45 Assembly Members Demand a Bus Turnaround Plan From Joe Lhota

Assembly corporations and authorities chair Jeff Dinowitz says buses must be on the MTA chair's agenda.

Assembly corporations and authorities chair Jeff Dinowitz. Photo: David Meyer
Assembly corporations and authorities chair Jeff Dinowitz. Photo: David Meyer

The sorry state of NYC subways may be getting most of the attention recently, but bus service needs improvements in speed and reliability just as badly, if not more. In fact, the decline of transit ridership in the city is mainly the result of people abandoning the bus, not the subway.

MTA Chairman Joe Lhota has said a comprehensive plan to fix the subways is in the works. Now dozens of New York City representatives in the state Assembly are calling for a bus plan as well.

In a letter to Lhota today, Assembly corporations and authorities chair Jeff Dinowitz and 44 of his colleagues demand a “comprehensive plan” to fix the bus system “within six months” [PDF].

At a press event this morning, Dinowitz said he hoped the city’s bus riders aren’t left behind as Albany officials turn their to the transit system.

“The problem — which nobody seems to be discussing, because it’s kind of been pushed aside, but it’s crucial to literally millions of New Yorkers in each and every borough — is the issue of deteriorating bus service in this city,” Dinowitz said.

The letter states:

Bus ridership has been steadily declining, and it is not because of lack of demand. Average bus speeds in New York City are seven miles per hour, and as slow as four miles per hour in congested areas such as Midtown Manhattan, Downtown Brooklyn, and Jamaica, Queens. Some of our most frequent constituent complaints are about the (poor) quality of bus service, from lateness and overcrowding to schedules that reflect neither user demand nor rider experience.

The letter recommends fare technology enabling all-door boarding, transit signal priority, bus route redesigns, dedicated bus lanes, and improved bus stops — picking up on the plan released by the Bus Turnaround Coalition last year.

Average bus speeds in NYC are just 7.4 mph, lower than any other major city in the country. Even as rider frustration with the subways escalated in the first half of the year, bus ridership dropped 2 percent from the first half of 2016, compared to a mere .04 percent decline in subway ridership.

In May, Dinowitz and 66 colleagues called on Governor Cuomo to accelerate the implementation of transit signal priority and all-door boarding technology [PDF]. Cuomo never responded.

NYC DOT did release a report promising to get TSP operational on 20 bus routes by 2020. But there are dozens of high ridership routes that stand to benefit significantly from the technology, and the only cost involved is planning — the hardware is already in place.

“We cannot wait until 2020 to improve condition for people who are suffering now,” the lawmakers write in their letter.

“At least in my office, I actually get more complaints about bad bus service than bad subway service,” Dinwoitz said. “The subways need improvement, but it’s not just about the subways.”

One policy that would speed up most bus routes overnight is congestion pricing. Bus ridership skyrocketed in London after the implementation of a congestion charge in 2003, as surface transit speeds increased immediately and more street space was carved out for dedicated transit lanes.

Dinowitz was one of the big political opponents of congestion pricing in 2008, when the Bloomberg administration pushed for it as the centerpiece of the PlaNYC sustainability agenda. Today, Dinowitz sounded much more open to the idea, if not quite ready to endorse it.

“The composition of the conference is not the same as it was nine years ago, so there might be different opinions now, there may be a different plan,” he said. “I was not a supporter of congestion pricing last time around, I’m not necessarily supportive this time around, but I think all options, as they say, need to be on the table.”

Asked by NY1’s Zack Fink whether the Assembly planned to hold an oversight hearing on the MTA, Dinowitz said it might happen after Labor Day. “Whatever we do, want to make sure people are paying attention and that we have maximum input,” he said.

  • JarekFA

    Until they get rid of placards, I don’t think they can effectively ever reform the buses.

    I say this as a bike commuter who bikes through the Jay St/Metrotech cluster fuck every morning. And every morning, you see the buses just crawl through there. Every morning. Just crawling as the route is held up by double parking all day. Like why is there metered street parking at Smith and Schermerhorn. It’s such a major bottle neck but yet we allocate road parking literally next to a surface parking lot. How is that not a giant fuck you to your bus riders. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/9a013ab78bf5ba25aaabe84c5802170ba8fda2a04986f1b40f8bc0f00b416c6c.jpg

    This picture doesn’t do justice to just how backed up it gets in the mornings.

    1. Master plan to repurpose road side usage including elimination of all placards. (haha)
    2. All door bus boarding
    3. SBS easy pay (I don’t know. Just an easier system then scanning your MTA card and getting a paper receipt in which the machines break down).
    4. Signal prioritization
    5. Dedicated busways.
    6. Cops on bikes empowered to give quick tickets for illegal parking in bike lanes, bus lanes and even cross walks so that shit like as pictured below is properly stigmatized.
    Why even have a bike box when cars go past that and into the crosswalk. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/15278ed88d37eff1c2bafc78edb49336efebd27e9a50fe10476885e7124bcd9d.jpg

    7. Fix the culture by getting cops to get around primarily on bike and foot. Cops should see cars stoped in crosswalks and be annoyed like I am and threaten a ticket or give one. Instead we have a NYPD that lets ice cream trucks park in bike lanes and on the sidewalk outside of city hall.

