NYC’s First Bus Rapid Transit Line Debuts in the Bronx

L-R: Assembly Members José Rivera and Adriano Espaillat, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, MTA CEO Lee Sander and Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrión at Fordham Plaza today

Mayor Michael Bloomberg this morning unveiled details of the city’s first Bus Rapid Transit project, called "Select Bus Service," to debut on the Bx12 line, which follows 207th Street in Northern Manhattan and Fordham Road and Pelham Parkway in the Bronx.

Bloomberg and other officials also tied expansion of the program to the implementation of congestion pricing.

Connecting Inwood to Co-Op City, the Bx12 SBS corridor will allow riders to prepay the fare at vending machine stations along the line. Transit customers will get a receipt, to be displayed upon request to "enforcement personnel aboard buses," according to a media release. At first, vending stations will only accept MetroCards and cash as payment, though credit card functionality will eventually be added.

Speaking at Fordham Plaza and flanked by Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, MTA Executive Lee Sander, and electeds from the Bronx and Northern Manhattan, Bloomberg outlined key components of SBS service. In addition to prepayment of fares, the corridors will feature:

  • More buses (the Bx12 line will have 10 additional buses running during peak hours, Bloomberg said)
  • Additional service hours
  • Boarding at front and back doors
  • Fewer stops
  • Transit Signal Priority, a system that keeps signal lights green, and quickens the cycle of changing red signals back to green, to allow buses to move through intersections more smoothly
  • Terracotta colored bus lanes, with stepped up enforcement to keep cars out
  • Specially designed "branded" SBS buses, and branded stations with new shelters

The Bx12 SBS will replace the line’s current limited-stop service on June 29. Bloomberg said the development of other corridors — including First and Second Avenues in Manhattan, Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn, and Hyland Boulevard on Staten Island — depend on getting congestion pricing through the City Council and state Legislature. This point was echoed by Sadik-Khan, who described SBS as "almost like a surface subway system."

The "salsarengue bus"

During a brief Q&A with reporters, Sander characterized MTA service improvement delays caused by slumping real estate returns as a "blip," and encouraged a long-term view. On the same subject, Bloomberg said of yesterday’s announcement: "I think what it shows is there is never enough money to do everything."

Bloomberg pledged to do "everything [he] legally can" to ensure that all pricing revenues are used for transit capital projects even after his second term ends.

Also on hand were Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrión and state Assembly Members José Rivera and Adriano Espaillat, all supporters of congestion pricing. Espaillat, who represents Northern Manhattan, cited the success of Bogotá Bus Rapid Transit, and said he sees no reason it can’t be replicated in New York. The "salsarengue bus," as Espaillat called the Bx12, referring to the music favored in the largely Dominican and Latino neighborhoods it serves, is the perfect place to start, he said.

The three also had strong sentiments for those who would cast congestion pricing as a "right-wing conspiracy," in the words of Carrión. Rivera said he has asked Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, an opponent of both the commuter tax and congestion pricing, what he is willing to contribute to the Bronx, which Rivera described as a border between Lower Manhattan and suburban car commuters. "I have yet to receive an answer," Rivera said.

"We’re not afraid of park-and-ride," said Espaillat, whose district skirts the asthma-plagued South Bronx and includes "the poster child of buckling platforms" at Dyckman Street on the No. 1 line.

"This [congestion pricing] is not a bogey monster," Espaillat said. "This is a rational, practical solution to a very serious problem."

Photos: Brad Aaron 

  • James

    I wish these politicians who support Congestion Pricing would shout out loud “ITS A TRIAL SO GIVE IT A CHANCE!”

  • JK

    BRT in the Bronx! How cool is that? In a short period we’ve seen the mayor announcing BRT in the Bronx, Safe Streets for Seniors citywide and pushing hard for congestion pricing! Win or lose, this is incredibly encouraging. Congrats to the mayor, DOT and MTA for getting what sounds like real BRT going. Skeptics thought we’d never see transit pre-payment/proof of purchase in NYC. It’s also gratifying to finally see the mayor connect real transit improvements with congestion pricing. This is smart and powerful politics.

  • jmc

    I can’t wait… I live on this corridor and it will be a great improvement. I hope they extend the terracotta lanes all the way down Pelham Parkway.

    Interestingly there’s already an example of prepayment for buses in Orchard beach– there are subway-like turnstiles and queues for the buses that leave from there.

  • uSkyscraper

    Really surprising, and really welcome news. I live in Inwood and have often observed the mess of inefficient buses piled up at 207th St.

    One thing to note though is that none of the above improvements will affect the idiotic provision of two narrow exits on a 60 ft long bus – the same number as a regular bus! I’ve been on these when they are packed and it is almost impossible to exit. They need at least two more exits (most articulated buses have four) if there is any true hope of speeding load/unload times. With two exits they are simply not appropriate for NYC passenger densities.

  • momos

    Re: #4 uSkyscraper

    You’re so right about the poor design of that bus. It also has a very high floor, which lengthens boarding time as elderly passengers try to climb up the steep steps.

    Why can’t NYC have sleek Volvo, MAN, Mercedes or some other European-designed buses as most cities around the world have? Cairo, Dhaka (Bangladesh) and Bogota all manage to do it.

    Buses in American cities (especially NYC), meanwhile, generally have poor ergonomics and low passenger comfort. The problem you point out with doors is one of many major design flaws of our bus fleet.

  • bureaucrat

    I assume NYC can’t have them right at this moment, momos, because they already have contracts for X number of buses. Something to push for in the future, though.

