Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/buses 2018-07-18T16:35:36+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com City, MTA Must Look Under the Hood for Greater Climate Progress 2018-04-30T04:00:00+00:00 2018-04-30T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7645:city-mta-must-look-under-the-hood-for-greater-climate-progress Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/41654810521_4c3892172c_z.jpg" alt="MTA bus" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>An MTA bus (photo: MTA Bus)</p> <hr /> <p>The new congestion pricing surcharges on taxis and on-demand ride services below 96 Street in Manhattan are designed to address congestion in midtown, but they generate more controversy than impact. They might raise a few hundred million dollars a year for the MTA to fix the subway. But they won’t do anything to reduce congestion or air pollution. Meanwhile another big ticket MTA budget item has gotten little attention but will have a huge impact on New York City's emissions, air quality, and public health: bus procurement. &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>The MTA <a href="http://web.mta.info/mta/news/books/docs/MTA-2018_Adopted-Budget-February-Financial-Plan_2018-2021.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">plans</a> to spend over $300 million this year and $1.38 billion over the next four years to buy about 1,700 new buses. Some 1,300 of them – roughly a billion dollars’ worth – are slated to be diesel-fueled, and therein lies the rub. Diesel vehicles were powerful and efficient for the 20th century, but they are big polluters. Much better 21st century alternatives exist. &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Analysis by <a href="http://energy-vision.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Energy Vision</a> recently submitted in testimony to the City Council shows that diesel buses and trucks on our streets generate a disproportionate share of adverse impacts on New York City’s climate, air quality, and health. Across the City’s municipal fleets, its 10,000 medium- and heavy-duty trucks consume 60% of the fuel, emit 63% of GHGs, and are a major emitter of health-damaging nitrogen oxide (NOx) and particulates (PM). Thousands of MTA diesel buses compound the problem. According to Dr. Philip J. Landrigan, head of Global Health at Mt. Sinai, eliminating diesel buses and trucks from our fleets would reduce New Yorkers' childhood asthma, heart disease, lung cancer, strokes, and health care costs.</p> <p>New York City has ambitious goals for achieving the <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/152-16/mayor-de-blasio-dep-that-all-5-300-buildings-have-discontinued-use-most-polluting" target="_blank" rel="noopener">best air quality</a> of any major U.S. city by 2030 and for <a href="http://www.fleetowner.com/news/new-york-city-taking-clean-fleet-plan-unprecedented-levels" target="_blank" rel="noopener">cutting</a> GHGs 80% from its municipal fleet vehicles by 2035. This year Mayor de Blasio announced the City would go “fossil free” by <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/022-18/climate-action-mayor-comptroller-trustees-first-in-the-nation-goal-divest-from#/0" target="_blank" rel="noopener">divesting</a> its pension funds from fossil fuel stocks. Realizing these ambitions is vital for the climate, our health, and our kids' futures. But there is little chance of that if the City and the MTA continue to purchase more heavy-duty diesel trucks and buses. &nbsp;</p> <p>The MTA <a href="http://web.mta.info/mta/news/books/docs/MTA-2018_Adopted-Budget-February-Financial-Plan_2018-2021.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">will buy</a> 110 new natural gas buses this year, which is significant. But its <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MTA_Regional_Bus_Operations_bus_fleet" target="_blank" rel="noopener">fleet</a> of 5,700 buses already includes over 4,500 diesel buses, plus the 1,300 new diesels it plans to buy over the next four years.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/24270407130_b17a244025_z.jpg" alt="sanitation truck plow" width="275" height="183" style="margin-right: 12px; float: left;" /></p> <p>The City Department of Sanitation (DSNY), which operates the largest refuse fleet in the country -- <a href="http://council.nyc.gov/budget/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2017/03/827-DOS.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">more than 2,200</a> collection trucks -- runs virtually all of it on biodiesel, which is 80% ordinary diesel fuel. It has just <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcas/downloads/pdf/fleet/fleet_local_law_38_DSNY_2012_final_report_3_25_2013.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">42</a> natural gas trucks, and it buys <a href="https://nypost.com/2017/08/30/albanese-blasts-de-blasio-over-garbage-trucks/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">hundreds</a> more diesel refuse trucks every year.</p> <p>We can do better. New York is now far behind other world-class cities in weaning itself off diesel. &nbsp;London has already <a href="https://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/city-of-london-to-stop-buying-diesel-vehicles-in-boost-for-pollution-battle-a3307421.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">stopped</a> procuring diesel vehicles for its fleets as of this year because of their health and climate impacts. <a href="https://www.transportxtra.com/publications/local-transport-today/news/52071/london-to-stop-buying-diesel-buses-says-sadiq-khan/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Eleven other major cities</a> are pledging to follow its lead, including Oslo, Rome, Beijing, and Shanghai.</p> <p>In fact, New York City is one of those 11. The MTA and the City can and should start phasing out diesel vehicles now.</p> <p>The questions are, what alternatives should replace them and how fast could they ramp up? The MTA is piloting electric buses, which are quiet and have zero tailpipe emissions. But they <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-transportation-buses-electric-analysi/u-s-transit-agencies-cautious-on-electric-buses-despite-bold-forecasts-idUSKBN1E60GS" target="_blank" rel="noopener">cost</a> a whopping $300,000-$400,000 more than diesel per vehicle. The City is aggressively deploying light-duty electric vehicles and charging infrastructure, but electrification of its heavy-duty trucks is not yet a commercial option, especially for refuse trucks, since they don’t have enough power to both collect garbage and plow snow.</p> <p>There’s a better way to decarbonize New York’s heavy vehicles. The MTA and the City could do what other cities are doing: buy more natural gas (CNG) buses and trucks equipped with efficient engines that cut emissions and can run on renewable fuel.</p> <p>The new “Near Zero” natural gas engine, certified by the U.S. EPA, has taken clean burning to a new level. It <a href="http://www.cumminswestport.com/models/isl-g-near-zero" target="_blank" rel="noopener">cuts health-damaging nitrogen oxide and particulate emissions</a> 90% below the EPA’s most stringent standard. Near Zero buses and trucks are only <a href="https://arb.ca.gov/msprog/ict/meeting/mt170626/170626costdatasources.xlsx" target="_blank" rel="noopener">about $50,000 more</a> than their diesel counterparts. They are just as powerful and serviceable and are 50-80% quieter than diesel engines.</p> <p>They can run on conventional CNG, but even better, they also run on biomethane or Renewable Natural Gas (RNG). RNG is chemically similar to conventional natural gas, but it is not a fossil fuel. It’s made from a renewable resource: organic waste, such as food waste from homes and businesses, the sewage that goes to wastewater plants, agricultural manures, and more. Instead of drilling, RNG is produced by collecting and refining the methane biogases emitted by those organic wastes as they decompose, in special tanks called “anaerobic digesters.”</p> <p>The resulting fuel isn’t just clean-burning; it is the <a href="http://energy-vision.org/fact-sheets/RNG-Potential-for-NYC.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">lowest-carbon fuel available</a>. When made from food waste or animal manure, it is actually <a href="http://www.sustainablebrands.com/news_and_views/cleantech/thomas_lawson/how_corporate_fleets_can_go_carbon-negative_now" target="_blank" rel="noopener">net carbon-negative</a> over its lifecycle. In other words, making it captures more greenhouse gases (which would otherwise escape into the air as the waste breaks down) than are emitted by the vehicles burning it for fuel. There’s no faster, more cost-effective, or climate-friendlier way to cut fleet emissions.</p> <p>The MTA already has 800 buses and DSNY already has 42 refuse trucks that use conventional CNG. With a simple change in fuel contracts they could run on RNG overnight. The RNG could be delivered through the same natural gas refueling stations that now supply conventional natural gas, and at the same price.</p> <p>There is plenty of RNG available in the U.S. Over 40 projects are processing decomposing organic wastes into vehicle fuel across the country. More are under development in the New York region that could make fuel for our municipal fleets from our own waste streams. The roughly <a href="https://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/06/130618-food-waste-composting-nyc-san-francisco/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">1.2 million tons of food waste</a> generated in New York City each year could make enough RNG to power all the trucks in the City’s fleets, turning a costly waste burden into a valuable energy resource. &nbsp;</p> <p>Nationwide, there is enough RNG production potential to power the refuse, bus, and airport fleets of every major U.S. city. Some 20,000 buses and trucks across the country now run on RNG. Los Angeles Metro has <a href="http://www.rngcoalition.com/news/2017/6/23/la-metro-approves-acquisition-of-295-cng-buses-to-run-on-rng" target="_blank" rel="noopener">purchased</a> 295 RNG-fueled “Near Zero” buses, with an option to convert its entire 2,200 transit bus fleet. Santa Monica’s “Big Blue Bus” fleet <a href="https://www.bigbluebus.com/About-BBB/Our-Buses.aspx" target="_blank" rel="noopener">converted</a> to RNG completely, and more municipalities are following suit.</p> <p>So what is New York City and the MTA waiting for? Getting our heavy vehicles off diesel is the single biggest step we can take toward a sustainable transportation sector, and would propel us toward meeting the City’s clean air, climate, fossil fuel elimination and waste prevention goals. It’s high time we got started.</p> <p>***<br />Joanna D. Underwood is founder and board member of the national environmental organization <a href="http://energy-vision.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Energy Vision</a>, which researches, analyzes and promotes viable technologies and strategies to transition to a sustainable, low-carbon energy and transportation future. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/Energy_Vision" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@Energy_Vision</a>.</p> <p>

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/41654810521_4c3892172c_z.jpg" alt="MTA bus" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>An MTA bus (photo: MTA Bus)</p> <hr /> <p>The new congestion pricing surcharges on taxis and on-demand ride services below 96 Street in Manhattan are designed to address congestion in midtown, but they generate more controversy than impact. They might raise a few hundred million dollars a year for the MTA to fix the subway. But they won’t do anything to reduce congestion or air pollution. Meanwhile another big ticket MTA budget item has gotten little attention but will have a huge impact on New York City's emissions, air quality, and public health: bus procurement. &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>The MTA <a href="http://web.mta.info/mta/news/books/docs/MTA-2018_Adopted-Budget-February-Financial-Plan_2018-2021.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">plans</a> to spend over $300 million this year and $1.38 billion over the next four years to buy about 1,700 new buses. Some 1,300 of them – roughly a billion dollars’ worth – are slated to be diesel-fueled, and therein lies the rub. Diesel vehicles were powerful and efficient for the 20th century, but they are big polluters. Much better 21st century alternatives exist. &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Analysis by <a href="http://energy-vision.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Energy Vision</a> recently submitted in testimony to the City Council shows that diesel buses and trucks on our streets generate a disproportionate share of adverse impacts on New York City’s climate, air quality, and health. Across the City’s municipal fleets, its 10,000 medium- and heavy-duty trucks consume 60% of the fuel, emit 63% of GHGs, and are a major emitter of health-damaging nitrogen oxide (NOx) and particulates (PM). Thousands of MTA diesel buses compound the problem. According to Dr. Philip J. Landrigan, head of Global Health at Mt. Sinai, eliminating diesel buses and trucks from our fleets would reduce New Yorkers' childhood asthma, heart disease, lung cancer, strokes, and health care costs.</p> <p>New York City has ambitious goals for achieving the <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/152-16/mayor-de-blasio-dep-that-all-5-300-buildings-have-discontinued-use-most-polluting" target="_blank" rel="noopener">best air quality</a> of any major U.S. city by 2030 and for <a href="http://www.fleetowner.com/news/new-york-city-taking-clean-fleet-plan-unprecedented-levels" target="_blank" rel="noopener">cutting</a> GHGs 80% from its municipal fleet vehicles by 2035. This year Mayor de Blasio announced the City would go “fossil free” by <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/022-18/climate-action-mayor-comptroller-trustees-first-in-the-nation-goal-divest-from#/0" target="_blank" rel="noopener">divesting</a> its pension funds from fossil fuel stocks. Realizing these ambitions is vital for the climate, our health, and our kids' futures. But there is little chance of that if the City and the MTA continue to purchase more heavy-duty diesel trucks and buses. &nbsp;</p> <p>The MTA <a href="http://web.mta.info/mta/news/books/docs/MTA-2018_Adopted-Budget-February-Financial-Plan_2018-2021.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">will buy</a> 110 new natural gas buses this year, which is significant. But its <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MTA_Regional_Bus_Operations_bus_fleet" target="_blank" rel="noopener">fleet</a> of 5,700 buses already includes over 4,500 diesel buses, plus the 1,300 new diesels it plans to buy over the next four years.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/24270407130_b17a244025_z.jpg" alt="sanitation truck plow" width="275" height="183" style="margin-right: 12px; float: left;" /></p> <p>The City Department of Sanitation (DSNY), which operates the largest refuse fleet in the country -- <a href="http://council.nyc.gov/budget/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2017/03/827-DOS.