speaking staff members because of the volume of business generated from the tour buses on weekends.
Merchant Henry Landau of Landau on Nassau Street said about 10 different tour operators bring visitors to town. Landau voiced opposition to a proposal to take away eight metered parking spaces on Nassau Street to create loading zones for the buses. Instead he suggested that the buses use the existing bus stops on Nassau Street in front of Palmer Square where NJ transit and Coach buses pick up and drop off passengers.
“The bus stop in front of PNC has more than adequate spaces for two buses,” Landau said. “If you back up the taxi parking on the other side to where the taxi stand phone is, you would have more than adequate space for two buses on that side as well. In most cases the buses are in and out by 11 a.m.”
Landau also said the buses could park at the former borough hall parking lot on weekends, because before 11 a.m. the lot is almost empty.
Councilwoman Jo Butler questioned whether the town could use the NJ Transit spaces for the private buses. She asked the town lawyer to research the issue.
Councilwoman Jenny Crumiller said Williams Street would be an ideal location for the buses to drop off passengers. Four metered spaces could be set aside for the buses, she said. The meters are 10-hour meters. “That way we are not losing prime meters,” she said.
Council President Bernie Miller suggested that the buses be required to park on Alexander Road and take shuttle buses into town.
Butler asked whether the town wants to treat all tour buses the same.
“Not all the tour buses are created equal,” she said. “I don’t know if there is a way treat them differently. The visitors on the student tour buses are not spending money in our town. I don’t know whether we can have a different solution for these camp buses or not. Princeton increasingly is a place to stop, but it is pit stop for these buses. They are not here for an extended period of time.”
Butler also said it is a small group of merchants are benefiting the most from the tourists. She said if the buses create an added expense for the town, the town should consider creating a business district or special improvement district.
“That way some of the expenses can be borne by the people who benefit the most,” Butler said.
Councilman LanceLiverman said the buses are unsafe on Nassau Street. Mayor LizLempert said officials have heard complaints from some residents that the buses block views and ruin their experience dining in Sunday mornings on Nassau Street.
If the buses park at the train station the visitors could use the bathrooms there and buy snacks at the Wawa, officials said.
“Alexander is not too far for people to walk to town,” Crumiller said.
Councilwoman Heather Howard said there is plenty of parking available at the Dinky station for the buses.
Most officials said they would like to adopt a policy that applies seven days a week, rather than creating different policies for weekdays and weekends.
“There are a lot of constituencies we are trying to accommodate. It’s not going to be one size fits all,” Butler said. “We need to look at the costs and benefits. I’m not sure we want one hard and fast rule.”
Officials said they would only consider letting the buses drop people off on Nassau Street if they are allowed to do so at the existing bus stops.
The town’s traffic and transportation committee, led by resident Bob Altman, will review the options and come back with recommendations in June. The council spent about an hour an a half Monday night coming up with all the criteria for developing a plan. The criteria to consider: reasonable access to crosswalks, big enough spaces to park buses, walkable distance for tourists to reach Nassau Hall, minimal disruption for business deliveries and church programming, proximity to shopping destinations, minimal impact for residential neighborhoods, minimal impact on quality of life for residents, maintaining meters close to stores for residents to use.
Crumiller said the policies should not favor particular retailers who have benefited the most from the tourists. “I don’t really think we should be in the position of them,” she said.