NYC Bus Service Isn’t Getting Better, and de Blasio’s Not Doing Much to Fix It

Transportation chair Ydanis Rodriguez and 25 other City Council members called on de Blasio to take up the mantle of "bus mayor" in 2018.

City Council Transportation Chair Ydanis Rodriguez. Photo: David Meyer
City Council Transportation Chair Ydanis Rodriguez. Photo: David Meyer

NYC buses are still slowing down and ridership is in free fall, but Mayor de Blasio hasn’t picked up the pace of projects that improve bus service.

So 26 City Council members are calling on de Blasio, who’s in charge of the city’s streets, to use every tool at his disposal to get bus riders moving again.

In a letter sent January 26, transportation chair Ydanis Rodriguez and 25 other council members urged de Blasio to add bus lanes on 10 high-priority routes this year, accelerate the implementation of transit signal priority, and install real-time arrival displays at the city’s 1,000 busiest bus stops by 2020.

“In the next four years, we should be able to modernize our buses,” Rodriguez said at a press conference outside City Hall this afternoon.

Bus ridership dropped six percent in 2017 alone, the greatest single-year decline in 15 years, as average bus speeds got even worse, falling to 7 mph.

Last week, the Bus Turnaround Coalition gave failing grades to nearly three-quarters of all bus routes in the city, based on bus speeds, the share of buses arriving in bunches, and on-time performance.

The 10 routes where advocates want to see bus lanes ASAP are the B41; the B35 on Church Avenue; the Bx19; the Bx28 and Bx38 on Gun Hill Road; the Bx9; the M57 and M31 on 57th Street; the M101 on Third Avenue; the Q58; the Q66, Q68, and Q100 on 21st Street in Astoria and Long Island City; and the S48 on Staten Island’s Victory Boulevard. The routes were chosen based on exceptionally large differences between peak and off-peak bus speeds, which imply that the buses would benefit from bypassing traffic congestion.

The letter also called for improved bus lane enforcement, which Rodriguez said today should come in the form of cameras mounted on the buses themselves. The council members also urged the passage of Intro 163, Mark Levine’s bill requiring the city to install transit signal priority on 60 routes by 2020.

In October, de Blasio announced plans to add 21 new Select Bus Service routes over the next decade, which isn’t any faster than the city’s current pace. DOT’s schedule for transit signal priority implementation is similarly sluggish.

Riders Alliance organizer Stephanie Burgos-Veras said that while advocates welcomed the mayor’s “Bus Forward” initiative, improvements should not be limited to a handful of express routes, as the city calls for. “Our goals here are to improve local bus service,” she said. “He’s taking a few steps, but we believe he could be a little bit more aggressive in turning our system around.”

“This crisis will not be remedied by two or three routes being upgraded per year,” said TransitCenter Deputy Executive Director Tabitha Decker. “We need an ambitious, ongoing program to turn around our local buses right now.”

  • Larry Littlefield

    It could be that Uber and Lyft are going to crash. But if they do find a way to link trips to get the price down and driver pay up (or go driverless) for those who don’t want exercise, and you add in bicycles and electric bikes, how often would a local bus without BRT features be the best choice for a trip?

    Maybe in Manhattan, if they tax the congestion individual vehicle trips causes, and in a few similarly dense places.

    But in the suburbs and less densely populated cities, even in places such as Staten Island and Eastern Queens, driverless cars would make local buses obsolete — vastly more expensive and worse than the alternatives.

    Basically, they have to reorganize the system into a smaller number of routes with bus priority, all door boarding, etc.

  • AnoNYC

    Driverless autos are decades.

    Painted bus lanes, tap-to-pay, TSP and all-door boarding are solutions for right now.

  • AnoNYC

    “The letter also called for improved bus lane enforcement, which Rodriguez said today should come in the form of cameras mounted on the buses themselves.”

    I believe both fixed and bus mounted cameras are necessary. Fixed cameras keep vehicles out of bus lanes ahead of time, and bus mounted cameras target those that cut the bus off. And there are currently huge gaps in the fixed camera system that should be filled.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Let’s hope that’s the order.

    The way things are going, driverless autos will be roaming around the suburbs and Sunbelt cities in a decade.

    Whereas these sort of bus improvements will still be in environmental review, and the $5 million per NYC household to improve subway signals will still be unfunded. Because of how many coming in using the cars from the suburbs expect to be paid to provide it.

  • Vooch

    Painted exclusive bus lanes should be default on every arterial. It’s trivial to implement, some paint and some signs.

    Solve 50% of challenge at 3% of cost.

    could be accomplished in 18 months

  • Jason

    I always feel like driverless auto discussions miss the point. The same tech that will enable self-driving cars will enable self-driving buses. Which will enable HUGE bus service improvements–currently, labor costs, not capital costs, is the limiting factor on bus service.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “The same tech that will enable self-driving cars will enable self-driving buses.”

    Not in this city. Not while those jobs are held by people from the suburbs. They’ll be self-driving buses there. And two employees on self-driving trains here.

  • Andrew

    Another advantage to bus-mounted cameras is that no driver who gets a ticket can claim that he wasn’t delaying any buses.

    Perhaps even key the fine to the number of people on the bus and waiting for the bus downstream. If your use of the bus lane actually delayed a lot of people, you’re fined more than if you only delayed a few. (But that’s probably unnecessarily complex.)

  • AnoNYC

    I’ve been following the technology pretty closely out of interest. The average American keeps their automobile around 11.5 years now. Fully autonomous technology has not been perfected yet, and it still still highly experimental in urban areas (and areas without clear delineations on the roads or signage). The technology is rolling out gradually, but fully autonomous cars being commonplace is still a few decades away.

    What could accelerate significant implementation would be bans on personally driven/owned automobiles, where the roads would be managed by public, private, or public-private entities. But that would be unlikely outside a few US cities and a huge fight in itself.


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