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">more than 2,200</a> collection trucks -- runs virtually all of it on biodiesel, which is 80% ordinary diesel fuel. It has just <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcas/downloads/pdf/fleet/fleet_local_law_38_DSNY_2012_final_report_3_25_2013.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">42</a> natural gas trucks, and it buys <a href="https://nypost.com/2017/08/30/albanese-blasts-de-blasio-over-garbage-trucks/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">hundreds</a> more diesel refuse trucks every year.</p> <p>We can do better. New York is now far behind other world-class cities in weaning itself off diesel. &nbsp;London has already <a href="https://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/city-of-london-to-stop-buying-diesel-vehicles-in-boost-for-pollution-battle-a3307421.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">stopped</a> procuring diesel vehicles for its fleets as of this year because of their health and climate impacts. <a href="https://www.transportxtra.com/publications/local-transport-today/news/52071/london-to-stop-buying-diesel-buses-says-sadiq-khan/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Eleven other major cities</a> are pledging to follow its lead, including Oslo, Rome, Beijing, and Shanghai.</p> <p>In fact, New York City is one of those 11. The MTA and the City can and should start phasing out diesel vehicles now.</p> <p>The questions are, what alternatives should replace them and how fast could they ramp up? The MTA is piloting electric buses, which are quiet and have zero tailpipe emissions. But they <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-transportation-buses-electric-analysi/u-s-transit-agencies-cautious-on-electric-buses-despite-bold-forecasts-idUSKBN1E60GS" target="_blank" rel="noopener">cost</a> a whopping $300,000-$400,000 more than diesel per vehicle. The City is aggressively deploying light-duty electric vehicles and charging infrastructure, but electrification of its heavy-duty trucks is not yet a commercial option, especially for refuse trucks, since they don’t have enough power to both collect garbage and plow snow.</p> <p>There’s a better way to decarbonize New York’s heavy vehicles. The MTA and the City could do what other cities are doing: buy more natural gas (CNG) buses and trucks equipped with efficient engines that cut emissions and can run on renewable fuel.</p> <p>The new “Near Zero” natural gas engine, certified by the U.S. EPA, has taken clean burning to a new level. It <a href="http://www.cumminswestport.com/models/isl-g-near-zero" target="_blank" rel="noopener">cuts health-damaging nitrogen oxide and particulate emissions</a> 90% below the EPA’s most stringent standard. Near Zero buses and trucks are only <a href="https://arb.ca.gov/msprog/ict/meeting/mt170626/170626costdatasources.xlsx" target="_blank" rel="noopener">about $50,000 more</a> than their diesel counterparts. They are just as powerful and serviceable and are 50-80% quieter than diesel engines.</p> <p>They can run on conventional CNG, but even better, they also run on biomethane or Renewable Natural Gas (RNG). RNG is chemically similar to conventional natural gas, but it is not a fossil fuel. It’s made from a renewable resource: organic waste, such as food waste from homes and businesses, the sewage that goes to wastewater plants, agricultural manures, and more. Instead of drilling, RNG is produced by collecting and refining the methane biogases emitted by those organic wastes as they decompose, in special tanks called “anaerobic digesters.”</p> <p>The resulting fuel isn’t just clean-burning; it is the <a href="http://energy-vision.org/fact-sheets/RNG-Potential-for-NYC.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">lowest-carbon fuel available</a>. When made from food waste or animal manure, it is actually <a href="http://www.sustainablebrands.com/news_and_views/cleantech/thomas_lawson/how_corporate_fleets_can_go_carbon-negative_now" target="_blank" rel="noopener">net carbon-negative</a> over its lifecycle. In other words, making it captures more greenhouse gases (which would otherwise escape into the air as the waste breaks down) than are emitted by the vehicles burning it for fuel. There’s no faster, more cost-effective, or climate-friendlier way to cut fleet emissions.</p> <p>The MTA already has 800 buses and DSNY already has 42 refuse trucks that use conventional CNG. With a simple change in fuel contracts they could run on RNG overnight. The RNG could be delivered through the same natural gas refueling stations that now supply conventional natural gas, and at the same price.</p> <p>There is plenty of RNG available in the U.S. Over 40 projects are processing decomposing organic wastes into vehicle fuel across the country. More are under development in the New York region that could make fuel for our municipal fleets from our own waste streams. The roughly <a href="https://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/06/130618-food-waste-composting-nyc-san-francisco/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">1.2 million tons of food waste</a> generated in New York City each year could make enough RNG to power all the trucks in the City’s fleets, turning a costly waste burden into a valuable energy resource. &nbsp;</p> <p>Nationwide, there is enough RNG production potential to power the refuse, bus, and airport fleets of every major U.S. city. Some 20,000 buses and trucks across the country now run on RNG. Los Angeles Metro has <a href="http://www.rngcoalition.com/news/2017/6/23/la-metro-approves-acquisition-of-295-cng-buses-to-run-on-rng" target="_blank" rel="noopener">purchased</a> 295 RNG-fueled “Near Zero” buses, with an option to convert its entire 2,200 transit bus fleet. Santa Monica’s “Big Blue Bus” fleet <a href="https://www.bigbluebus.com/About-BBB/Our-Buses.aspx" target="_blank" rel="noopener">converted</a> to RNG completely, and more municipalities are following suit.</p> <p>So what is New York City and the MTA waiting for? Getting our heavy vehicles off diesel is the single biggest step we can take toward a sustainable transportation sector, and would propel us toward meeting the City’s clean air, climate, fossil fuel elimination and waste prevention goals. It’s high time we got started.</p> <p>***<br />Joanna D. Underwood is founder and board member of the national environmental organization <a href="http://energy-vision.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Energy Vision</a>, which researches, analyzes and promotes viable technologies and strategies to transition to a sustainable, low-carbon energy and transportation future. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/Energy_Vision" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@Energy_Vision</a>.</p> <p>

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Byford's Big Bus Plan Relies on City, State Cooperation 2018-04-25T04:00:00+00:00 2018-04-25T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7636:byford-s-big-bus-plan-relies-on-city-state-cooperation Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/mta-double-decker.jpg" alt="mta double decker" width="600" height="521" /></p> <p>(Credit: Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit)</p> <hr /> <p>In the Big Apple's transit circles, Andy Byford has quickly become the hottest London import since the Beatles. New York City Transit's new president, brought in this winter from his job as the head of the Toronto Transit Commission, faces the unenviable task of fixing the city's ailing subway system and restoring faith in its vital transit network. Just three months into the job, Byford is moving at a breakneck pace, and on Monday, he unveiled an ambitious plan to speed up New York City's snail-like local buses and fight the tide of declining ridership.</p> <p>The plan sets the bus system on the right road toward improvement but will require city and state cooperation and a change in NYPD culture, two elements in short supply these days that could torpedo Byford’s best efforts. It is also likely to require more money, which is also in short supply.</p> <p>The New York City bus system is a curious thing. It is notorious unreliable with buses that crawl through city streets stopping every two or three blocks and with average speeds that barely exceed eight miles an hour. With infrequent and unreliable service, ridership has declined by nearly 10 percent since 2012 and 15 percent since 2002. Still, over 2 million riders a day rely on the city's buses, and the bus system needs to be fixed.</p> <p>Byford's <a href="http://web.mta.info/nyct/service/bus_plan/bus_plan.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">bus plan</a> comes after nearly two years of heavy lobbying from <a href="http://busturnaround.nyc/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">the Bus Turnaround Coalition</a>, a joint effort by the Transit Center, Riders Alliance, Straphangers Campaign, and Tri-State Transportation Campaign. In 2016, this group called for an overhaul of the way buses work in New York City, and in 2018, Byford acknowledged its work in unveiling his plan. "We’ve listened to our riders’ concerns," he said, "and are working tirelessly to create a world-class bus system that New Yorkers deserve."</p> <p>So what exactly is the plan? For now, it is an aspirational approach to better bus service with a 28-point agenda.</p> <p>Byford wants to redesign the network by optimizing routes based on ridership needs while eliminating some stops to speed up service and expand off-peak bus frequency. He wants to implement infrastructure upgrades that prioritize buses over other vehicles, including dedicated lanes and a signal prioritization system that allows buses to hold green lights or shorten reds. He calls for NYPD cooperation and effective traffic enforcement, and he proposes a faster boarding process, currently a main source of delays.</p> <p>To reduce bus dwell time -- the minutes a bus spends sitting at a stop while riders dip their Metrocards or scrounge around for $2.75 in nickles, quarters, and dimes -- Byford suggests all-door border, similar to London's bus system; a tap fare payment card; and cashless bus fares. The final parts of the plan involve customer-focused improvements including more real-time bus countdown clocks, redesigned system maps, and more bus shelters along with some clean-tech buses to replace New York's current gas-guzzlers.</p> <p>On its surface, the plan is exactly what New York needs. Byford has shown that he understands the problems and drawbacks with the current bus network and is willing to propose a multi-part solution that involves every stakeholder and seemingly transcends the dysfunctional politics of the relationship between the city and state. But unfortunately with such an aggressive plan in play, each of these stakeholders are going to have to work together for this bus revitalization effort to succeed.</p> <p>And to that end, except with respect to the all-door boarding and other technological upgrades to the buses themselves, Byford is now almost a bystander as he has shifted the onus to the city Department of Transportation, the NYPD, and Albany lawmakers to work together to realize his vision of a better bus network.</p> <p>Let's start with the city's Department of Transportation. Since DOT controls the city's streets, any changes to the way street space is allocated will have to start with DOT. Thus, additional bus lanes, dedicated bus corridors and the queue-jumping benefits of signal prioritization require DOT buy-in and support, and so will reducing the number of bus stops and changing street design to better support bus infrastructure. NYC DOT Commissioner and MTA Board member Polly Trottenberg voiced support for the plan during Monday's meetings, but her boss, the mayor, a reluctant and infrequent transit rider who virtually never takes the bus, will have to be a forceful ally supporting these changes.</p> <p>And then we have the NYPD. Currently, the NYPD seems to view the city's bus lanes as, well, parking spots. Take a ride down the East Side's avenues, and bus lanes will inevitably be filled with cops who have decided to park in curbside bus lanes, thus negating their intended purposes. The MTA, on the other hand, expects cops to be willing partners in enforcing bus lane restrictions and generally helping to ensure that other vehicles are not in the way of buses, impeding speeds and progress through congested city streets.</p> <p>But cops alone are a poor and inadequate enforcement method, and NYPD culture is tough, if not impossible, to change. Thus, Albany takes center stage as bus lane enforcement should be automated and camera-based. Until now, the state Legislature has resisted giving the MTA carte blanche ability to install cameras that can assist in automated bus lane enforcement, but to truly tackle the problem of cars in bus lanes, Albany will have to act, and forcefully.</p> <p>Finally, the elephant in the room is the cost. We do not yet know how much the bus plan will cost. It relies in part on moving pieces that are funded (such as a new fare payment system) and others that are not, and it will again be up to the governor to champion transit improvements in New York City so that they receive adequate funding. Facing the pressures and, more importantly, the headlines of a primary challenge, Andrew Cuomo has lately embraced certain positions he has rejected in the past, and mass transit support should be one of them. Perhaps, then, the time is right for the city and state to prioritize bus travel over car traffic.</p> <p>Ultimately, the buses need fixing, but more importantly, the bus system needs to work efficiently so that New Yorkers have faith in it again. Buses can solve access problems in transit deserts and can be a part of the transit upgrades that a true congestion pricing plan would require. Byford has a vision that will improve bus service, but that is the easy part. Now he just has to convince everyone else to join him as well.</p> <p>***<br /> Benjamin Kabak is the editor of <a href="http://secondavenuesagas.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Second Ave. Sagas</a>, on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/2AvSagas" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@2AvSagas</a>.</p> <p>

