While MTA Waffles on Proven Solutions, New Yorkers Continue to Abandon the Bus

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MTA ridership numbers for 2016 are in, and it’s clear that New Yorkers continue to abandon slow, unreliable bus service. If the MTA and NYC DOT don’t act urgently to improve bus speeds and reliability, warn transit advocates, they risk “a downward spiral of increasing congestion, slower travel speeds, and a slower New York.”

Last year a group of advocates under the banner of the Bus Turnaround Coalition put forward a comprehensive strategy to reverse the 16 percent drop in ridership between 2002 and 2015. The MTA balked and said it was doing enough for buses already.

The new figures from the MTA show the problem is only intensifying: Weekday bus ridership declined another 1.3 percent in 2016.

In a statement today, the coalition cited the 2016 drop in bus ridership as cause for immediate action on these three priorities:

– Implement transit signal priority on key routes across the system. At the October 6, 2016 New York City Council hearing on buses, the MTA committed to beginning implementation of transit signal priority in 2018. With bus travel time improvements of up to 30% made possible with the use of this tool, we should not wait. We call on the MTA and DOT to expedite deployment of transit signal priority, ensuring buses citywide use TSP by the first quarter of 2018.

– Put technology and policy in place now to speed up buses via all-door boarding when the new fare payment system is rolled out. Buses now spend around 20% of their operating time at bus stops while riders board. Getting riders onto the bus more quickly would mean faster trips for riders and allow the agency to provide more service with its existing fleet. We want a guarantee from the MTA that any new fare payment system will incorporate all-door boarding.

Prioritize transit on our streets with new bus lanes, bus bulbs and boarding islands, optimized traffic signals and intersection “queue-jumps.” Recently, the Bus Turnaround coalition put out an analysis of the top 10 streets in need of bus priority. We call on the DOT to speed up commutes for 250,000 riders by making these commonsense changes to targeted local streets in 2017.

MTA officials reacted defensively last year when the coalition called on the agency to commit to fare technology that enables all-door boarding and a citywide overhaul of bus routes, many of which haven’t changed since the streetcar era. DOT has been more amenable to the recommendations but will need to act faster to attain the timetable for improvements outlined by the Bus Turnaround Coalition.

  • Elizabeth F

    > Our existing bike infrastructure is not made to accommodate e-bikes.

    Why
    do you say that? E-bikes do NOT have a higher top speed than any other
    bike. Nor do they take up more space. Nor are they even really
    heavier, once you take the rider into account.

    But now that you
    mention it… sometimes I wonder if our existing bike infrastructure was
    made to acccomodate anything. Or if someone just laid down some
    asphalt and called it a bike path.

    > As Elizabeth F said,
    considering the 25-mile-per-hour speed limit on city streets, e-bikes
    can be ridden amongst other motorised vehicles in that environment.

    Sometimes
    they can, sometimes they can’t. A blanket e-bike ban on bike paths
    would be a disaster for e-bike safety and accessibility. For one, there
    would no longer be a safe OR legal way to cross most bridges. For
    another, the Manhattan Avenues are iffy, only to be used if you really
    want to go fast, and are paying attention, and you are “feeling lucky”
    today. Most days I’m not up for that kind of experience, and I
    willingly take the (slower) bike lane. Or I switch in and out of the
    protected bike lane, depending on how many vehicles, push carts,
    parties, etc. are blocking it in the next two blocks.

    > I average 6000 miles a year

    You are at the extreme upper end of manual biking. Very few people can/want to ride a manual bike that far.

    > There’s nothing I can do about my speed. If I want to get somewhere earlier, I just leave earlier.

    Getting
    where you need to go faster is a part of NYC culture. And why not…
    the city is so big, and we spend so much time getting around already.
    There’s nothing wrong with wanting to average 15mph on you commute.

    > On hot summer days, I sometimes choose to take a 15-mile or even a 20-mile route, just for the pleasure.

    As
    much as I like biking and love my e-bike and Bromton, I never ever ever
    bike somewhere I don’t have to go. It’s just not what I want to do
    with my (very limited) free time. I wish my commute were shorter, or at
    least faster.

    > First Avenue, Eighth Avenue, Ninth Avenue, Bleecker Street

    Those, you have to be careful. Don’t expect to go full-speed ahead on your e-bike. I agree, 15mph is the right speed.

    > Queens Boulevard

    Haven’t
    had a chance to try it yet. Maybe e-bikes can use the car lanes on the
    access road at times. No way can they use the main roadway.