  • jmc

    I read somewhere that they’re ordering low-floor hybrid articulated buses from New Flyer, I believe that they’re only 2 door models. Most buses in the US only have 2 doors for some reason.

  • JW

    lots of very promising transit developments for new york which is very good to see for a city that despite being so pedestrian-oriented, public policy-wise has remained for decades under the spell of robert moses. seems theres more going for improving transit now in nyc than probably anytime since the opening of the first subway line in 1904. (BRT, congestion charge, cleaner cars/stations, subway expansion, etc)

  • uSkyscraper

    Of course they are stuck with the buses they have, but buses get modified all the time and I don’t think cutting new doors is out of the question. It would cost millions overall, but might be a better use of funds than some of the other ways money will be spent. And if you are serious about BRT, you simply cannot have buses sitting at stops for 3 minutes or empty seats between doors that people cannot get to.

    JMC – you hit it right on the head. Most US cities use 2-door buses, because in most US cities transit ridership is rather low and the buses have a few people getting on and off with long distances between stops. This is bonkers in New York, where tons of people pile on and off every stop (especially crosstown) and yet the same buses are used! I’m sure that if the topic even came up some peabrain decided that additional doors were just opportunities for farebeating and nixed them.

    When Toronto had articulated buses they had three doors, and it seems New Flyer and others seem to default to three-door models. NYC is the biggest fleet in the nation and deserves a model that suits its needs – go for as many doors as you can get in the next order and see what can be done to modify the current fleet.

  • JK

    The pro-BRT folks at DOT and MTA have had to slog through many, many obstacles — not the least of which is their agencies were more used to finger pointing than joining hands. Part of the breakthrough here is getting pols to talk about buses as something important instead of godforsaken transit orphans. The more ribbon cuttings pols can attend for BRT, the more funding and attention for buses in general. The DOT/MTA planning team have seen real BRT vehicles in Europe, S. America etc. This is a first generation BRT: NYC BRT 1.0. If it works half as well as hoped it will accelerate the time towards BRT 2.0 with low-floor, multi-door vehicles. Just a few years ago, MTA was saying proof of payment/pre-pay was impossible in NYC because of crime and opposition from drivers.

  • jane h

    BRT has worked successfully in Curitiba, Brazil for quite a long time now. Bogota, Colombia copied that program, even though the Colombians always seem to be given the credit. It’s a perfect solution for Fordham Road if they were to do it the way it’s done in Brazil, which is not exactly what the MTA has hastily cobbled together on the cheap to use as a congestion pricing promotional gimmick. I hope they’re really committed to it. The BX12 is hell on earth.

  • This is great news, but you’ll notice that the DOT is calling it “Select Bus,” and not making a big deal out of the “Rapid” part. This is a significant upgrade in bus service, featuring pre-payment, signal priority and distinctively marked, dedicated lanes.

    However, as an informative post on the Tri-State blog shows, the lanes do not extend the entire route, they will only be in force during peak hours, and there is no physical barrier to someone driving or parking in them. The buses won’t even have enforcement cameras (but thanks for speaking up for those, Lew). Oh, but they will have some useless branding!

    So, how rapid?

    More coverage:

  • Mel

    BRT would be a very welcome service in Co-op City which needs more transit options. This will allow for a fast cross-Bronx commute and much better access to Upper Manhattan as well as to the west side of Manhattan. I applaud the Mayor’s vision for a sustainable NYC incorporated in PlaNYC 2030, and totally support Congestion Pricing. As another writer states, it’s a trial so give it a chance, and it’s the only plan that can pay for all the improvements that are needed now and for future expansion of the system. Realize that along the way we will see what works and what doesn’t and we will adapt. A few city officials are opposed because their district may not see immediate benefits, but their districts and residents don’t live in a vacuum. They are part of the whole and part of a bigger transit system and eventually they will reap the rewards of the plan also. To do nothing is NOT an option, and opponents have yet to provide a better alternative plan. Let’s help the city move into the 21st century by supporting Congestion Pricing and PlaNYC in general.

  • MS

    Wow! Real BRT! I’m so impressed with MTA that they were willing to experiment with proof of payment. Yes, we need to get these bus lanes enforced all day. But if people can board without swiping, and if they can get on at two doors instead of one, folks, we’ve got a revolution here!

    I’d like to hear more details about the off-board payment scheme. It sounds a bit awkward. Do MetroCard holders really need a paper receipt — couldn’t the enforcement officers carry a MetroCard reader that would tell them that a rider had swiped their card?

  • Transit Guy

    This is NOT REAL BRT. Please, please, for the rest of us out here in America with lousy transit service, don’t call buses that still can get stuck at traffic signals BRT.

    In our area, most politicians can not tell the difference between the snazzy new paint schemes on the bus and shiny new shelters (which give the appearance of public investment) and actual dedicated transitways which guarantee faster and more reliable bus travel times.

    Whenever a cost issue comes up, the “BRT” then “can run in mixed traffic just for that segment.”

    Now, is this a big improvement for NYC? As a recent visitor, no doubt! Plenty of room for excitement here. Stick to your guns and make sure you get signal priority on this project, and it will be even better.

    But please, don’t call it BRT. The Administration has dumbed down the definition of better bus service to the point of calling new paint and skip-stop service in mixed traffic “BRT.” Curitiba, Bogota, and Ottawa have BRT. NYC does not with this project, though it is a big improvement. “Select bus” is the right term.

  • Bena

    BRT is a short term solution at best, and I won’t even go into it’s real long term cost and issues. What really should be considered for these outer cross borough corridors is steel wheel on embedded track street cars (trolleys). Real cost are not as high as BRT proponents would have us believe. And the economic upside of street cars is proven.


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