Peñalosa to New York Pols: BRT & Pricing Benefit Working Class

Streetfilms captured highlights of Enrique Penalosa’s appearance with COMMUTE.

One of the most entrenched fallacies in the congestion pricing debate has been the assertion that blue-collar New Yorkers get the short end of the stick. The claim never withstood scrutiny, but now it is facing an especially strong counterargument from Communities United for Transportation Equity (COMMUTE), a coalition of organizations from low-income communities of color underserved by transit.

COMMUTE calls for giving poor New Yorkers better access to transit by implementing extensive, inter-borough Bus Rapid Transit corridors, funded from pricing revenues and the MTA capital budget. On Monday, they hosted an appearance by former Bogotá Mayor Enrique Peñalosa, who described how he addressed what he calls "quality of life inequality" by improving public space for pedestrians and building the TransMilenio BRT system.

COMMUTE presented Peñalosa’s story as a challenge to New York pols. "People want to see that pricing is going to benefit them directly," said Joan Byron of the Pratt Center for Community Development, a COMMUTE partner. "He really demolishes the argument of electeds who oppose the plan and have 20 percent car ownership and 5 percent commuting by car in their districts."

The Pratt Center’s Elena Conte brought this point home when she addressed the room following Peñalosa’s Q & A

The example of Bogotá… reveals that inequities in the mass transit system can be addressed when elected leadership has the will to place the needs of the underserved above the long-established privilege of the tiny minority who drive cars

COMMUTE! calls upon our elected leadership here in New York City to do no less.  We cannot let this opportunity to address inequities in the mass transit system slip past us because we’ve been distracted by the rhetoric of those who represent the most privileged amongst us.  The fact is, mass transit is the life-blood of our city, and access to mass transit determines access to economic opportunity, education, and vital services.

We urge the elected officials who represent our communities to lead the charge for mass transit improvements that serve the needs of those whose mobility is most severely limited by the current biases in the system. This can be accomplished by a comprehensive, citywide network of Bus Rapid Transit that fills in gaps in the subway system, is full-featured, and crosses bridges.

The event also provided a platform for COMMUTE to introduce its partner organizations:

  • Larry Littlefield

    (Bus Rapid Transit that fills in gaps in the subway system, is full-featured, and crosses bridges)

    The trouble is, if it crosses bridges, moves around Manhattan, and comes back, it will cost $6.00 per ride.

  • In actual COST, BRT is cheaper to build and operate than any other mode with comparable capacity. How BRT (or local bus, or subway, or commuter rail) is PRICED is a political decision, that our legislators have the power to make as they vote on congestion pricing, the MTA capital plan, and the state budget. The BRT program that NYC DOT and the MTA are now working on rightly envisions BRT as an extension of the existing system, with the same set of Metrocard fares and discounts now available to regular bus and subway riders. COMMUTE applauds that approach – we’d just like to see more and better BRT, rolled out faster.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    This video is great! Can we get one in Spanish?

  • Jonathan

    Larry has a point, Joan. Assume a limited-stop BRT route that travels down Myrtle Avenue from Wyckoff Avenue to Flatbush Ave, then hangs a right turn, crosses the Manhattan Bridge, goes up Bowery/Third Avenue to 42nd St, back down Lex, Third, Bowery to Canal, and back into Brooklyn.

    Why should this cost one-fifth as much as the X27? Are Myrtle Avenue residents more entitled to cheap BRT service than South Brooklyn residents?

  • Larry Littlefield

    The time is the problem. That’s why the Red Hook to Downtown link and back is so brilliant (who thought of that one)?

    My idea for Queens was an express bus lane in the LIE in BOTH DIRECTIONS, with a new limited access ramp for buses only right into Queens Plaza for a subway transfer to a variety of lines to a variety of destinations.

    That way, after picking up passengers, the bus could shoot in and shoot back to get more quickly.

    That might be hard to do anywhere else.

    It will be a condundrum if present trends accelerate, and those near the subway become wealthier than those farther out in general. Would the LIRR then need to be cheaper than the subway? Or would Manhattan businesses just have to pay low wage workers enough to cover the LIRR in order to attract them?

  • anonymous

    There’s a simple argument for express buses being more expensive than local buses, for a run of comparable length. Since express buses have a local segment where they only pick up passengers, an express segment, followed by a local segment where they only drop off passengers, the total capacity of that bus trip is limited by the fact that all trips on that bus overlap, at the express segment. Each seat on an express bus is filled at most once, during the express segment. A local bus can have the same seat filled more than once by riders riding non-overlapping segments of the route.

    An unrelated argument against long bus routes is that the longer the route, the higher the chance that there will be some delay somewhere along the route, and once it happens, it will affect many more people. One advantage of the NYC bus system as it is currently laid out is that, say a water main break in Manhattan won’t affect bus service in Brooklyn, while it may well delay a subway line that serves Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens.

  • The time is the problem. That’s why the Red Hook to Downtown link and back is so brilliant (who thought of that one)?

    You mean the tunnel bus? I brought it up back in October. I’d love to take credit for it, but according to several comments on a Brownstoner thread I wasn’t the first to think of it.

    Gary Reilly of First and Court also deserves credit for taking the idea and running with it. He also deserves some campaign contributions for his City Council race. But I can’t find a link to donate online.

  • Also, if you like the Red Hook Tunnel Bus, you’ll probably like the Air Line Bullet Train to Boston. But how come nobody’s interested in my Smith Street busway?

  • Clarence

    We used to talk about the possibility of a Red Hook to downtown Manhattan bus way back at the end of my chairship of the Brooklyn T.A. Committee time – 1999-2001.

    I remember once in a meeting we actually just thought we were all wrong because we convinced ourselves that there MUST have been a bus and that we were all crazy; that the city and MTA couldn’t be that dense to not have that connection.

    The next meeting after that someone brought in a bus map and we discovered we were wrong. But we didn’t even know where to go with it – we were working so hard on car-free PP it quickly lost steam.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (We convinced ourselves that there MUST have been a bus and that we were all crazy; that the city and MTA couldn’t be that dense to not have that connection.)

    The entire bus system is based on the preceding trolley system, which was built by a series of private operators with different franchises at a time when the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel did not exist.

    Virtually all changes in bus service since then have been for the benefit of private automobiles (one way avenues) cost savings (eliminating little-traveled routes) of those who did not want to ride the subway in the bad old days (express buses). The exception is limited stop service.

    Changing bus route is very difficult, because of the “one white old lady on the bus” problem. As long as one exists, you cannot take away a bus route, and given that buses require much deeper subsidy than subways (even though the subways also pay for the ROW and stations) unless you are shifting things you cannot afford new service.

    Any rethinking of bus routes by the MTA is generally just an excuse by pols to blast the agency. I think they’ve gotten religion and just stopped bothering.

  • Gary Reilly of First and Court also deserves credit for taking the idea and running with it. He also deserves some campaign contributions for his City Council race. But I can’t find a link to donate online.

    I can now:


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