Skip to Content
Streetsblog New York City home
Streetsblog New York City home
Log In
Buses

Stringer: A 1960s-Era Bus Network Isn’t Working for New Yorkers in 2017

Most job growth is happening outside Manhattan, and transit service patterns aren’t keeping up. Chart: Comptroller’s Office

The MTA and city government have failed to respond to shifting travel patterns, and that helps explain why bus ridership is plummeting, according to a report released today by Comptroller Scott Stringer.

"Falling ridership, major slowdowns, and a bus infrastructure in decline is having an effect across the five boroughs," Stringer said in a statement. "This cannot be a problem that is swept under the rug -- this is an economic and social imperative that is critical to our future."

Stringer's report embraces the recommendations of the Bus Turnaround Coalition with a focus on modernizing the MTA's bus routes and providing more frequent service. These adjustments are necessary, the comptroller argues, because New Yorkers need to make different types of trips than they used to.

Increasingly, commutes don't touch Manhattan. From 2006 to 2016, the citywide share of jobs located outside Manhattan jumped from 35 percent to 42 percent. The bus network can adapt to handle these shifts in travel patterns, but while commutes have changed, bus service still hews to routes and frequencies that date to an earlier era.

The failure to adapt disproportionately harms lower income New Yorkers, who are more likely to live and work outside Manhattan and more likely to commute by bus.

Bus riders tend to be lower-income than their counterparts on the subways. Image: NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer
Bus commuters tend to earn less than subway commuters. Image: NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer
Bus riders tend to be lower-income than their counterparts on the subways. Image: NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer

There's also a mismatch between the types of jobs held by bus commuters and established bus service patterns. Bus commuters are disproportionately likely to work in industries like healthcare, retail, or food services, which don't have hours that align with typical 9-to-5 commuting. On too many routes, however, buses still come too infrequently outside the standard morning and evening rush.

It's no surprise then that a greater share of low-wage workers in New York commute by car (24 percent) than by bus (14 percent).

Stringer's report identifies 12 neighborhoods and two airports with more jobs but less transit service than the average city neighborhood:

The comptroller's report identified 12 neighborhoods and two areas with more jobs but less transit than the average city neighborhood. Image: Comptroller Scott Stringer
The comptroller's report identified 12 neighborhoods with more jobs but less bus service than the average city neighborhood. Image: Comptroller Scott Stringer
The comptroller's report identified 12 neighborhoods and two areas with more jobs but less transit than the average city neighborhood. Image: Comptroller Scott Stringer

The MTA buses that do serve those neighborhoods often follow circuitous routes, sacrificing efficient service to make time-consuming stops at specific locations.

A sampling of the MTA's most circuitous bus routes. Image: NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer
A sample of the MTA's most indirect bus routes. Image: NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer
A sampling of the MTA's most circuitous bus routes. Image: NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer

To address present-day travel needs, Stringer calls on the MTA to provide more frequent off-peak service and perform a "comprehensive bus network review" to reflect current commuting patterns. One type of change is specifically aimed at local bus routes that currently converge on major thoroughfares: The report recommends that these local buses instead "cross or terminate" at those major streets, where riders can transfer to high-frequency routes.

Stringer's full report amplifies other recommendations from the Bus Turnaround Coalition, urging the MTA and NYC DOT to pursue widespread implementation of transit signal priority and dedicated bus lanes, citywide all-door boarding, and balanced stop-spacing.

"These strategies can and should be used to fix our buses in the coming months and years, not in decades or a generation," said TransitCenter Deputy Executive Director Tabitha Decker. "Fast and reliable bus service would be a win for riders and the agencies alike."

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Streetsblog New York City

Bedford Ave. Protected Bike Lane Would Benefit Residents, Businesses: Data

A new report debunks the common myth that street safety projects aren't built for the benefit of people who live in a given neighborhood.

July 16, 2024

Tuesday’s Headlines: Rajkumar’s Citywide Bid Edition

The potential candidate for city comptroller cares more about "quality of life" than transportation, she says. Plus more news.

July 16, 2024

Report: The 3 Deadliest Districts for Pedestrians are Represented by Republicans

According to Smart Growth America, Suffolk County and the southwestern part of Nassau County are the worst places to be a pedestrian in the state.

July 16, 2024

Monday’s Headlines: Who’s a Good Boy Edition

Too many of our four-legged family members are being killed by car drivers. Plus other news.

July 15, 2024

Delivery Worker Minimum Wage Shows Promise … For Some, Data Shows

New data from the city's Department of Consumer and Worker Protection shows minimum wage is bringing order to a previously wild industry.

July 15, 2024
See all posts