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/mta-double-decker.jpg" alt="mta double decker" width="600" height="521" /></p> <p>(Credit: Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit)</p> <hr /> <p>In the Big Apple's transit circles, Andy Byford has quickly become the hottest London import since the Beatles. New York City Transit's new president, brought in this winter from his job as the head of the Toronto Transit Commission, faces the unenviable task of fixing the city's ailing subway system and restoring faith in its vital transit network. Just three months into the job, Byford is moving at a breakneck pace, and on Monday, he unveiled an ambitious plan to speed up New York City's snail-like local buses and fight the tide of declining ridership.</p> <p>The plan sets the bus system on the right road toward improvement but will require city and state cooperation and a change in NYPD culture, two elements in short supply these days that could torpedo Byford’s best efforts. It is also likely to require more money, which is also in short supply.</p> <p>The New York City bus system is a curious thing. It is notorious unreliable with buses that crawl through city streets stopping every two or three blocks and with average speeds that barely exceed eight miles an hour. With infrequent and unreliable service, ridership has declined by nearly 10 percent since 2012 and 15 percent since 2002. Still, over 2 million riders a day rely on the city's buses, and the bus system needs to be fixed.</p> <p>Byford's <a href="http://web.mta.info/nyct/service/bus_plan/bus_plan.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">bus plan</a> comes after nearly two years of heavy lobbying from <a href="http://busturnaround.nyc/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">the Bus Turnaround Coalition</a>, a joint effort by the Transit Center, Riders Alliance, Straphangers Campaign, and Tri-State Transportation Campaign. In 2016, this group called for an overhaul of the way buses work in New York City, and in 2018, Byford acknowledged its work in unveiling his plan. "We’ve listened to our riders’ concerns," he said, "and are working tirelessly to create a world-class bus system that New Yorkers deserve."</p> <p>So what exactly is the plan? For now, it is an aspirational approach to better bus service with a 28-point agenda.</p> <p>Byford wants to redesign the network by optimizing routes based on ridership needs while eliminating some stops to speed up service and expand off-peak bus frequency. He wants to implement infrastructure upgrades that prioritize buses over other vehicles, including dedicated lanes and a signal prioritization system that allows buses to hold green lights or shorten reds. He calls for NYPD cooperation and effective traffic enforcement, and he proposes a faster boarding process, currently a main source of delays.</p> <p>To reduce bus dwell time -- the minutes a bus spends sitting at a stop while riders dip their Metrocards or scrounge around for $2.75 in nickles, quarters, and dimes -- Byford suggests all-door border, similar to London's bus system; a tap fare payment card; and cashless bus fares. The final parts of the plan involve customer-focused improvements including more real-time bus countdown clocks, redesigned system maps, and more bus shelters along with some clean-tech buses to replace New York's current gas-guzzlers.</p> <p>On its surface, the plan is exactly what New York needs. Byford has shown that he understands the problems and drawbacks with the current bus network and is willing to propose a multi-part solution that involves every stakeholder and seemingly transcends the dysfunctional politics of the relationship between the city and state. But unfortunately with such an aggressive plan in play, each of these stakeholders are going to have to work together for this bus revitalization effort to succeed.</p> <p>And to that end, except with respect to the all-door boarding and other technological upgrades to the buses themselves, Byford is now almost a bystander as he has shifted the onus to the city Department of Transportation, the NYPD, and Albany lawmakers to work together to realize his vision of a better bus network.</p> <p>Let's start with the city's Department of Transportation. Since DOT controls the city's streets, any changes to the way street space is allocated will have to start with DOT. Thus, additional bus lanes, dedicated bus corridors and the queue-jumping benefits of signal prioritization require DOT buy-in and support, and so will reducing the number of bus stops and changing street design to better support bus infrastructure. NYC DOT Commissioner and MTA Board member Polly Trottenberg voiced support for the plan during Monday's meetings, but her boss, the mayor, a reluctant and infrequent transit rider who virtually never takes the bus, will have to be a forceful ally supporting these changes.</p> <p>And then we have the NYPD. Currently, the NYPD seems to view the city's bus lanes as, well, parking spots. Take a ride down the East Side's avenues, and bus lanes will inevitably be filled with cops who have decided to park in curbside bus lanes, thus negating their intended purposes. The MTA, on the other hand, expects cops to be willing partners in enforcing bus lane restrictions and generally helping to ensure that other vehicles are not in the way of buses, impeding speeds and progress through congested city streets.</p> <p>But cops alone are a poor and inadequate enforcement method, and NYPD culture is tough, if not impossible, to change. Thus, Albany takes center stage as bus lane enforcement should be automated and camera-based. Until now, the state Legislature has resisted giving the MTA carte blanche ability to install cameras that can assist in automated bus lane enforcement, but to truly tackle the problem of cars in bus lanes, Albany will have to act, and forcefully.</p> <p>Finally, the elephant in the room is the cost. We do not yet know how much the bus plan will cost. It relies in part on moving pieces that are funded (such as a new fare payment system) and others that are not, and it will again be up to the governor to champion transit improvements in New York City so that they receive adequate funding. Facing the pressures and, more importantly, the headlines of a primary challenge, Andrew Cuomo has lately embraced certain positions he has rejected in the past, and mass transit support should be one of them. Perhaps, then, the time is right for the city and state to prioritize bus travel over car traffic.</p> <p>Ultimately, the buses need fixing, but more importantly, the bus system needs to work efficiently so that New Yorkers have faith in it again. Buses can solve access problems in transit deserts and can be a part of the transit upgrades that a true congestion pricing plan would require. Byford has a vision that will improve bus service, but that is the easy part. Now he just has to convince everyone else to join him as well.</p> <p>***<br /> Benjamin Kabak is the editor of <a href="http://secondavenuesagas.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Second Ave. Sagas</a>, on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/2AvSagas" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@2AvSagas</a>.</p> <p>

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The Great Select Bus Service Conspiracy: Part III 2018-04-23T04:00:00+00:00 2018-04-23T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7629:the-great-select-bus-service-conspiracy-part-iii Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/mta-select-bus-service-route.jpg" alt="mta select bus service route" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>(photo: MTA/Patrick Cashin)</p> <hr /> <p><em>This is part three of a three-part series</em></p> <p><em>Previously discussed: the promises and the reality, the difference between bus travel time and passenger travel time, who benefits and who is hurt by SBS, how the mayor, MTA and DOT mislead, the true costs of SBS (<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/7599-the-great-select-bus-service-conspiracy-part-i" target="_blank" rel="noopener">part one</a>); the denigration of local bus service, problems with enforcement, other SBS problems, negative effects on traffic and local businesses and how public participation is inadequate (<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/7609-the-great-select-bus-service-conspiracy-part-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener">part two</a>).</em></p> <p><strong>Not a Cure-All</strong><br />SBS is not the cure-all for local bus service problems as purported to be. Some SBS routes do not even make sense. In one case, there is a <a href="http://queensrail.org/portfolio/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">nearby unused rail line</a> that could be reactivated at a fraction of the cost of constructing a new subway line without disrupting traffic and local businesses as SBS does. Yet it was never considered as an alternative to the Woodhaven Boulevard SBS.</p> <p>The MTA and DOT want to spend $2 billion on SBS over the next ten years, but will not alter, add or extend existing bus routes to fill transit deserts. Some have been <a href="http://brooklynbus.tripod.com/id34.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">indirect</a> or <a href="https://bklyner.com/today-marks-the-35th-anniversary-of-the-southwest-brooklyn-bus-changes-plus-more-about-b1-service-update-part-2-of-2-sheepshead-bay/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">outdated</a> for over 70 years. The MTA claims it would cost too much to increase service because they refuse to consider the resulting additional ridership from better service. They have rejected route improvements with increased annual operating costs of only $50,000.</p> <p>Instead, they make foolhardy proposals to eliminate bus stops, such as on the Q22 where there is a high elderly population. <a href="http://rockawaytimes.com/index.php/news/3006-fireworks-at-cb-14-meeting" target="_blank" rel="noopener">The MTA suggested those riders use Access-A-Ride instead.</a> Each one of those trips costs the MTA over $50. New bus routes are scheduled only at 30-minute intervals, which the MTA insists is sufficient. The actual wait for a bus is often longer. Is it any wonder that these routes are among the most lightly-utilized routes in the system?</p> <p>Important transfer points are missing from SBS routes. For example, there is no way to transfer between the Q52/53 and the B15 Kennedy Airport route, which is also slated for the SBS treatment. “Dollar vans” continue to illegally compete with MTA buses, draining revenue from the MTA.</p> <p>There is no desire by the MTA to connect new neighborhoods, thereby really improving mass transit. In most cases, SBS is merely replacing existing Limited Stop routes.&nbsp;The <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/brt/html/routes/south-brooklyn.shtml" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Southern Brooklyn SBS</a> needs to connect Bay Ridge with Gateway Mall and Kennedy Airport, not just replace the B82. Potential economic benefits of such new routings are ignored. SBS construction costs (if applicable), operating costs, and ridership are the only variables considered.</p> <p>How does the mayor know that <a href="https://www.metro.us/news/local-news/new-york/new-york-city-announces-decade-long-sbs-expansion" target="_blank" rel="noopener">21 additional routes will be needed</a> in the next ten years even before any SBS meetings are held? Why aren’t other solutions being discussed or analyzed? Perhaps routes need to be altered or added, more short services need to be provided or a zone express would make more sense than SBS. A short service does not operate for the entire length of the route. A zone express is a bus that picks up passengers bound for a single destination such as a major subway stop until it is full and then operates non-stop the rest of the way.</p> <p><strong>Can SBS Work?</strong><br />Yes, if it is done correctly.</p> <p>By imposing a deadline on DOT for 20 routes by the end of 2017, the mayor rushed the planning process so that some routes were not properly designed. It is now difficult or impossible for trucks to turn onto the Woodhaven Boulevard service roads, necessitating lengthy detours. SBS is most beneficial on very long routes where the average trip length is much greater than 2.3 miles. On the S79, for example, many riders travel a considerable portion of the route, at least five miles, and some travel ten or more, so many do save time. However, the S79 only includes three SBS features (two is the minimum number required to qualify as an SBS route), exclusive bus lanes (rush hours only), and longer distances between some stops than Limiteds; and more recently, TSM. There is no off-board fare collection, hence no additional enforcement costs, and standard 40-foot buses are used so there are no extra labor or fuel costs.</p> <p>The effect on other traffic resulting from the bus lanes must also be considered to determine if the benefits afforded bus riders are greater than the harm done to motorists. The <a href="http://web.mta.info/mta/planning/sbs/docs/Hylan_Boulevard_Final_Report.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">S79 Progress Report</a> showed that traffic volumes declined on both Hylan Boulevard and parallel roadways. That is understandable when traffic congestion increases, which it did. That does not indicate a lower demand, but a lengthening of the peak period. We know congestion increased because in one instance the time it took to travel between two points increased by 50 percent from 10 to 15 minutes, but declined to a lesser extent in other instances. DOT explained away the time increase by attributing it to “daily roadway fluctuations.”</p> <p>Responsible traffic studies do not draw conclusions from just two days, and Mondays and Fridays usually are not studied because they are atypical of weekday travel. If DOT averaged three midweek days before and after implementation and allowed at least a month for drivers to become accustomed to the elimination of traffic lanes, perhaps then it would be clear if the increased travel times were really a result of daily fluctuations or not. &nbsp;DOT, however, is really only interested in the effects on bus riders, not on other traffic.</p> <p>Other routes may also work fairly well like the Bx6, the Bx12, and the Q70. The M15 works well in the late evenings, providing a quicker alternative than the subway from the southern tip of Manhattan to the Upper East Side.</p> <p>Proposed routes such as the B82 could work if they connect new neighborhoods. The B44 could have been designed better so that Kingsborough College students were better served and employees of Kings County and Downstate Medical Centers were not so inconvenienced. That, however, would have involved creating or rerouting other bus routes in the area to fill a needed service gap, something the MTA is hesitant to do. It also would have required public hearings. The MTA usually prefers the easy way over the correct way.</p> <p>B44 SBS ridership south of Avenue X would greatly increase to at least a seated load per bus if a branch to serve Kingsborough Community College were instituted as was first proposed in <a href="https://bklyner.com/b44-sbs-update-initial-reviews-are-in-part-3-of-3-sheepshead-bay/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">2013</a>. No increase in service would be necessary because new riders would ride in the off-peak direction. Presently the 60-foot buses south of Avenue X only carry <a href="https://bklyner.com/mta-incompetently-operating-b44-b36-part-2-2-sheepshead-bay/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">six or fewer passengers</a> even during rush hours, except for a handful of trips when health care workers are changing shifts. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Both proposals were made to the MTA or DOT and have been dismissed or ignored.</p> <p><strong>Is SBS worth it?</strong><br /> Consider that a simple state law requiring all non-emergency motor vehicles to give the right of way to buses pulling out of bus stops would save bus passengers more time than SBS because it would apply to all 326 bus routes, not only 17 or 38 SBS routes. It would also save the MTA money by shortening bus travel times. Best of all, it would cost virtually nothing, and would disrupt traffic less than exclusive bus lanes. &nbsp;</p> <p>The first SBS route began in 2008. Using 2011 as a base year and adding up the riders in the 12 SBS corridors we get 101,455,632 passengers. For 2016, the number is 98,800,534 passengers, or a 2.6% decline, while all local routes (NYCT and MTA Bus) declined by 3.3%. (It should be noted that the Q70 became an SBS route in 2015.)