    > The Williamsburg Bridge

    The
    upslope or the downslope? On the upslope, you’re probably not going to
    break 15mph on an e-bike. On the downslope, my experience is crazy
    kids on manual bikes endanger everyone’s life racing to the bottom. No
    bell, no 3-ft passing, etc. E-bikes are actually slower than manual
    bikes going downhill. Why would I want to risk my neck at 35mph anyway?

    > I always tell e-bike riders whom I see on the Williamsburg Bridge bike path that they belong on the road with the cars.

    You
    won’t ingratiate yourself to anyone with that attitude. The bike path
    is the only safe way to get an e-bike across the Williamsburg Bridge.
    Why don’t you just concentrate on the reckless manual bike riders
    instead?

    > But I wouldn’t ride it in bike lanes

    You would once you tried them. Would you take me up on an invitation to try an e-bike?

    > Well, you’re moving your legs. But I don’t know how much exercise you’re getting.

    It’s
    really none of your business how much exercise I’m getting. I really
    don’t care how other people get around, other than the externalities; I
    suggest you adopt that attitude too. But since you’re curious, I will
    tell you… there is still plenty of exercise involved. Read the
    research articles on the topic if you don’t believe me.

    Your
    attitude of suspicion and superiority toward e-bikes will do nothing to
    further the cause of better bike infrastructure. Only working together
    will do that.

  • Toddster

    Just to nitpick for the sake of it, I’m sure there were people in 1815 who claimed that there is “no way to deny that horse drawn carriage are, and forever shall be, an important part of any transit system”

    And remember when wind powered sail boats were the only way for people to cross the Atlantic too?

    Lets not limit our thinking by declaring busses, or anything for that matter, is permanent. Who knows what other solutions people could come up with if we lived in a world without busses.

    Change and technology know no bounds.

  • Toddster

    The other element to consider are alternatives for people with mobility issues. I hear the meme often that a bus route can’t be removed or rerouted because not everyone is physically able to walk the extra two blocks to the other bus or four blocks to the train. How do we improve bus service without isolating people.

    In addition to busses and trains, we must also consider the Access-a-Ride program and the like, how we move people with physical disabilities, and how we integrate that into a holistic system.

  • Toddster

    While neither endorsing or demeaning e-bikes, we should not accept the status quo of the poor struggling to afford transportation (thanks to Cuomo and DeBlasio) whatever that transportation is.

  • Toddster

    Motor vs no-motor seems arbitrary. Have you been to the Brooklyn Bridge? Neither bikes or pedestrians have motors, but they often don’t mix. I think most people can agree that motorized wheelchairs don’t belong in the center lane of 6th Avenue.

    “Motor” shouldn’t be the defining factor in who can travel in what space. Instead roads should be opened to all modes, but designed so that no one, motor or not, can go faster than is safely determined.

  • As much as I like biking and love my e-bike and Bromton, I never ever ever bike somewhere I don’t have to go. It’s just not what I want to do with my (very limited) free time.

    Does. Not. Compute.

    I honestly cannot think of a better way to spend my free time than by riding my bike. I am not exaggerating or speaking figuratively. Biking is my absolute favourite thing to do; it’s when I feel most at peace.

    I think that bike riding is the way to move around that harmonises best with our brains. On a bike one moves at approximately the speed of a horse, the speed at which humans have been moving for millennia. We’re evolved to find that rate of speed comfortable. So riding my bike is tied in with my connection to the Earth and also with my sense of place.

    I take almost all of my vacation time in order to ride my bike. Most of these days are in the summer — if it’s 90 degrees or more, they know at my office that they ain’t gonna see me, because I’ll be out there enjoying nature’s bounty and doing at least 50 or 60 miles.

    But sometimes I take a vacation day that’s not in the summer — such as tomorrow! A 65-degree day in February is reason enough to celebrate, even if it’s not as good as a 90-degree day in July.

    So I have to get to bed now. I’ll try to craft a fuller response in the coming days.

  • Joe R.

    Thanks! That gives me hope I’ll still be pedaling away if/when I’m 100+!

  • Ty Moorman

    First off ridership may be down in Manhattan because folks are riding Citi bike and riding scooters etc… but in boros like queens brooklyn Bronx etc… buses are jammed packed and ridership is up big time. I’m a bus operator you want to know why the buses are slower?? Since de blasio has started vision zero NYC dot and MTA are going extra hard on us about driving only between 20 to 25 mph so we have to drive much slower then before and also all the buses are tracked by GPS now so the MTA knows how fast we are driving and if we are ahead of schedule. Then you have speed cameras and red light cameras every where so we have to drive slower oh and all the bike lines they added now there are less lanes for cars so that adds to slow driving

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