One Mindblowing Fact Missing From BuzzFeed’s Port Authority Listicle

Earlier this week, BuzzFeed gleaned some fun facts about the Hudson River bridges and tunnels from a Port Authority data dump on the number of eastbound automobiles, buses, and trucks. If you took the numbers at face value, you might be left with the impression that cars are the most important thing moving around New York. But when you measure people instead of vehicles, the numbers look quite different.

BuzzFeed’s John Templon started off the nine-point listicle with a breakdown of vehicle traffic on the Port’s crossings:

1. It’s almost all cars. Automobile traffic consistently makes up around 91% of the total vehicles going over and through the bridges and tunnels in a month. Trucks make up between 6 and 7 percent, and buses account for the final 2 to 3 percent.

Buses are mentioned once again, and readers are left with the impression that they aren’t all that important, even at the crossing with the most bus traffic:

6. Buses love the Lincoln Tunnel. Buses accounted for 11.4% of all vehicles taking the Lincoln Tunnel to Manhattan in 2013. (Port Authority is right around the corner.) That proportion is 10 times greater than any other eastbound crossing. Next is the Holland Tunnel, at just 1.4%.

Barely more than one in ten vehicles coming from New Jersey in the Lincoln Tunnel is a bus. But what happens when you measure people, not vehicles?

To get the numbers, we turn to the Hub Bound Travel report, issued annually by the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council. Like other long-running NYC transportation metrics, the Hub Bound report only measures travel to and from Manhattan south of 60th Street. Because of this limitation, we’re restricted to looking at the two Port Authority crossings serving this area: the Holland Tunnel and Lincoln Tunnel.

In October 2012, the most recent month for which Hub Bound data is available, buses were 10.8 percent of all eastbound traffic in the Lincoln Tunnel, according to the Port Authority. But on an average weekday that month, buses carried 73.4 percent of all people traveling through the tunnel, according to the Hub Bound report. Put another way: Nearly three-quarters of people in the Lincoln Tunnel are traveling in about one-tenth of the vehicles. Or: Nearly 90 percent of vehicles clogging the tunnel are carrying slightly more than one-quarter of the people.

The bus numbers aren’t as lopsided for the Holland Tunnel, which has no dedicated bus lanes, but the efficiency of transit is still apparent: Buses are only 1.5 percent of the vehicles, yet manage to carry 26.5 percent of all people using the downtown crossing.

Many regional leaders recognize the central role buses play in trans-Hudson travel. “The Lincoln Tunnel… is essentially a mass transit system now, in terms of buses coming from New Jersey,” First Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris told the MTA Reinvention Commission last week. “It carries more commuters than PATH.”

It’s true. According to the Hub Bound report, nearly 172,000 people use Manhattan-bound Lincoln Tunnel buses every day, while about 119,000 use the inbound PATH. (That number is close to evenly split between the tunnels to 34th Street and the World Trade Center.) The Lincoln Tunnel even carries more people every day than the two tracks carrying nearly 82,000 New Jersey Transit and Amtrak riders to Penn Station daily.

Despite this, there’s not enough capacity for buses at the Port Authority Bus Terminal, so they overwhelm neighborhood streets. And buses only get a dedicated lane in the Lincoln Tunnel during the morning rush, not the evening commute. Here’s the classic Streetfilm explaining why that needs to change:

When you measure people, not vehicles, the numbers will make you say: “OMG.”

  • The pie charts dont change when you toggle between Lincoln and Holland

  • millerstephen

    They’re working fine for me. What browser/system are you using? Maybe click through to the charts on Datawrapper to see if they are working there?

  • They worked for me too.

  • vnm

    Awesome post, highlighting the tremendous value of bus lanes. One point of nitpicking, since we’re talking only about eastbound travel statistics: There is only one track carrying New Jersey Transit and Amtrak riders TO Penn Station every day. The other track carries trains in the other direction. When you look at it that way, rail performs a lot better.

  • Firefox

  • Alex

    Another problem with that BuzzFeed piece is that it’s called “9 Delightfully Geeky Facts about NYC Bridges and Tunnels” but only talks about the 3 vehicular crossings over the Hudson and ignores all the many other crossings in NYC, both rail and road. Also, the facts aren’t geeky. They’re just boring.

  • SteveVaccaro

    Nice one Stephen!

  • Now I realize why we got a bump on that film the past two days!

  • Larry Littlefield

    A couple of missing facts that might explain some things. The Port Authority is broke. And if you measure things by money paid, rather than either vehicles or passengers, I’m sure you’d see that bus riders aren’t providing a lot of the money to the Port Authority. If more people rode buses, level of service would increase, but Port Authority revenues would decrease.

    It reminds me of the discussions of airport access a couple of decades ago. It turned out that parking revenues is what funded the airports. A wag noted that if the Port Authority was forced to eliminate one mode of transportation from the airports, it would probably choose the airplanes.

    Most of the motor vehicle infrastructure does not pay for itself now. But the more efficient use of that infrastructure will cause a further strain for road operators who are deep in debt. In New York and New Jersey, that is all of them, including the two state transportation trust funds. The road folks are still assuming ever increasing driving and parking. But we already see some of the strains that emerge when those assumptions prove incorrect.