</p> <p>Ridership on SBS routes declined by 0.86% from 2015 to 2016 while the system in general declined by 1.5%. SBS routes performed slightly better than all local/limited routes but did not reverse the declining trend in bus patronage, one of its goals. The M15 First and Second Avenue route alone lost over <a href="http://web.mta.info/nyct/facts/ridership/ridership_bus_annual.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener">3 million annual passengers</a> between 2012 and 2016, more than the total bus ridership in many cities, and that does not consider the opening of the Second Avenue subway.&nbsp;Many local riders could have just decided that walking is now quicker with less frequent service. &nbsp;</p> <p>Another possibility is that patronage didn't actually decline on SBS routes but fare evasion on those routes is higher than on routes where you pay on board. The MTA insisted for a long time that a fare-evasion rate of three percent was acceptable and within industry standards. After a newspaper expose, it finally admitted fare evasion on local bus routes was 14 percent and took temporary mitigating actions to reduce it.&nbsp;</p> <p>Fare evasion rates for SBS are unavailable. The MTA admits that each SBS inspector costs $100,000 per year in salaries and accounts for the biggest ongoing cost.&nbsp;But how much enforcement is there? One daily SBS rider claimed to have seen the Eagle team on the bus only once in the past year. We need to know if fare evasion rates for SBS are higher than on traditional bus routes.</p> <p>What will happen to all the fare machines, which cost $50,000 each, when they become obsolete in a few years as the MetroCard is replaced with a tap and go system? Is additional investment in these machines worthwhile or should we place a moratorium on creating new SBS routes at least until MetroCard is replaced?</p> <p>Mayor Bloomberg had suggested that <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/04/nyregion/04bloomberg.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Manhattan’s crosstown routes be free</a> due to the high percentage of those transferring from other buses and subways who have already paid their fare. This would allow all-door entry without the expense of SBS machines and enforcement. The Riders Alliance questioned if it was worth the cost to convert and operate the Q70 (LaGuardia Airport route) to SBS since 80 percent of riders are already paying their fare on the subway and <a href="https://www.amny.com/transit/riders-alliance-proposes-free-shuttle-bus-to-laguardia-airport-1.11157585" target="_blank" rel="noopener">recommended the route be free</a>. A cost-benefit analysis should have been performed in both cases regarding how high the percentage of passengers paying for their trip elsewhere needs to be before it becomes more cost effective to run SBS rather than operate the route for free. Those analyses were not done.</p> <p>SBS costs are not transparent; benefits are marginal. Passenger travel-time savings, which should be the key metric of SBS improvement, are unavailable. Yet we are asked to embrace SBS without adequate proof it is a success and ignore all negative effects.</p> <p>What is the driving force behind SBS for state and local officials? Is it that the federal government is paying a portion of the costs and this is regarded as “free money”? And that if New York City doesn’t apply for these funds, another city will? If so, that source may soon dry up. Is the mayor more interested in raising revenue from levying heavy fines while the MTA shoulders most of the enforcement costs? Is the real goal to improve transit or is it just the perception of improved transit?</p> <p><strong>Summary and Conclusions</strong><br /> SBS is not low-cost and has not been a massive improvement. Don't let the unconditional support by so many groups and officials fool you. SBS may be an appropriate solution in some cases. It is not the solution in every case. Don’t believe the SBS hype. Concentrate on results and actual numbers, not promises and percentages. Look for data other than what is easily accessible from DOT and the MTA. Ask questions and arrive at your own conclusions. Don’t believe 95 percent of bus riders are satisfied with SBS. If that is true, why is ridership on SBS routes generally down? There are reasons why so many are unhappy with SBS and why so many communities vigorously opposed SBS and are opposing planned routes.</p> <p>According to reliable sources, the proposed B82 SBS was in danger of being scrapped altogether due to heavy opposition and Flatbush Avenue merchants are prepared to lay down in the street when the proposed B41 SBS becomes a serious threat.</p> <p>To date <a href="http://www.qchron.com/editions/south/select-bus-skepticism-along-woodhaven-blvd/article_35e01c28-c104-5973-ad2b-134d0a387fca.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">only the proposed Merrick Boulevard SBS was dropped</a>, and that was early on in the process. It is not as if communities do not want better transit. They just want transit done right without wasting funds unnecessarily and causing unnecessary inconvenience, economic hardship or decreasing safety.&nbsp;</p> <p>Is it worth spending $2 billion over the next ten years just to save an average SBS passenger only three or four minutes of bus travel time, despite DOT claims of travel time savings up to 20 or 30 percent? True passenger travel-time savings are unknown because of inadequate data. The negatives of SBS must not be ignored. We must insist on adequate public input and data. SBS problems must be corrected; other solutions must be considered. Poorly planned SBS routes are increasing the cost of bus operations without much benefit to the public. There needs to be a moratorium on new SBS routes now.</p> <p><em>This is part three of a three-part series. Read <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/7599-the-great-select-bus-service-conspiracy-part-i" target="_blank" rel="noopener">part one here</a> and read <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/7609-the-great-select-bus-service-conspiracy-part-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener">part two here</a>.</em></p> <p>***<br /> Allan Rosen received his Master’s in Urban Planning from Columbia University (with a transportation concentration), planned the massive southwest Brooklyn bus route changes in 1978, was a Director of Bus Planning for MTA New York City Transit, now retired, and wrote a <a href="https://bklyner.com/tag/the-commute/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">weekly column</a> on transit issues for five years for the blog now called Bklyner.com.&nbsp;</p> <p>

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/mta-select-bus-service-route.jpg" alt="mta select bus service route" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>(photo: MTA/Patrick Cashin)</p> <hr /> <p><em>This is part three of a three-part series</em></p> <p><em>Previously discussed: the promises and the reality, the difference between bus travel time and passenger travel time, who benefits and who is hurt by SBS, how the mayor, MTA and DOT mislead, the true costs of SBS (<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/7599-the-great-select-bus-service-conspiracy-part-i" target="_blank" rel="noopener">part one</a>); the denigration of local bus service, problems with enforcement, other SBS problems, negative effects on traffic and local businesses and how public participation is inadequate (<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/7609-the-great-select-bus-service-conspiracy-part-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener">part two</a>).</em></p> <p><strong>Not a Cure-All</strong><br />SBS is not the cure-all for local bus service problems as purported to be. Some SBS routes do not even make sense. In one case, there is a <a href="http://queensrail.org/portfolio/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">nearby unused rail line</a> that could be reactivated at a fraction of the cost of constructing a new subway line without disrupting traffic and local businesses as SBS does. Yet it was never considered as an alternative to the Woodhaven Boulevard SBS.</p> <p>The MTA and DOT want to spend $2 billion on SBS over the next ten years, but will not alter, add or extend existing bus routes to fill transit deserts. Some have been <a href="http://brooklynbus.tripod.com/id34.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">indirect</a> or <a href="https://bklyner.com/today-marks-the-35th-anniversary-of-the-southwest-brooklyn-bus-changes-plus-more-about-b1-service-update-part-2-of-2-sheepshead-bay/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">outdated</a> for over 70 years. The MTA claims it would cost too much to increase service because they refuse to consider the resulting additional ridership from better service. They have rejected route improvements with increased annual operating costs of only $50,000.</p> <p>Instead, they make foolhardy proposals to eliminate bus stops, such as on the Q22 where there is a high elderly population. <a href="http://rockawaytimes.com/index.php/news/3006-fireworks-at-cb-14-meeting" target="_blank" rel="noopener">The MTA suggested those riders use Access-A-Ride instead.</a> Each one of those trips costs the MTA over $50. New bus routes are scheduled only at 30-minute intervals, which the MTA insists is sufficient. The actual wait for a bus is often longer. Is it any wonder that these routes are among the most lightly-utilized routes in the system?</p> <p>Important transfer points are missing from SBS routes. For example, there is no way to transfer between the Q52/53 and the B15 Kennedy Airport route, which is also slated for the SBS treatment. “Dollar vans” continue to illegally compete with MTA buses, draining revenue from the MTA.</p> <p>There is no desire by the MTA to connect new neighborhoods, thereby really improving mass transit. In most cases, SBS is merely replacing existing Limited Stop routes.&nbsp;The <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/brt/html/routes/south-brooklyn.shtml" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Southern Brooklyn SBS</a> needs to connect Bay Ridge with Gateway Mall and Kennedy Airport, not just replace the B82. Potential economic benefits of such new routings are ignored. SBS construction costs (if applicable), operating costs, and ridership are the only variables considered.</p> <p>How does the mayor know that <a href="https://www.metro.us/news/local-news/new-york/new-york-city-announces-decade-long-sbs-expansion" target="_blank" rel="noopener">21 additional routes will be needed</a> in the next ten years even before any SBS meetings are held? Why aren’t other solutions being discussed or analyzed? Perhaps routes need to be altered or added, more short services need to be provided or a zone express would make more sense than SBS. A short service does not operate for the entire length of the route. A zone express is a bus that picks up passengers bound for a single destination such as a major subway stop until it is full and then operates non-stop the rest of the way.</p> <p><strong>Can SBS Work?</strong><br />Yes, if it is done correctly.</p> <p>By imposing a deadline on DOT for 20 routes by the end of 2017, the mayor rushed the planning process so that some routes were not properly designed. It is now difficult or impossible for trucks to turn onto the Woodhaven Boulevard service roads, necessitating lengthy detours. SBS is most beneficial on very long routes where the average trip length is much greater than 2.3 miles. On the S79, for example, many riders travel a considerable portion of the route, at least five miles, and some travel ten or more, so many do save time. However, the S79 only includes three SBS features (two is the minimum number required to qualify as an SBS route), exclusive bus lanes (rush hours only), and longer distances between some stops than Limiteds; and more recently, TSM. There is no off-board fare collection, hence no additional enforcement costs, and standard 40-foot buses are used so there are no extra labor or fuel costs.</p> <p>The effect on other traffic resulting from the bus lanes must also be considered to determine if the benefits afforded bus riders are greater than the harm done to motorists. The <a href="http://web.mta.info/mta/planning/sbs/docs/Hylan_Boulevard_Final_Report.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">S79 Progress Report</a> showed that traffic volumes declined on both Hylan Boulevard and parallel roadways. That is understandable when traffic congestion increases, which it did. That does not indicate a lower demand, but a lengthening of the peak period. We know congestion increased because in one instance the time it took to travel between two points increased by 50 percent from 10 to 15 minutes, but declined to a lesser extent in other instances. DOT explained away the time increase by attributing it to “daily roadway fluctuations.”</p> <p>Responsible traffic studies do not draw conclusions from just two days, and Mondays and Fridays usually are not studied because they are atypical of weekday travel. If DOT averaged three midweek days before and after implementation and allowed at least a month for drivers to become accustomed to the elimination of traffic lanes, perhaps then it would be clear if the increased travel times were really a result of daily fluctuations or not. &nbsp;DOT, however, is really only interested in the effects on bus riders, not on other traffic.</p> <p>Other routes may also work fairly well like the Bx6, the Bx12, and the Q70. The M15 works well in the late evenings, providing a quicker alternative than the subway from the southern tip of Manhattan to the Upper East Side.</p> <p>Proposed routes such as the B82 could work if they connect new neighborhoods. The B44 could have been designed better so that Kingsborough College students were better served and employees of Kings County and Downstate Medical Centers were not so inconvenienced. That, however, would have involved creating or rerouting other bus routes in the area to fill a needed service gap, something the MTA is hesitant to do. It also would have required public hearings. The MTA usually prefers the easy way over the correct way.</p> <p>B44 SBS ridership south of Avenue X would greatly increase to at least a seated load per bus if a branch to serve Kingsborough Community College were instituted as was first proposed in <a href="https://bklyner.com/b44-sbs-update-initial-reviews-are-in-part-3-of-3-sheepshead-bay/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">2013</a>. No increase in service would be necessary because new riders would ride in the off-peak direction. Presently the 60-foot buses south of Avenue X only carry <a href="https://bklyner.com/mta-incompetently-operating-b44-b36-part-2-2-sheepshead-bay/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">six or fewer passengers</a> even during rush hours, except for a handful of trips when health care workers are changing shifts. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Both proposals were made to the MTA or DOT and have been dismissed or ignored.</p> <p><strong>Is SBS worth it?