    We totally could have the Metrotech clusterfuck hum like a finely tuned engine. All it requires is a matter of will. The roads are definitely wide enough. My dream would be for Smith/Jay st north of Atlantic to be a weekday day time hour bus/bike/pedestrian only corridor. Deliveries at off hours.

  • dave “paco” abraham

    Great point @jarekFA. There are so many off street parking facilities right there (see attached map) that the city would be wise to remove those ~6 curbside parking spaces and make it into a bus only lane. That would benefit many more people. Or a protected bike lane, would also benefit many more users than the few cars that park there for day long cheap storage. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/cc2cd18ff6b72236d5117c553df3c80f1c2f8b5a05acac833052e087cbfdac6b.png

  • Larry Littlefield

    What’s the overlap between those demanding better bus service and those objecting to dedicated bus lanes, stations, signal priority, etc. in the few cases when the city gets up the nerve to propose it?

    Those appointed to allegedly represent us in the state legislature are the root cause of the problem, and this is nothing more than an attempt to deflect any and all blame. They demand? I demand that $37 billion debt go away.

    Among other debts.

  • Joe R.

    This is the story of the schizophrenic electorate which wants things but has no clue about what is necessary to make the things they want come to pass. We see it time and again. They say they want bike lanes but then moan if it means they lose parking spots or travel lanes. They want slower speeds to keep their children safe but complain if it means they actually have to drive slower. They want pre-K but don’t want to pay the extra taxes for it. They want good bus service but won’t give up any driving convenience for it. They want higher density but they still want to live in a McMansion on 3/4 acres. Seriously, you can’t win with these people.

    Just for once I’d love to see a leader tell the electorate it’s time for a reality check. If you really want things then you have to stop acting like a three year old who wants to have his cake and eat it too. Unfortunately, decades of politicians pandering to this type of electorate with all gain, no pain solutions have only made things worse.

  • AMH

    London buses are truly amazing. They are fast and frequent and a real alternative to the Tube, which helps to alleviate crowding. Anyone looking to improve bus service should look to London as a model.

  • On student loans and insane college costs, it’s not professor salaries – it’s *administrator* salaries. Administrative bloat is driving the insane costs of college *and* the insidious Student Loan Catch-22 (college required for work, can’t find work, stuck with debt) too.

  • Heck, you can even give cops ebikes to make that job easier!

    Though re: point 7, it was tried under Bloomberg (I remember the bike cops well) and didn’t work so well. That said, I did see cops on bikes recently, so maybe that’s still a thing?

    I’ll also add a dedicated network of bikeways and greenways that shouldn’t be restricted to daylight hours.

  • Joe R.

    The amount colleges cost nowadays it would be impossible to work your way through school even if you could find work. It wasn’t even possible back when I went in the 1980s. The annual out of pocket cost back then for a decent school was upwards of $10K. Working in the summers, and part-time during the school year (if you could do that without it affecting your grades-I couldn’t) you would be lucky to clear $2K or $3K after taxes. Besides that, jobs for students weren’t exactly plentiful even back then. I didn’t work at all except one summer. Graduated with about $13K in debt, which I guess pales next to the $100K lots of people graduate with now. I wouldn’t want to be a college student these days.

  • Joe R.

    In my opinion buses should not only have right-of-way all the time (that’s regardless of signal light color) but they should be allowed a much higher legal speed limit, provided they’re in an exclusive bus lane. Those two things could make taking the bus faster than driving. We could also install railroad-style crossing gates at intersections to make it possible for buses to safely travel at highway speeds in exclusive bus lanes.

    Incidentally, I also strongly feel both cyclists and pedestrians should have legal right-of-way in intersections at all times over everything except buses and emergency vehicles.

  • I don’t blame you for that sentiment. Skilled trades seem like a better bang for the buck today than traditional college, though there is certainly a lot of variability there.

    Killing administrative bloat is a critical first step to solving this problem IMHO.

  • neroden

    That would require dedicated bus lanes. No politico in NYC has even been willing to prevent car drivers from parking on the SIDEWALK, so how will you get them to approve bus lanes?

  • neroden

    It really is the administrators. Professors aren’t paid particularly well. Worse than doctors or lawyers.

    Administrators are paid millions and spend most of their time attacking professors. It’s a sickness.

    The other thing the money is spent on? Unnecessary buildings. Pyramid-building, I call it. The administrators like to build buildings whether or not the college needs them, and this increases the college’s yearly maintenance costs, but there’s a building with someone’s name on it now. :sigh: Nothing to do with education.