  • MattyCiii

    I read somewhere – perhaps here at Streetcblog? – that lack of bus storage at Port Authority causes empty busses to be driven to Jersey after the morning commute, then be driven back into Manhattan in time for the evening commute.

    Assuming that’s largely true, up to half the bus traffic is empty busses, yes?

  • valar84

    The video shown here is right on most points, except one. Buses INCREASE the wear and tear of roads significantly. That’s because wear and tear is proportional to the power of 4 of weight upon each axle of every vehicle, and a loaded bus’ axles each carry as much weight as a fully loaded 18-wheeler’ axle. So one buse damages the road more than thousands of cars.

    I can see the effect on the bus lane near me, the bus lane is significantly more damages than the car travel lanes, with the space where buses drive having been compacted by repeated passages of the buses.

  • Ari_FS

    Why not increase dedicated bus lanes and charge some sort of express bus fee (which could be passed on to riders) to make up for any lost car toll revenue?

    I bet the Port Authority could increase service levels AND increase revenue.

  • bolwerk

    Using Firefox 31, the toggle seems change the number, but not the size of the pie slices. Using Chromium both seem fine.

    User agent: Mozilla/5.0 (X11; Linux x86_64; rv:31.0) Gecko/20100101 Firefox/31.0

  • Joe R.

    I can see how much buses ruin roads in NYC by looking at how the concrete blocks at bus stops end up getting misaligned. If bus traffic can move a 10×30 foot section of concrete up by as much as 4 inches on one end, I can only imagine what it does to asphalt. Bus routes probably should be paved in concrete only, with a very deep concrete subroadbed.

  • bolwerk

    Asphalt is filth anyway. It’s an ugly material prone to heating up and it often reeks, especially when newly laid. And that it makes for a fragile surface, and that it is terrible at coping with temperature variance, means it gets re-laid a lot.

  • User_1

    1:50 “More ridership means reduced road wear, reduced oil consumption and reduces congestion.”

    Why stop there? More ridership means roads are safer for the bicyclists, the pedestrians and also the drivers.

  • lop

    Inbound 8-9am for the bus lane to bring in the same revenue as the other inbound travel lanes you’d have to charge about thirty five cents per rider. Rest of the day maybe more if the buses are less full or there are fewer of them. Although since Manhattan doesn’t have a highway in midtown cutting down to two inbound car lanes from three might not cut the number of cars by a third, reducing the financial hit to the PA. The bus riders would probably get charged again in the evening, since a lot of buses deadhead to Jersey and then come back in the afternoon/evening, so it’s two bus roundtrips.

  • Kenny Easwaran

    If that’s right, that would mean that buses are even more efficient than suggested here – it’s not 10% of vehicles carrying 75% of people, but 5% of vehicles doing so! Any fix for the deadheading problem would greatly increase the human capacity of the tunnel.

  • lop

    No it wouldn’t but could be taken to mean that buses could be made more efficient than they are, but it isn’t entirely true even then.

    But anyway the issue isn’t the tunnel, for buses or cars, so much as what to do when they get to Manhattan. This is true generally of the river crossings.

    To have an equivalent of the PABT on the street you would need almost a mile of street, with buses taking up every inch of curb space on both sides, and almost continuously (during peak) idling while loading/unloading, then driving off to make room for the next one. Until the buses are electric that will be a hard sell, so there is a limit to how much you can increase bus traffic through the tunnel without expanding PABT, and until the buses are driverless they will remain quite expensive to provide, so it’s not obvious it wouldn’t be cheaper to expand rail instead.

    At peak 8-9am there are four inbound lanes. Three general traffic carry about 2700 vehicles inbound, roughly 3500 people.

    The bus lane carries about 900 buses inbound, 32000 people.

    The proposed bus parking garage would have limited space, and would not eliminate deadheading. It would make it easier to move buses into the PABT faster in the evening, acting as a staging area of sorts.

    A bus lane in each direction would probably help more. Saw someone say that it was studied, but discarded based on ARC reducing bus traffic enough for it to not be necessary. Might be worth looking at again.

  • John Pine

    Great article. I often travel to New Jersey from NY, and often have to endure 30 or more minute delays on my bus from Toms River getting back to New York in the evening at the Lincoln tunnel. All because of all these idiots who decide to drive their cars into New York. There should be a bus lane into NY at all times as well as one going out. Let the cars sit in traffic and pay high tolls for their foolishness, but I shouldn’t have to suffer because of their mistakes. The Port Authority needs to get with the program and stop catering to motorists at the expense of bus riders.

  • John Pine

    Tolls aren’t high enough judging by the amount of vehicles who clog the tunnel to and from NYC from these crossings. Tolls should be $20 one way per car EZ Pass or not, only HOV-3 vehicles would get a lower rate of $13.

  • stairbob

    No need to discount HOVs as they have their own built-in per-person discount. (And impossible to enforce with E-ZPass.)


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