</strong><br /> Consider that a simple state law requiring all non-emergency motor vehicles to give the right of way to buses pulling out of bus stops would save bus passengers more time than SBS because it would apply to all 326 bus routes, not only 17 or 38 SBS routes. It would also save the MTA money by shortening bus travel times. Best of all, it would cost virtually nothing, and would disrupt traffic less than exclusive bus lanes. &nbsp;</p> <p>The first SBS route began in 2008. Using 2011 as a base year and adding up the riders in the 12 SBS corridors we get 101,455,632 passengers. For 2016, the number is 98,800,534 passengers, or a 2.6% decline, while all local routes (NYCT and MTA Bus) declined by 3.3%. (It should be noted that the Q70 became an SBS route in 2015.)</p> <p>Ridership on SBS routes declined by 0.86% from 2015 to 2016 while the system in general declined by 1.5%. SBS routes performed slightly better than all local/limited routes but did not reverse the declining trend in bus patronage, one of its goals. The M15 First and Second Avenue route alone lost over <a href="http://web.mta.info/nyct/facts/ridership/ridership_bus_annual.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener">3 million annual passengers</a> between 2012 and 2016, more than the total bus ridership in many cities, and that does not consider the opening of the Second Avenue subway.&nbsp;Many local riders could have just decided that walking is now quicker with less frequent service. &nbsp;</p> <p>Another possibility is that patronage didn't actually decline on SBS routes but fare evasion on those routes is higher than on routes where you pay on board. The MTA insisted for a long time that a fare-evasion rate of three percent was acceptable and within industry standards. After a newspaper expose, it finally admitted fare evasion on local bus routes was 14 percent and took temporary mitigating actions to reduce it.&nbsp;</p> <p>Fare evasion rates for SBS are unavailable. The MTA admits that each SBS inspector costs $100,000 per year in salaries and accounts for the biggest ongoing cost.&nbsp;But how much enforcement is there? One daily SBS rider claimed to have seen the Eagle team on the bus only once in the past year. We need to know if fare evasion rates for SBS are higher than on traditional bus routes.</p> <p>What will happen to all the fare machines, which cost $50,000 each, when they become obsolete in a few years as the MetroCard is replaced with a tap and go system? Is additional investment in these machines worthwhile or should we place a moratorium on creating new SBS routes at least until MetroCard is replaced?</p> <p>Mayor Bloomberg had suggested that <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/04/nyregion/04bloomberg.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Manhattan’s crosstown routes be free</a> due to the high percentage of those transferring from other buses and subways who have already paid their fare. This would allow all-door entry without the expense of SBS machines and enforcement. The Riders Alliance questioned if it was worth the cost to convert and operate the Q70 (LaGuardia Airport route) to SBS since 80 percent of riders are already paying their fare on the subway and <a href="https://www.amny.com/transit/riders-alliance-proposes-free-shuttle-bus-to-laguardia-airport-1.11157585" target="_blank" rel="noopener">recommended the route be free</a>. A cost-benefit analysis should have been performed in both cases regarding how high the percentage of passengers paying for their trip elsewhere needs to be before it becomes more cost effective to run SBS rather than operate the route for free. Those analyses were not done.</p> <p>SBS costs are not transparent; benefits are marginal. Passenger travel-time savings, which should be the key metric of SBS improvement, are unavailable. Yet we are asked to embrace SBS without adequate proof it is a success and ignore all negative effects.</p> <p>What is the driving force behind SBS for state and local officials? Is it that the federal government is paying a portion of the costs and this is regarded as “free money”? And that if New York City doesn’t apply for these funds, another city will? If so, that source may soon dry up. Is the mayor more interested in raising revenue from levying heavy fines while the MTA shoulders most of the enforcement costs? Is the real goal to improve transit or is it just the perception of improved transit?</p> <p><strong>Summary and Conclusions</strong><br /> SBS is not low-cost and has not been a massive improvement. Don't let the unconditional support by so many groups and officials fool you. SBS may be an appropriate solution in some cases. It is not the solution in every case. Don’t believe the SBS hype. Concentrate on results and actual numbers, not promises and percentages. Look for data other than what is easily accessible from DOT and the MTA. Ask questions and arrive at your own conclusions. Don’t believe 95 percent of bus riders are satisfied with SBS. If that is true, why is ridership on SBS routes generally down? There are reasons why so many are unhappy with SBS and why so many communities vigorously opposed SBS and are opposing planned routes.</p> <p>According to reliable sources, the proposed B82 SBS was in danger of being scrapped altogether due to heavy opposition and Flatbush Avenue merchants are prepared to lay down in the street when the proposed B41 SBS becomes a serious threat.</p> <p>To date <a href="http://www.qchron.com/editions/south/select-bus-skepticism-along-woodhaven-blvd/article_35e01c28-c104-5973-ad2b-134d0a387fca.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">only the proposed Merrick Boulevard SBS was dropped</a>, and that was early on in the process. It is not as if communities do not want better transit. They just want transit done right without wasting funds unnecessarily and causing unnecessary inconvenience, economic hardship or decreasing safety.&nbsp;</p> <p>Is it worth spending $2 billion over the next ten years just to save an average SBS passenger only three or four minutes of bus travel time, despite DOT claims of travel time savings up to 20 or 30 percent? True passenger travel-time savings are unknown because of inadequate data. The negatives of SBS must not be ignored. We must insist on adequate public input and data. SBS problems must be corrected; other solutions must be considered. Poorly planned SBS routes are increasing the cost of bus operations without much benefit to the public. There needs to be a moratorium on new SBS routes now.</p> <p><em>This is part three of a three-part series. Read <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/7599-the-great-select-bus-service-conspiracy-part-i" target="_blank" rel="noopener">part one here</a> and read <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/7609-the-great-select-bus-service-conspiracy-part-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener">part two here</a>.</em></p> <p>***<br /> Allan Rosen received his Master’s in Urban Planning from Columbia University (with a transportation concentration), planned the massive southwest Brooklyn bus route changes in 1978, was a Director of Bus Planning for MTA New York City Transit, now retired, and wrote a <a href="https://bklyner.com/tag/the-commute/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">weekly column</a> on transit issues for five years for the blog now called Bklyner.com.&nbsp;</p> <p>

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The Transit Crisis Without A Rescue Plan 2018-02-12T05:00:00+00:00 2018-02-12T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7472:the-transit-crisis-without-a-rescue-plan Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/transit-crisis-rescue.jpg" alt="transit crisis rescue" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>(photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Even as the subways reach the breaking point, hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers face an additional commuting crisis: the lack of fast, reliable transit service in huge swaths of the boroughs outside Manhattan. In neighborhoods from Flatlands to Queens Village to Castle Hill, getting to work is a grinding chore, even when the trains are on time. That’s because the transit system has failed to keep pace with the demand for better service outside the city’s core.</p> <p>Unlike the subway meltdown, this crisis still lacks a rescue plan. New York needs to get serious about improving bus and subway service outside Manhattan.</p> <p>These punishing commutes are especially painful for the nearly half-million workers in the New York’s booming healthcare sector. The workers who heal us are hurting the most.</p> <p>They face the longest mass transit commutes of any private-sector workers citywide—a median of more than 51 minutes—as revealed in <a href="https://nycfuture.org/research/an-unhealthy-commute" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a new report</a> from the Center for an Urban Future, and their commutes have increased at more than double the rate of all workers in the city.</p> <p>Roughly two-thirds of all healthcare jobs are in the boroughs outside Manhattan, with many far from the nearest subway. Of the city’s major healthcare facilities—including 21 hospitals and nearly 40 percent of nursing homes—our research found that almost one third are more than eight blocks from the closest subway station. This has given these nurses, health aides, and medical technicians a front seat to the shortcomings of an antiquated and broken system—assuming they can find a seat at all.</p> <p>The slow and unreliable bus system compounds these frustrations, though there is rarely an alternative. More than 80,000 healthcare workers (17 percent of all employees in the sector) rely on buses every day—higher than any other industry.</p> <p>Some sectors, like finance, have seen commutes shrink for city residents over the past two decades, as employees have moved closer to work. But healthcare workers have instead been pushed to the city’s more affordable periphery, especially the swelling ranks of home health aides, who typically make less than $25,000 per year.</p> <p>Healthcare workers may have especially arduous commutes, yet the challenges they face reflect a broader trend reshaping New York City, where much recent job growth is occurring outside the Manhattan core. Thirty years ago, the four boroughs outside Manhattan were home to 35 percent of the city’s private sector jobs. <a href="https://nycfuture.org/research/an-unhealthy-commute" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Today, it’s 41 percent</a>.</p> <p>The boroughs have also been home to 87 percent of the city’s population growth since 1990, and most of the gains in transit ridership. But transit service has not kept pace with these demographic and economic trends. Meanwhile, little new investment has gone into improving existing service in these parts of the city—much less adding new service to address gaps.</p> <p>To build a city that works for all of its residents, New York City and State needs to prioritize improving transit service in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island.</p> <p>New York’s local leaders need to get behind a congestion pricing plan, such as that proposed by the Fix NYC panel, that will create a dedicated revenue stream for transit improvements. Such a plan should absolutely fund much-needed subway fixes that help reduce delays and modernize signals. But part of these new funds must go into improving and expanding service in the boroughs outside Manhattan.</p> <p>The MTA should also launch a Bus Rescue Plan to mirror the essential work happening in the subways, and New Yorkers should be heartened to hear that new New York City Transit chief Andy Byford mentioned the idea. He should waste no time in crafting one. For the two million New Yorkers who ride the bus each weekday, including more than 80,000 healthcare workers, buses are the only option. But bus service across the city is unreliable, too slow, and doesn’t run frequently enough.</p> <p>The MTA and DOT should implement a host of best practices, including dedicated and enforced bus lanes, signal priority at traffic lights, and all-door boarding. These improvements would cost a fraction of what is needed underground.</p> <p>With a new transit chief and subway action plan, New York City may finally be on the way to fixing the trains—a critical first step in turning around a failing system. Yet transit will forever remain on life support unless New York tackles the poor service plaguing neighborhoods citywide.</p> <p>***<br /> Bowles is executive director of the Center for an Urban Future. Chaban is CUF’s policy director. On Twitter <strong><a href="https://twitter.com/jbowlesnyc">@jbowlesnyc</a> &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/MC_NYC">@MC_NYC</a> &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/nycfuture">@nycfuture</a></strong></p> <p>

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/transit-crisis-rescue.jpg" alt="transit crisis rescue" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>(photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Even as the subways reach the breaking point, hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers face an additional commuting crisis: the lack of fast, reliable transit service in huge swaths of the boroughs outside Manhattan. In neighborhoods from Flatlands to Queens Village to Castle Hill, getting to work is a grinding chore, even when the trains are on time. That’s because the transit system has failed to keep pace with the demand for better service outside the city’s core.</p> <p>Unlike the subway meltdown, this crisis still lacks a rescue plan. New York needs to get serious about improving bus and subway service outside Manhattan.</p> <p>These punishing commutes are especially painful for the nearly half-million workers in the New York’s booming healthcare sector. The workers who heal us are hurting the most.</p> <p>They face the longest mass transit commutes of any private-sector workers citywide—a median of more than 51 minutes—as revealed in <a href="https://nycfuture.org/research/an-unhealthy-commute" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a new report</a> from the Center for an Urban Future, and their commutes have increased at more than double the rate of all workers in the city.</p> <p>Roughly two-thirds of all healthcare jobs are in the boroughs outside Manhattan, with many far from the nearest subway. Of the city’s major healthcare facilities—including 21 hospitals and nearly 40 percent of nursing homes—our research found that almost one third are more than eight blocks from the closest subway station. This has given these nurses, health aides, and medical technicians a front seat to the shortcomings of an antiquated and broken system—assuming they can find a seat at all.</p> <p>The slow and unreliable bus system compounds these frustrations, though there is rarely an alternative. More than 80,000 healthcare workers (17 percent of all employees in the sector) rely on buses every day—higher than any other industry.</p> <p>Some sectors, like finance, have seen commutes shrink for city residents over the past two decades, as employees have moved closer to work. But healthcare workers have instead been pushed to the city’s more affordable periphery, especially the swelling ranks of home health aides, who typically make less than $25,000 per year.