MTA Unveils a Bus Turnaround Plan We Can Believe In

Commitments to citywide all-door boarding and an overhaul of NYC's bus routes headline the policy agenda laid out by NYCT President Andy Byford and his team.

NYCT President Andy Byford with one of the double-decker buses the MTA will test out on express routes. Photo: Marc A. Hermann/NYCT
NYCT President Andy Byford with one of the double-decker buses the MTA will test out on express routes. Photo: Marc A. Hermann/NYCT

After years of declining bus speeds that have repelled increasing numbers of people from the city’s surface transit system, there’s light at the end of the tunnel for NYC bus riders.

New York City Transit President Andy Byford and his team at the MTA unveiled their “bus action plan” this morning, promising citywide all-door boarding, more priority for buses on the streets, and a complete reevaluation of the bus network, which hasn’t changed much in decades.

The action plan takes many cues from the policy prescriptions advocates first laid out two years ago in their Bus Turnaround Campaign. The MTA had been hesitant to commit to those recommendations, but under Byford the tone has changed.

Every strategy in the plan has a timetable: Tap-and-go farecard readers will be on every bus by the end of 2020. A complete review and redesign of the bus network will wrap up by 2021, with targeted improvements beginning this year. Also this year, the MTA will increase off-peak service on certain routes.

“We are deliberately tying ourselves, committing ourselves, if this plan is adopted, to time-bound, tangible, commitments — short-term, medium-term, and long-term — to which I and my management team will expect to be held accountable,” Byford said at an MTA board meeting. “We really are proposing the top-to-bottom transformation of our bus network.”

The action plan also calls for better bus dispatching to prevent bunching, more real-time arrival displays, and new buses — including pilots for electric buses and double-decker buses.

The items that call for on-street transit priority — more bus lanes and more traffic signals that minimize red light time for buses — will require coordination with NYC DOT and NYPD.

Keeping bus lanes clear hinges on NYPD buy-in especially. Blocked bus lanes are a major obstacle to improving service, and police themselves are the worst violators in the city.

The MTA envisions bus lane enforcement as a more specialized task, which may or may not be conducted by NYPD. The bus action plan proposes “dedicated transit-priority traffic teams” that could be staffed by NYPD or another agency. The agency is also looking for Albany to pass legislation enabling more enforcement cameras mounted on buses.

All told, the plan includes the ambitious, comprehensive, and specific targets that advocates have wanted to see from the MTA since they launched the Bus Turnaround Campaign in July 2016.

MTA leadership initially showed wavering interest in tackling the systemic problems that plague NYC bus service and erode ridership. When the agency unveiled the procurement for a new fare payment system, for instance, they only committed to a pilot of all-door boarding. Officials were narrowly focused on whether the policy would increase fare evasion.

The announcement of the bus action plan indicates that the MTA has adopted a different outlook and is more willing to embrace the changes necessary to turn around bus service. “Today, we are celebrating,” Riders Alliance organizer Stephanie Burgos-Veras told MTA board members. “This is a plan that will modernize our bus system, and it will change the way that we move around the city.”

  • Anonymous

    The top photo with Andy Byford shows him next to a bus parked in a sidewalk extension, smack in the middle of the crosswalk and blocking the walk sign. Perhaps nothing better shows the lack of concern for the little people – the MTA’s own customers struggling to cross the street to get to nearby subway stations – that city and state agencies display on a daily basis. From the lack of law enforcement by the NYPD, to the lack of discipline for placard misuse, to the MTA ignoring what seems to be common-sense rules, in front of the main entrance to its headquarters.

    Would it be really that hard if de Blasio and Cuomo set aside their differences for a few hours and have the MTA ask the DOT for a simple event permit? For the sake of safety, convenience, and marketing, it would make much more sense to properly close the street to cars. Unfortunately, it’s all about what we will later see on TV and Facebook, rather than the experience of people on the street.

  • Ken Dodd

    Never underestimate the ability of the MTA to make a pig’s ear out of the whole thing though.

  • AMH

    People had a tough time getting photos with traffic coming by. Closing the street to cars for just a few hours could have made it a great experience.

  • com63

    I like this Andy guy.

  • sbauman

    The left side view mirror on the double decker is of a type that obscures the driver’s vision of pedestrians crossing the street, when the bus is making a left turn.

  • iSkyscraper

    Byford is clearly importing attitude and ideas from Toronto, where surface transit is a big deal and has to work as a functional part of the network rather than be treated as an afterthought to the subway as it sometimes feels in New York.

    All-door boarding, more priority (in Toronto it is illegal to not yield to a bus pulling out), etc. are all overdue. Go for it.

  • J

    OMG, actual leadership at the MTA!! Amazing!!!!

  • Petee

    wow.

  • spikex

    Whoever is doing street and sidewalk design for the city is an idiot. The city needs to redesign street corners to let the double length buses turn around at the end of their routes more easily and other places where the buses need to turn. The city has recently redone the curbing at the corners of 125th and 12 Ave that makes it almost impossible for the buses to turn around. You see similar problems at the end of 96th bus run and so on. They need to round the corners of the sidewalks to allow the double length buses to get around the corners. That along with keeping all the damn police cars from parking in the bus lanes would make a big difference.

  • Luis Francisco Riveros

    how about adding bike racks to these buses?

  • cjstephens

    But what about the USB ports? And the WiFi? Doesn’t Byford know that these are the most important aspects of bus travel? Hasn’t he learned anything in his time working for #cuomosmta?

  • bbqr0ast

    Would slow down busy routes and inconvenience whole buses for just one or two riders.

  • cestusdei

    Oh it’s you. Stop the hate.

  • Rex Rocket

    And a hitch to tow Ubers?

  • iSkyscraper

    A very TTC plan. New Yorkers like to look down on Toronto because of its small subway system (modeled on the IRT, no less) but the TTC runs an unbelievably well integrated network where the surface transit does some serious heavy lifting. All of these updates are things Andy was doing in Toronto and they will have great results in NYC.

    Hopefully the route assessments will undo some of the political damage of recent years, like when service frequency on Broadway in Inwood was cut in half because a city councilman interfered to pull the M100 over to 10th Ave for no demonstrable reason.

  • Brian Tong

    Loading or unloading from front bike racks can take over 15 seconds per bike. A few of these per trip can add up. We only have them on the S53 and S93 to mitigate the lack of cycling infrastructure on the Verrazano, which if implemented would connect existing bike facility networks along both waterfronts (e.g. the Harbor Ring).

  • There used to be bike racks on the Q44, right?

  • Joseph P. Wall

    Other bus routes besides the express route in Staten Island that the new double decker bus that was on display outside 2 Broadway the other day, can and should have those new double decker buses installed on their routes, too. Yes, I am well aware of the overhead problems that any given double decker bus may face on some routes. However, there are other bus routes in this city that may have overcrowding problems in certain bus stops that only a double decker bus may solve and still have no overhead problems to worry about at all. For example, there are certain bus routes coming out of CO-OP City in The Bronx, that have no overhead problems to worry about at all until they pass Third Avenue and at that point the El structure is built high enough for a double decker bus to pass under it or it may even depend on which lane the double decker bus is traveling on. Once, I saw and traveled on a private double decker bus that traveled on Tremont Avenue in The Bronx and, passed under the # 6 eL structure and advertisement sign there without any problem simply because it was in the right lane at the right time. Hopefully, the bus manufacturer will make double decker buses with the rear doors for these routes too!

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG