Stuck With Slow Bus Service? Cuomo Is Completely Oblivious to Your Pain

You can tell Governor Cuomo doesn’t get on a New York City bus unless it’s for a photo-op about on-board USB ports.

The latest evidence came yesterday, after a coalition of transit advocates released a major report on the deterioration of bus service in New York City. With bus speeds declining, ridership has dropped 16 percent since 2002. In their “Turnaround” report [PDF], TransitCenter and other advocates outline proven techniques to improve bus service, pointedly noting that it will take concerted political leadership to reverse the decline of the city’s bus system.

Cuomo is the politician whose leadership is needed most. But Politico’s Dana Rubinstein reports that the governor blew off a question about improving bus service yesterday afternoon. “If people in Manhattan are choosing to jump on the subway because the subway is faster, because there’s traffic that a bus has to deal with,” he said, “that’s not an imprudent choice, right?”

In one sentence, the governor betrayed his ignorance of NYC’s bus system in several ways. Here are three of them.

Buses and trains don’t do the same things

The subway system is largely a radial network, with lines converging in Manhattan below 60th Street and extending out from there. It works well for an astounding number of trips, but New Yorkers still have to get places that the subway doesn’t reach efficiently. For these trips, there is no parallel subway service that people can just “jump on” instead of taking the bus.

Cuomo’s reference point is Manhattan, where subway coverage is the most extensive and bus ridership is declining the most. But even there, the only transit that will take you across town on much of the island is the bus. And crosstown bus routes are shedding riders too. Last year, major crosstown routes like the M23, the M66, and the M79 lost more riders than the boroughwide average of 5.1 percent.

Another way to appreciate the different trips served by trains and buses is to take a glance at the subway and bus maps for Queens. The subway map doesn’t even show a huge chunk of the borough — I rotated and scaled it here to make it more visually comparable to the bus map:



When was the last time the governor even looked at a bus map?

Millions of people still ride the bus

If some people are, in Cuomo’s formulation, making a “prudent choice” by abandoning the bus for faster options, that still does nothing for the huge number of New Yorkers who continue to ride the bus. People make more than two million bus trips in the city each weekday, and all those riders put up with slow, unreliable service. What is Cuomo going to do for them?

The bus routes with the most riders tend to be the ones where sluggish speeds and unreliability are the worst. The more passengers using a given bus route, the more prone it will be to slow travel times and bunching, thanks in large part to antiquated fare collection methods. These routes also tend to cover territory that the subway does not.

The governor’s theory about people ditching the bus for the train simply doesn’t apply to the vast number of New Yorkers who ride these routes and would benefit enormously from the recommendations in the Bus Turnaround report.

Traffic is not a force of nature

Currently, traffic congestion slows down buses a great deal, but it’s not a problem that, as Cuomo says, “a bus has to deal with.” It’s a problem that can be solved if policy makers — the governor first and foremost — set out to fix it. Camera-enforced bus lanes can clear paths for buses, and road pricing can lessen congestion throughout the city. But Albany has set limits on the number of bus routes where cameras can enforce dedicated lanes, and Cuomo has repeatedly refused to go to bat for any form of congestion pricing.

In the Bus Turnaround report, advocates urge the governor to “ensure that significant policy, planning and investment priority is accorded to the bus system, and not treat it as secondary to the subway.” New Yorkers need Cuomo to get a grip on the problems with bus service and take action.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Either that or NYC needs to take over the bus and paratransit system (the counties run the other bus systems in the MTA region), leaving the Metropolitan Transit Authority to concentrate on rail, as I suggested.

    The buses run on city streets, and Cuomo is not responsible for those. Improving bus service thus involves both a city agency and a state agency, at a time when the leaders of those agencies are feuding.

  • kevd

    #4 People in wheelchairs and with reduced mobility
    #5 The elderly and others who can’t walk long distances to the subway.

    What an enormous asshole our governor is.