</p> <p>Healthcare workers may have especially arduous commutes, yet the challenges they face reflect a broader trend reshaping New York City, where much recent job growth is occurring outside the Manhattan core. Thirty years ago, the four boroughs outside Manhattan were home to 35 percent of the city’s private sector jobs. <a href="https://nycfuture.org/research/an-unhealthy-commute" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Today, it’s 41 percent</a>.</p> <p>The boroughs have also been home to 87 percent of the city’s population growth since 1990, and most of the gains in transit ridership. But transit service has not kept pace with these demographic and economic trends. Meanwhile, little new investment has gone into improving existing service in these parts of the city—much less adding new service to address gaps.</p> <p>To build a city that works for all of its residents, New York City and State needs to prioritize improving transit service in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island.</p> <p>New York’s local leaders need to get behind a congestion pricing plan, such as that proposed by the Fix NYC panel, that will create a dedicated revenue stream for transit improvements. Such a plan should absolutely fund much-needed subway fixes that help reduce delays and modernize signals. But part of these new funds must go into improving and expanding service in the boroughs outside Manhattan.</p> <p>The MTA should also launch a Bus Rescue Plan to mirror the essential work happening in the subways, and New Yorkers should be heartened to hear that new New York City Transit chief Andy Byford mentioned the idea. He should waste no time in crafting one. For the two million New Yorkers who ride the bus each weekday, including more than 80,000 healthcare workers, buses are the only option. But bus service across the city is unreliable, too slow, and doesn’t run frequently enough.</p> <p>The MTA and DOT should implement a host of best practices, including dedicated and enforced bus lanes, signal priority at traffic lights, and all-door boarding. These improvements would cost a fraction of what is needed underground.</p> <p>With a new transit chief and subway action plan, New York City may finally be on the way to fixing the trains—a critical first step in turning around a failing system. Yet transit will forever remain on life support unless New York tackles the poor service plaguing neighborhoods citywide.</p> <p>***<br /> Bowles is executive director of the Center for an Urban Future. Chaban is CUF’s policy director. On Twitter <strong><a href="https://twitter.com/jbowlesnyc">@jbowlesnyc</a> &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/MC_NYC">@MC_NYC</a> &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/nycfuture">@nycfuture</a></strong></p> <p>

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Congestion Pricing Won't Solve New York's Transportation Woes 2017-09-05T04:00:00+00:00 2017-09-05T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7175:congestion-pricing-won-t-solve-new-york-s-transportation-woes Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/26803637030_b6b4092a62_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo MTA bus" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo and a bus (photo:&nbsp;Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Governor Andrew Cuomo’s recent vague interest in congestion pricing as a solution to problems at the MTA may give new life to one of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s key policy goals, but absent transportation improvements officials could be making now, pricing will not save our subways. We cannot let them off the hook in search of the perceived silver bullet of congestion pricing.</p> <p>The transportation community has been salivating over Cuomo’s statement that “congestion pricing is an idea whose time has come,” hoping that the governor will be able to convince the state to put a cordon toll around Manhattan south of 60th Street. Such a cordon toll, which would charge drivers entering the area on a daily or per trip basis, is reflective of similar policies elsewhere, particularly London, which implemented a congestion charge in the central city district in February 2003. Yet commenters and policy nerds this side of the Atlantic have missed the real substance of London’s improvements, and in doing so, they are giving our elected officials a pass on work they should be doing right now, regardless of the status of the pricing proposal.</p> <p>What today’s transportation advocates are missing is that the key ingredient to London’s success was not its charge but its buses.</p> <p>Beginning in 1993, ridership on London’s double-deckers increased annually, and was up 37% by the time the charge was implemented in 2003. In 2004, London’s buses carried more passengers than the New York City subway. While those ridership numbers are impressive on their own, what they signify is an overall shift away from cars to buses, bikes, and walking. London’s congestion charge was envisioned as a specifically anti-car policy, designed to make it easier for buses and taxis to traverse the city center.</p> <p>When New York City congestion pricing advocates see London’s roads covered in bus lanes, they may imagine that the charge enabled such a shift, freeing up road space to then be taken over by buses and bikes. In fact, nearly all of London’s 180 miles of bus lanes were implemented before the congestion charge, in that era of increasing ridership between 1993 and 2003. The lanes and other improvements insulated London’s buses from congestion enough, even before the charge, to improve rider experience and reduce excess waiting time at stops. Combined with a lower fare on buses compared to the tube, the operational improvements led to increased ridership and declining car use before the charge policy was even developed.</p> <p>New York’s bus system pales in comparison.</p> <p>The city currently has just over 50 miles of bus lanes. While buses have priority at most intersections in London, such priority only exists in New York on four Select Bus Service routes. As congestion has risen, bus ridership has fallen as bus speeds have slowed to a level barely faster than walking. </p> <p>Nowhere is the lack of bus priority more egregious than on the East River bridges, the very place tolls would be implemented. When Mayor Bloomberg signed the initial contract with the USDOT for his congestion pricing proposal, East River bus lanes were the only specific bus improvement named. When the deal fell through, the East River bus lanes plan mostly died.</p> <p>There are high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, used by both buses and cars with two or more occupants, in the tunnels and in the mornings on the Queensborough and Manhattan Bridges. The tunnel HOV lanes serve the express buses, the second-most heavily subsidized way to travel in the city after the commuter rail. Currently, the Queensborough bridge carries three local routes and 18 express routes. There are no buses that cross the Manhattan Bridge and benefit from the HOV lane.</p> <p>For New York’s system to match London’s status before the charge was implemented, we need not only priority for buses on the roads but also more local buses into Manhattan. Based on London’s experience, getting drivers out of their cars requires a double shift.</p> <p>First, some subway riders shift to buses for shorter trips; then drivers, who generally take longer trips, switch to the newly opened subway space. New York’s bus system largely lacks bus routes to accommodate people switching from the subway to bus. Currently, only a single local bus goes from Brooklyn to Manhattan, the B39, which runs only between the Williamsburg Bridge Terminal and Delancey Street, and comes every half hour. Unsurprisingly, it has the lowest ridership in the bus system. Without more direct bus connections to Manhattan, New York severely limits the bus system’s ability to provide a subway relief valve.</p> <p>To be clear, there are activists calling for New York to focus on its bus network, but the centrality of the bus network to the functioning of the whole system is not fully depicted. The Bus Turnaround Campaign, comprised of the Riders Alliance, TransitCenter, TriState Transportation Campaign, and the Straphangers Campaign, have called for bus improvements for the sake of riders, but not as a way of improving transportation in the city as a whole, though their recommendations are based in part on London’s improvements, including increased bus priority, less circuitous routing, and improved fare payment.</p> <p>What is frustrating is that many advocates believe that they have to support the pricing proposal in order to achieve bus system improvements, and that others feel as though they don’t need to advocate as hard for buses because the charging regime will magically improve the buses. The reality is that absent good alternatives to switch to, any charge that is politically feasible (maybe no more than the cost of a subway fare, well short of what is proposed in the most thorough proposal to-date, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7131-what-s-the-data-point-1-5-billion" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the Move New York plan</a>) will be ineffective at reducing congestion and thus at improving the buses. London’s temporary drop in congestion following the charge was made possible by the bevy of available bus seats. While New York has available bus seats, they are not yet good alternatives. If they were, we would have seen bus ridership increase during this especially difficult subway summer congestion pricing is supposed to fix, and we didn’t.</p> <p>If New York wants to seriously improve the transportation system, it needs an all-out campaign on the buses, one with the same level of media attention given to a single Cuomo quote on congestion pricing. Because so much of the bus system is about how we prioritize our roads, this is a goal that a city mayor can actually make a significant dent in without the governor, the kind of transportation improvement our mayor enjoys. So rather than wait for Governor Cuomo to save us via a pricing system that won’t work in our current system, let’s appoint a congestion czar and get serious about a transportation system that provides affordable access for all.</p> <p>***<br />Rosalie Ray is a PhD student in Urban Planning at Columbia University. Her research focuses on London's bus improvements in the 1990s and early 2000s.</p> <p>

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/26803637030_b6b4092a62_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo MTA bus" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo and a bus (photo:&nbsp;Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Governor Andrew Cuomo’s recent vague interest in congestion pricing as a solution to problems at the MTA may give new life to one of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s key policy goals, but absent transportation improvements officials could be making now, pricing will not save our subways. We cannot let them off the hook in search of the perceived silver bullet of congestion pricing.</p> <p>The transportation community has been salivating over Cuomo’s statement that “congestion pricing is an idea whose time has come,” hoping that the governor will be able to convince the state to put a cordon toll around Manhattan south of 60th Street. Such a cordon toll, which would charge drivers entering the area on a daily or per trip basis, is reflective of similar policies elsewhere, particularly London, which implemented a congestion charge in the central city district in February 2003. Yet commenters and policy nerds this side of the Atlantic have missed the real substance of London’s improvements, and in doing so, they are giving our elected officials a pass on work they should be doing right now, regardless of the status of the pricing proposal.</p> <p>What today’s transportation advocates are missing is that the key ingredient to London’s success was not its charge but its buses.</p> <p>Beginning in 1993, ridership on London’s double-deckers increased annually, and was up 37% by the time the charge was implemented in 2003. In 2004, London’s buses carried more passengers than the New York City subway. While those ridership numbers are impressive on their own, what they signify is an overall shift away from cars to buses, bikes, and walking. London’s congestion charge was envisioned as a specifically anti-car policy, designed to make it easier for buses and taxis to traverse the city center.</p> <p>When New York City congestion pricing advocates see London’s roads covered in bus lanes, they may imagine that the charge enabled such a shift, freeing up road space to then be taken over by buses and bikes. In fact, nearly all of London’s 180 miles of bus lanes were implemented before the congestion charge, in that era of increasing ridership between 1993 and 2003. The lanes and other improvements insulated London’s buses from congestion enough, even before the charge, to improve rider experience and reduce excess waiting time at stops. Combined with a lower fare on buses compared to the tube, the operational improvements led to increased ridership and declining car use before the charge policy was even developed.</p> <p>New York’s bus system pales in comparison.</p> <p>The city currently has just over 50 miles of bus lanes. While buses have priority at most intersections in London, such priority only exists in New York on four Select Bus Service routes. As congestion has risen, bus ridership has fallen as bus speeds have slowed to a level barely faster than walking. </p> <p>Nowhere is the lack of bus priority more egregious than on the East River bridges, the very place tolls would be implemented. When Mayor Bloomberg signed the initial contract with the USDOT for his congestion pricing proposal, East River bus lanes were the only specific bus improvement named. When the deal fell through, the East River bus lanes plan mostly died.</p> <p>There are high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, used by both buses and cars with two or more occupants, in the tunnels and in the mornings on the Queensborough and Manhattan Bridges. The tunnel HOV lanes serve the express buses, the second-most heavily subsidized way to travel in the city after the commuter rail. Currently, the Queensborough bridge carries three local routes and 18 express routes. There are no buses that cross the Manhattan Bridge and benefit from the HOV lane.</p> <p>For New York’s system to match London’s status before the charge was implemented, we need not only priority for buses on the roads but also more local buses into Manhattan. Based on London’s experience, getting drivers out of their cars requires a double shift.</p> <p>First, some subway riders shift to buses for shorter trips; then drivers, who generally take longer trips, switch to the newly opened subway space. New York’s bus system largely lacks bus routes to accommodate people switching from the subway to bus. Currently, only a single local bus goes from Brooklyn to Manhattan, the B39, which runs only between the Williamsburg Bridge Terminal and Delancey Street, and comes every half hour. Unsurprisingly, it has the lowest ridership in the bus system. Without more direct bus connections to Manhattan, New York severely limits the bus system’s ability to provide a subway relief valve.