Report Says New York City Buses Are the Slowest in the Nation


The Observer

New York City has the slowest buses of any big city in the United States, according to an analysis unveiled by Comptroller Scott Stringer on Monday morning.

The average New York City Transit bus travels 7.4 miles per hour along its local, Select Bus Service and express routes—the slowest of the 17 largest bus companies in the country, the report found. The typical city bus spends only half of its time in motion or in traffic, with another 21 percent spent at red lights and 22 percent at bus stops.

Average bus speeds differ significantly among the five boroughs, with the slowest average speeds in Manhattan, at 5.5 miles per hour; Brooklyn, at 6.3 miles per hour; and the Bronx, at 6.5 miles per hour, Stringer said. This is substantially lower than local routes in Queens, at 8.1 miles per hour, and Staten Island, at 11.4 miles per hour.

“New York City now has the slowest buses of any big city in America,” Stringer said at a press conference in Midtown Manhattan. “Routes are unreliable, congested… Many of them were designed more than a half-century ago, and over the past 20 years our economy has evolved, but our bus system has not.”

The comptroller noted that the MTA has lost 100 million passenger trips in the last eight years. The decrease in ridership has mainly been concentrated in Manhattan, down 16 percent since 2011, and Brooklyn, where ridership dropped by 4 percent.

Lower-income and immigrant New Yorkers are particularly hurt by the lack of service, he said.

The average personal income of bus commuters is $28,455—much lower than that of subway commuters, at $40,000, and employed New Yorkers overall, at $38,840, according to the report. And 55 percent of bus commuters are foreign-born and 75 percent are people of color, which is substantially higher than subway commuters and New Yorkers in general.

Stringer also said that a fractured management structure has adversely affected the bus system, which is managed by two agencies: the NYC Transit Bus and the MTA Bus Company. He argued that both the MTA and the city Department of Transportation have struggled to implement new technologies and core amenities.

There are only 104 miles of dedicated bus lanes along the city’s 6,000 miles of roadway, a ratio much lower than the share of bus lanes in other cities like Brussels, Barcelona, Dublin, Seattle, Lisbon and the country of Singapore.

The Transit Signal Priority, a technology that enables MTA buses to communicate with DOT traffic lights to extend a green light or shorten a red light at an approaching intersection, is active at 260 intersections along five of the city’s 326 bus routes, the report found. In London and Los Angeles, it has been installed at 3,200 and 654 intersections, respectively. Brussels, Dublin, Barcelona, Seattle, Montreal, Sydney and Zurich have a much higher percentage of traffic signals as well.

Stringer noted that the DOT will finish the year with only 15 of the 20 SBS routes it planned to carry out by the end of 2017 and that the routes have experienced a ridership decline and slow speeds. And of the more than 15,000 bus stops across the five boroughs, only 3,364 have shelters.

The comptroller offers 19 recommendations for the MTA, including adopting “a more rapid, direct and grid-like bus network,” upgrading to battery-electric buses, and building more bus terminals with help from the city. He also urged the DOT to take a more proactive role in redesigning the MTA bus network and recommended that the MTA introduce all-door boarding to reduce time spent at bus stops.

The MTA said much outer borough bus ridership has transferred to subways due to new populations that are increasingly traveling to Manhattan for work and leisure and that NYC Transit and MTA Bus operations, planning, and customer service are unified at the management level.

The agency pointed out that the current fleet of buses are the most reliable and advanced in recent history and that it received 277 new buses in 2017 as part of its 2015-2019 capital program. It is slated to receive another 1,700 as part of the program.

The MTA said MTA Chairman Joe Lhota supports congestion pricing and that city government is responsible for most factors that impact bus performance.

“The proper and progressive way to deal with the scourge of traffic is for everyone to support a responsible congestion pricing plan,” Lhota said in a statement. “Traffic congestion is keeping the most reliable and advanced bus fleet in recent history from moving as efficiently as it can and should.”

The DOT said it was surprised that a few recent and major developments were not mentioned in the report, including a plan Mayor Bill de Blasio launched last month to expand SBS to 500,000 more bus riders.

The de Blasio administration, the agency said, doubled the previous rate of SBS implementation, announced an expansion of the Transit Signal Priority in July, and has worked to create new dedicated bus lanes on critical corridors.

Gloria Chin, a DOT spokeswoman, said that the DOT looks forward to working with Stringer to advance state legislation for additional bus lane cameras. She also stated that adding new bus shelters requires modifying existing contracts and making new city expenditures.

“While we are grateful to get the comptroller’s support for all of these efforts, several of the report’s recommendations will require his office’s assistance,” Chin said in a statement.

Lhota proposed that Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the mayor split the cost of the $836 million required for the first phase of his plan. Cuomo has committed to funding half of the first phase but the mayor says that there is funding available in the state budget. The MTA is a state-run agency.

De Blasio has proposed a millionaires tax to fund subway repairs while Cuomo is drafting a congestion pricing proposal. The mayor, who launched a five-point plan to fight congestion in the city at the end of October, said Albany has not put forward a plan.

Last week, the MTA announced that Andy Byford, the current CEO of the Toronto Transit Commission, will lead NYC Transit and carry out Lhota’s subway plan.

Stringer supports congestion pricing, the millionaires tax, and a $3.5 billion transportation bond act to finance state transportation projects that would set aside 60 percent of the funds.

He has not yet spoken with Byford but spoke with Lhota on Sunday night. He supports Lhota’s plan and believes the city should contribute to it.

“I now want to extend his strategy to our buses,” Stringer said.

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