  • JudenChino

    They need to pass a resolution that de-prioritizes street parking on streets and avenues with buses. Like take this section of Smith/Jay St. Why the fuck is there private car parking here, right next to a private parking lot. This is a huge bottleneck for buses.,-73.988231,3a,90y,21.25h,57.96t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1ss97CO7YFPioRYUDsaR0vVg!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

  • Jason

    How? The city used to control the subway and bus systems, and then the state took control when the city went bankrupt. Albany would have to give it back to the city, and do you really see Governor “This Is All About My Ego” Cuomo doing that, especially while de Blasio is mayor?

  • Kevin Love

    He just does not understand what it is like to live in NYC. For him, people who do are some sort of alien species with weird behavior. So “why don’t they just take a train” not only makes sense in his world, but reinforces his sense that people in NYC are a bunch of oddballs that he just does not understand.

  • James

    Yeah, it’d be awesome to see one of the parking lanes on Smith (and Court) turned into a bus lane. There’s already parking on both sides of the street and a lot of it is unused.

  • bolwerk

    He doesn’t exactly seem fond of trains either. About the only train project I’ve seen him support is a train to an airport, and he doesn’t even want it done right. (Did he pay lip service to a third LIRR track too?)

    He just hates transit and would prefer it die.

  • bolwerk

    I don’t think it matters whether you have one mega-agency or 300 micro-agencies. The structural problems with how agencies work in New York State is just broken. The MTA has a sub-agency that can’t even get along with itself.

    Some of that could be fixed by refocusing them. Things like pensions could be centralized for all state and MTA civil servants, and the union could deal with a state agency. The MTA could then focus on job-related tasks in negotiations. Moving an agency to the city without doing anything else just moves the problem.

  • kevd

    “Did he pay lip service to a third LIRR track too?”

    Yes. I think he is okay with transit that serve suburbanites.
    Hence the LGA Airtrain to parking lots for people driving in from Long Island.

  • Matthiessen Alex

    Great piece. One thing you didn’t mention is that riders fleeing buses for subways means more riders on an already overcrowded subway system that already can’t handle current demand.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I’m assuming that people who can’t cooperate on an everyday basis will be able to work out one big deal to limit the need for future cooperation. Perhaps that is too much to assume.

  • JudenChino

    Half of Smith St is empty storefronts now. That said, nearly saw a woman doored this morning on Smith St a couple blocks below Atlantic. When I passed, I politely said to the lady (who had opened the door) to please try to be careful. She gave me a “huh” look. People are just oblivious.

  • AnoNYC

    Question about bus lane cameras:

    Didn’t the city at some point decide that it was more effective to place the cameras over the bus lanes rather than on the bus? Wasn’t this because many bus drivers do not want to fine drivers blocking the bus lane?

  • James

    What’s your take on that, are the retail rents just too high or is it something else? It still manages to feel pretty lively with the places that are left imho.

  • JudenChino

    Here’s a good article on it

    Seems like they’re holding out for high rent retailers given the relatively affluent demographics of the strip.

  • rao

    Cuomo mentioned the other day that his daughter had complained to him about crowding on a recent subway ride she took, and then came the announcement about ordering the higher capacity trains. Is there any way to get her on a bus?

  • HamTech87

    I was on the M60 and the driver was super-reluctant to push the button. Maybe better to do this by sensor like on the tolls, or run a tape and have a supervisor review it afterwards?

  • HamTech87

    Add all the upstate bus riders, from Westchester to Buffalo and Plattsburgh, who also can’t get on the subway.

  • James

    Thanks, that’s a great explainer, although the outcome is frustrating.

  • AMH

    That’s so strange to me. If I were driving a bus with a button to issue tickets I’d be giddy with power!

  • neroden

    If Cuomo were proposing a massive expansion of subways around the entire state, and funding it, that would be great.

    He’s not.

  • neroden

    The real problem, and I say this as an upstater, is that we need a state government which is willing to care.

  • bolwerk

    Definitely the first step!


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