</p> <p>To be clear, there are activists calling for New York to focus on its bus network, but the centrality of the bus network to the functioning of the whole system is not fully depicted. The Bus Turnaround Campaign, comprised of the Riders Alliance, TransitCenter, TriState Transportation Campaign, and the Straphangers Campaign, have called for bus improvements for the sake of riders, but not as a way of improving transportation in the city as a whole, though their recommendations are based in part on London’s improvements, including increased bus priority, less circuitous routing, and improved fare payment.</p> <p>What is frustrating is that many advocates believe that they have to support the pricing proposal in order to achieve bus system improvements, and that others feel as though they don’t need to advocate as hard for buses because the charging regime will magically improve the buses. The reality is that absent good alternatives to switch to, any charge that is politically feasible (maybe no more than the cost of a subway fare, well short of what is proposed in the most thorough proposal to-date, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7131-what-s-the-data-point-1-5-billion" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the Move New York plan</a>) will be ineffective at reducing congestion and thus at improving the buses. London’s temporary drop in congestion following the charge was made possible by the bevy of available bus seats. While New York has available bus seats, they are not yet good alternatives. If they were, we would have seen bus ridership increase during this especially difficult subway summer congestion pricing is supposed to fix, and we didn’t.</p> <p>If New York wants to seriously improve the transportation system, it needs an all-out campaign on the buses, one with the same level of media attention given to a single Cuomo quote on congestion pricing. Because so much of the bus system is about how we prioritize our roads, this is a goal that a city mayor can actually make a significant dent in without the governor, the kind of transportation improvement our mayor enjoys. So rather than wait for Governor Cuomo to save us via a pricing system that won’t work in our current system, let’s appoint a congestion czar and get serious about a transportation system that provides affordable access for all.</p> <p>***<br />Rosalie Ray is a PhD student in Urban Planning at Columbia University. Her research focuses on London's bus improvements in the 1990s and early 2000s.</p> <p>

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What About the Buses? 2017-08-04T04:00:00+00:00 2017-08-04T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7109:what-about-the-buses Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/governorandrewcuomo-photo_by_marc_a._hermann_--_mta_new_york_city_transit-5.jpg" alt="governorandrewcuomo photo by marc a. hermann mta new york city transit" width="640" height="451" /></p> <p>(photo: Marc A. Hermann/MTA)</p> <hr /> <p>Newly-minted MTA chief Joe Lhota held a press conference last week to announce a rescue plan for the city’s ailing subway system. The agenda includes signal fixes, maintenance work, new emergency response teams, and even rider communication shifts. Lhota’s blueprint comes with $800-plus million price tag, he said, which set off another round of feuding between Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo about how much the city and the state will each pitch in.</p> <p>While there is a great deal of attention necessarily being paid to the state of the city’s subway system, absent from the new MTA plan was measures to improve bus service. Transit advocates, city and state elected officials have subsequently pointed to buses as an overlooked but essential factor in improving New York City’s transit system, to provide commuters more reliable options and to reach people who live outside subway zones.</p> <p>Indicative of the need for attention to buses is the fact that subway underperformance and drops in service reliability have not spawned an increased reliance on the city’s bus system. In fact, as the New York Times <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/23/nyregion/new-york-city-subway-ridership.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reported</a> in February, bus ridership fell by approximately 1.6 percent on weekdays and 4 percent on weekends in 2016 from the year before, in keeping with a multi-year trend of falling bus usage. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Following Lhota’s announcement of the new “<a href="http://www.mtamovingforward.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">NYC Subway Action Plan</a>,” State Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz, who chairs the Assembly committee with MTA oversight, commended Lhota for releasing an emergency subway plan, but also encouraged him to address buses in the near future.</p> <p>“While I recognize that our signals, tracks, cars, and user experience are all at the forefront of public concern and discourse, there are many New Yorkers who need improvements in other areas as well,” said the Dinowitz statement. “Accessibility concerns and bus service remain in need of attention also, and I encourage Chairman Lhota to address these issues soon,” he said. While Dinowitz’s committee has done little by way of MTA oversight in recent years, the Assembly member has put forth some of his own recommendations and took part in a two-day series of subway rides on Thursday and Friday to talk to riders directly.</p> <p>John Raskin, executive director of transit advocacy group Riders Alliance, who has written and spoken favorably of Lhota and his plan, also said he would like to see advancements on buses.</p> <p>“Focusing on bus service is a quick and affordable way to improve public transit for millions of daily riders. Implementing long-overdue bus improvements would be a great compliment to the longer, more expensive work that will be needed to overhaul subway service,” he wrote in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “In the near future, the MTA could improve bus service by switching to a system of boarding through all doors, as well as redesigning bus routes to match how people travel today,” he continued, also proposing “adding bus lanes to local routes so buses don't get caught in traffic jams.”</p> <p>The bus system, particularly bus lanes, as many transit experts point out, can be changed relatively quickly, and by the mayor, if need be. Still, the state-run MTA holds the majority of control over buses as a whole.</p> <p>There is growing consensus among experts and elected officials pointing to expanding both Select Bus Service (SBS), essentially express buses, and transit signal priority (TPS), which helps buses move more quickly through traffic light changes.</p> <p>SBS is one of the joint ventures set in motion over the past few years that has shown signs of success. Ths mode differs from traditional buses in that passengers board from all doors, speeding up the process at each stop, and the stops are less frequent on routes, making SBS something of an “express.” SBS also uses proof-of-payment, where instead of dipping a metrocard, riders buy tickets at bus stop kiosks prior to boarding (they are checked randomly).</p> <p>SBS has been deployed on 14 routes across the city; several potential routes to expand the service have been proposed as well. Prominent current examples of SBS are on 1st and 2nd Avenues in Manhattan; the newly-added crosstown 79th Street and 86th Street routes Uptown; the B41, B44 and B46 in Brooklyn; the S79, connecting Bay Ridge and Staten Island; the Q70 which goes to LaGuardia Airport; and several others.</p> <p>“Both the MTA and New York City DOT can speed up the installation of Select Bus Service, which has proven both popular and effective, making buses run faster and attracting more riders who had given up on the slow local service that came before it,” wrote Raskin. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Mayor de Blasio, for his part, often refers to SBS as a model. “That’s something we think has been a real success story -- so there are sometimes when things have been done the right way, and that’s one of them,” he said when asked about the buses by Gotham Gazette at a Thursday press conference. “Then we want to keep expanding. It’s a good news story,” he continued. “I’d put it in the same category as the other, newer types of transportation that are being developed rapidly: the ferry system, light rail, and obviously the expansion of Citi Bike -- all of these are going to be necessary to give people more options,” he said.</p> <p>“For [SBS expansion] to be achieved,” de Blasio said, “it requires cooperation between the city and the state and the MTA, and obviously investment by the city on the capital elements of each route.”</p> <p>Advocates and experts have also called for an expansion of bus service to places that are particularly distant from a subway stop and existing bus routes, such as certain parts of Brooklyn and Queens.</p> <p>With the impending closure of the L train in 2019, transit advocates have<a href="http://www.brooklyneagle.com/articles/2017/7/12/%E2%80%98summer-hell%E2%80%99-hits-brooklyn-transit-system" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> called</a> for augmented bus service during the shutdown, which former MTA chief Tom Prendergast <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/manhattan/bus-service-prove-vital-manhattan-line-shutdown-article-1.2635845" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pledged</a> to address last year.</p> <p>Last month, a coalition of eight transit advocacy groups gathered to announce a list of commitments they would like New York City lawmakers to champion and implement. Improving bus service was among the seven demands. “Unfortunately, service is often slow and unreliable, and buses are generally neglected by policymakers, at the expense of residents who already have the most punishing commutes,” the <a href="http://tstc.org/transportation-equity-agenda-2017.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">plan</a> states.</p> <p>The coalition of advocates is urging the city to add additional bus lanes to local routes along with expanded Select Bus Services. But new bus routes are not the only way to improve service. Stricter, even dedicated bus lanes -- through physical barriers and NYPD enforcement -- are other options in the city’s toolbox. All-door boarding, an important component to SBS, is another endeavor for the city to consider putting into place across the system.</p> <p>Asked about attention to buses as the subway system has become more unreliable and MTA Chair Lhota said more temporary subway line shutdowns would be needed, an MTA spokesperson said, "We are also focused on our bus customers and several initiatives are already in place to improve bus service. As you know, the MTA is committed to maintaining and expanding Select Bus Service, which has been successful in reducing dwell times at bus stops. Every bus in our system can be tracked with GPS and customers can access this information on the MTA Bus Time app. The same data we use for the app we use to monitor bus schedule and service to help mitigate issues that may arise on the road in real time. Installation of a new fare payment system, which is being worked on, will also speed up boarding," said Kevin Ortiz, of the MTA.</p> <p>"Additionally, we continue to work with DOT to advance the rollout of Traffic Signal Prioritization city-wide and are looking at implementing all-door boarding where it is practical to do so," Ortiz added. "However, we don’t have direct control of road conditions on city streets. We are continuing to collaborate with DOT and NYPD to prioritize bus service as they address traffic congestion, unauthorized vehicles in bus lanes, double parked cars, and other factors that have the most direct impact on bus speeds and service reliability."</p> <p>Advocates have argued in favor of expanding transit signal priority (TSP) as a way to speed up existing bus routes. “Mayor de Blasio's administration could also make a difference, by accelerating the implementation of transit signal priority, where lights turn green faster when buses are waiting,” Raskin explained.</p> <p>Along these lines, <a href="http://transitcenter.org/about/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">TransitCenter</a>, an organization of transportation experts, published a <a href="http://transitcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Waiting-for-the-light-1-2.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">report</a> on TSP. It notes that trips take longer than needed because “New Yorkers are stuck spending 21% of their bus rides stopped at red lights—but they shouldn’t be.” “Transit signal priority (TSP) can be used to extend green lights or shorten red ones when a bus is approaching, speeding up trips and improving schedule reliability,” it says.</p> <p>The report also outlines New York City shortcomings compared to buses in other major cities. “Other cities around the world aren’t waiting for the light: New York is behind peers like London and Los Angeles, which have been utilizing signal priority for nearly two decades,” the TransitCenter report notes. “There are around 260 intersections providing bus priority in New York today, versus 3200 such intersections in London and 654 in Los Angeles.” &nbsp;</p> <p>Given the fact that the city already uses TSP, and is effective along these routes -- the report cited city DOT data showing that TSP reduced travel time by 18% -- the proposal suggests that the city adopt a goal of utilizing TSP for 20 new routes by 2018.</p> <p>“Chairman Lhota and Commissioner Trottenberg should work together to prioritize transit on NYC streets by applying TSP more aggressively and more quickly,” the report reads. “Strong leadership is needed from both NYCDOT and the MTA to realize the relatively painless gains transit signal priority offers.”</p> <p>Recently, TSP has garnered more support from New York officials. “Transit Signal Priority gives a Green Light to New York City bus riders,” <a href="https://transportationtodaynews.com/news/4607-nyc-transportation-department-releases-report-transit-signal-priority-technology-used-city-buses/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">said</a> Polly Trottenberg, Commissioner of New York City’s Department of Transportation, in a recent press release. “We have seen travel time savings of 5-30 percent on the SBS routes where we installed this technology and now that the MTA is moving forward with its TSP procurement, we are pleased to announce that DOT will quadruple our installation rate, covering over 1,000 intersections total and 15 additional routes by 2020.”</p> <p>City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, chair of the Council’s transportation committee, echoed Trottenberg. “Transit signal priority is a crucial part of improving bus service across the city,” he stated in the press release. “With buses shedding riders over the past few years,” he continued, alluding to the reduction in bus ridership, “improvements like this are how we will regain their trust that buses are a fast and efficient option.”</p> <p>On the state level, in April, the Governor announced a new line of MTA buses that would be equipped with Wi-Fi and USB ports. Two thousand of these newly designed buses will be put to use in the next five years, according to the governor. Cuomo argued they will help reinvigorate the city’s bus system.</p> <p>“From opening the Second Avenue Subway, to bringing Wi-Fi and cell service to underground subway stations, we are reimagining the mass-transit experience for the metropolitan area,” Cuomo said in a press release. “These new state-of-the-art buses will better connect passengers who are on-the-go, create a stronger mass-transit system and bring New York into the 21st Century,” the statement continued.</p> <p>The high-tech bus model introduction and a late April <a href="http://www.mta.info/press-release/nyc-transit/governor-cuomo-announces-green-bus-pilot-program-new-york-city" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">press release</a> regarding the addition of a bus “pilot program,” an introduction of 10 new environmentally friendly buses to the existing system, were the last times the state has given buses attention. The governor has mostly spent his MTA attention on subway-related matters, alternating between celebrating the Second Avenue Subway expansion, deflecting responsibility to the city, proposing additional gubernatorial powers to appoint MTA board members, telling the city to pay more money for the system, and taking renewed control of the situation.</p> <p> </p> <p>Note: this article was updated with comment from the MTA.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/governorandrewcuomo-photo_by_marc_a._hermann_--_mta_new_york_city_transit-5.jpg" alt="governorandrewcuomo photo by marc a. hermann mta new york city transit" width="640" height="451" /></p> <p>(photo: Marc A. Hermann/MTA)</p> <hr /> <p>Newly-minted MTA chief Joe Lhota held a press conference last week to announce a rescue plan for the city’s ailing subway system. The agenda includes signal fixes, maintenance work, new emergency response teams, and even rider communication shifts. Lhota’s blueprint comes with $800-plus million price tag, he said, which set off another round of feuding between Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo about how much the city and the state will each pitch in.</p> <p>While there is a great deal of attention necessarily being paid to the state of the city’s subway system, absent from the new MTA plan was measures to improve bus service. Transit advocates, city and state elected officials have subsequently pointed to buses as an overlooked but essential factor in improving New York City’s transit system, to provide commuters more reliable options and to reach people who live outside subway zones.</p> <p>Indicative of the need for attention to buses is the fact that subway underperformance and drops in service reliability have not spawned an increased reliance on the city’s bus system. In fact, as the New York Times <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/23/nyregion/new-york-city-subway-ridership.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reported</a> in February, bus ridership fell by approximately 1.6 percent on weekdays and 4 percent on weekends in 2016 from the year before, in keeping with a multi-year trend of falling bus usage. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Following Lhota’s announcement of the new “<a href="http://www.mtamovingforward.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">NYC Subway Action Plan</a>,” State Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz, who chairs the Assembly committee with MTA oversight, commended Lhota for releasing an emergency subway plan, but also encouraged him to address buses in the near future.</p> <p>“While I recognize that our signals, tracks, cars, and user experience are all at the forefront of public concern and discourse, there are many New Yorkers who need improvements in other areas as well,” said the Dinowitz statement. “Accessibility concerns and bus service remain in need of attention also, and I encourage Chairman Lhota to address these issues soon,” he said. While Dinowitz’s committee has done little by way of MTA oversight in recent years, the Assembly member has put forth some of his own recommendations and took part in a two-day series of subway rides on Thursday and Friday to talk to riders directly.</p> <p>John Raskin, executive director of transit advocacy group Riders Alliance, who has written and spoken favorably of Lhota and his plan, also said he would like to see advancements on buses.</p> <p>“Focusing on bus service is a quick and affordable way to improve public transit for millions of daily riders. Implementing long-overdue bus improvements would be a great compliment to the longer, more expensive work that will be needed to overhaul subway service,” he wrote in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “In the near future, the MTA could improve bus service by switching to a system of boarding through all doors, as well as redesigning bus routes to match how people travel today,” he continued, also proposing “adding bus lanes to local routes so buses don't get caught in traffic jams.”</p> <p>The bus system, particularly bus lanes, as many transit experts point out, can be changed relatively quickly, and by the mayor, if need be. Still, the state-run MTA holds the majority of control over buses as a whole.</p> <p>There is growing consensus among experts and elected officials pointing to expanding both Select Bus Service (SBS), essentially express buses, and transit signal priority (TPS), which helps buses move more quickly through traffic light changes.</p> <p>SBS is one of the joint ventures set in motion over the past few years that has shown signs of success. Ths mode differs from traditional buses in that passengers board from all doors, speeding up the process at each stop, and the stops are less frequent on routes, making SBS something of an “express.” SBS also uses proof-of-payment, where instead of dipping a metrocard, riders buy tickets at bus stop kiosks prior to boarding (they are checked randomly).</p> <p>SBS has been deployed on 14 routes across the city; several potential routes to expand the service have been proposed as well. Prominent current examples of SBS are on 1st and 2nd Avenues in Manhattan; the newly-added crosstown 79th Street and 86th Street routes Uptown; the B41, B44 and B46 in Brooklyn; the S79, connecting Bay Ridge and Staten Island; the Q70 which goes to LaGuardia Airport; and several others.</p> <p>“Both the MTA and New York City DOT can speed up the installation of Select Bus Service, which has proven both popular and effective, making buses run faster and attracting more riders who had given up on the slow local service that came before it,” wrote Raskin. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Mayor de Blasio, for his part, often refers to SBS as a model. “That’s something we think has been a real success story -- so there are sometimes when things have been done the right way, and that’s one of them,” he said when asked about the buses by Gotham Gazette at a Thursday press conference. “Then we want to keep expanding. It’s a good news story,” he continued. “I’d put it in the same category as the other, newer types of transportation that are being developed rapidly: the ferry system, light rail, and obviously the expansion of Citi Bike -- all of these are going to be necessary to give people more options,” he said.</p> <p>“For [SBS expansion] to be achieved,” de Blasio said, “it requires cooperation between the city and the state and the MTA, and obviously investment by the city on the capital elements of each route.”</p> <p>Advocates and experts have also called for an expansion of bus service to places that are particularly distant from a subway stop and existing bus routes, such as certain parts of Brooklyn and Queens.</p> <p>With the impending closure of the L train in 2019, transit advocates have<a href="http://www.brooklyneagle.com/articles/2017/7/12/%E2%80%98summer-hell%E2%80%99-hits-brooklyn-transit-system" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> called</a> for augmented bus service during the shutdown, which former MTA chief Tom Prendergast <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/manhattan/bus-service-prove-vital-manhattan-line-shutdown-article-1.2635845" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pledged</a> to address last year.</p> <p>Last month, a coalition of eight transit advocacy groups gathered to announce a list of commitments they would like New York City lawmakers to champion and implement. Improving bus service was among the seven demands. “Unfortunately, service is often slow and unreliable, and buses are generally neglected by policymakers, at the expense of residents who already have the most punishing commutes,” the <a href="http://tstc.org/transportation-equity-agenda-2017.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">plan</a> states.</p> <p>The coalition of advocates is urging the city to add additional bus lanes to local routes along with expanded Select Bus Services. But new bus routes are not the only way to improve service. Stricter, even dedicated bus lanes -- through physical barriers and NYPD enforcement -- are other options in the city’s toolbox. All-door boarding, an important component to SBS, is another endeavor for the city to consider putting into place across the system.</p> <p>Asked about attention to buses as the subway system has become more unreliable and MTA Chair Lhota said more temporary subway line shutdowns would be needed, an MTA spokesperson said, "We are also focused on our bus customers and several initiatives are already in place to improve bus service. As you know, the MTA is committed to maintaining and expanding Select Bus Service, which has been successful in reducing dwell times at bus stops. Every bus in our system can be tracked with GPS and customers can access this information on the MTA Bus Time app. The same data we use for the app we use to monitor bus schedule and service to help mitigate issues that may arise on the road in real time. Installation of a new fare payment system, which is being worked on, will also speed up boarding," said Kevin Ortiz, of the MTA.</p> <p>"Additionally, we continue to work with DOT to advance the rollout of Traffic Signal Prioritization city-wide and are looking at implementing all-door boarding where it is practical to do so," Ortiz added. "However, we don’t have direct control of road conditions on city streets. We are continuing to collaborate with DOT and NYPD to prioritize bus service as they address traffic congestion, unauthorized vehicles in bus lanes, double parked cars, and other factors that have the most direct impact on bus speeds and service reliability."</p> <p>Advocates have argued in favor of expanding transit signal priority (TSP) as a way to speed up existing bus routes. “Mayor de Blasio's administration could also make a difference, by accelerating the implementation of transit signal priority, where lights turn green faster when buses are waiting,” Raskin explained.</p> <p>Along these lines, <a href="http://transitcenter.org/about/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">TransitCenter</a>, an organization of transportation experts, published a <a href="http://transitcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Waiting-for-the-light-1-2.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">report</a> on TSP. It notes that trips take longer than needed because “New Yorkers are stuck spending 21% of their bus rides stopped at red lights—but they shouldn’t be.” “Transit signal priority (TSP) can be used to extend green lights or shorten red ones when a bus is approaching, speeding up trips and improving schedule reliability,” it says.</p> <p>The report also outlines New York City shortcomings compared to buses in other major cities. “Other cities around the world aren’t waiting for the light: New York is behind peers like London and Los Angeles, which have been utilizing signal priority for nearly two decades,” the TransitCenter report notes. “There are around 260 intersections providing bus priority in New York today, versus 3200 such intersections in London and 654 in Los Angeles.” &nbsp;</p> <p>Given the fact that the city already uses TSP, and is effective along these routes -- the report cited city DOT data showing that TSP reduced travel time by 18% -- the proposal suggests that the city adopt a goal of utilizing TSP for 20 new routes by 2018.</p> <p>“Chairman Lhota and Commissioner Trottenberg should work together to prioritize transit on NYC streets by applying TSP more aggressively and more quickly,” the report reads. “Strong leadership is needed from both NYCDOT and the MTA to realize the relatively painless gains transit signal priority offers.”</p> <p>Recently, TSP has garnered more support from New York officials. “Transit Signal Priority gives a Green Light to New York City bus riders,” <a href="https://transportationtodaynews.com/news/4607-nyc-transportation-department-releases-report-transit-signal-priority-technology-used-city-buses/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">said</a> Polly Trottenberg, Commissioner of New York City’s Department of Transportation, in a recent press release. “We have seen travel time savings of 5-30 percent on the SBS routes where we installed this technology and now that the MTA is moving forward with its TSP procurement, we are pleased to announce that DOT will quadruple our installation rate, covering over 1,000 intersections total and 15 additional routes by 2020.”</p> <p>City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, chair of the Council’s transportation committee, echoed Trottenberg. “Transit signal priority is a crucial part of improving bus service across the city,” he stated in the press release. “With buses shedding riders over the past few years,” he continued, alluding to the reduction in bus ridership, “improvements like this are how we will regain their trust that buses are a fast and efficient option.”</p> <p>On the state level, in April, the Governor announced a new line of MTA buses that would be equipped with Wi-Fi and USB ports. Two thousand of these newly designed buses will be put to use in the next five years, according to the governor. Cuomo argued they will help reinvigorate the city’s bus system.</p> <p>“From opening the Second Avenue Subway, to bringing Wi-Fi and cell service to underground subway stations, we are reimagining the mass-transit experience for the metropolitan area,” Cuomo said in a press release. “These new state-of-the-art buses will better connect passengers who are on-the-go, create a stronger mass-transit system and bring New York into the 21st Century,” the statement continued.</p> <p>The high-tech bus model introduction and a late April <a href="http://www.mta.info/press-release/nyc-transit/governor-cuomo-announces-green-bus-pilot-program-new-york-city" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">press release</a> regarding the addition of a bus “pilot program,” an introduction of 10 new environmentally friendly buses to the existing system, were the last times the state has given buses attention. The governor has mostly spent his MTA attention on subway-related matters, alternating between celebrating the Second Avenue Subway expansion, deflecting responsibility to the city, proposing additional gubernatorial powers to appoint MTA board members, telling the city to pay more money for the system, and taking renewed control of the situation.</p> <p> </p> <p>Note: this article was updated with comment from the MTA.</p>