TODAY: Mayor de Blasio Vows to Fix City’s Broken Bus System

The mayor is promising 25-percent faster bus speeds by the end of 2020.

Photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photography Office
Photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photography Office

New York’s mayor may not be known as Bill “de Bus is Slow” much longer.

The city will seek to improve bus speeds by 25 percent over the next two years, Hizzoner announced during his State of the City speech on Thursday morning.

The administration plans to draw on the toolbox advocates have been promoting for nearly three years: more bus lanes, better enforcement, and a more rapid expansion of transit signal priority, which holds green lights as buses approach intersections — all of which has been advocated by the Bus Turnaround Coalition, an umbrella group of transit advocates.

“Buses are a critical link in our public transportation system, and we’re doubling down on improvements to help get New Yorkers moving,” the mayor said in a statement to amNY, which first reported the news.

The turnaround group launched in 2016 with an ambitious goal: to reverse the decline of the city’s slowest-in-the-nation bus service, which has seen cratering ridership in Brooklyn and Manhattan. In April, MTA New York City Transit President Andy Byford unveiled his agency’s “Bus Action Plan,” promising to act on the coalition’s recommendations.

After that win, advocates turned their attention on de Blasio, whose administration plays an integral role in ensuring effective bus service as the manager of the city’s streetscape. They argued that the MTA-focused improvements like route redesigns, all-door boarding and improved dispatching would all be for naught if the city can’t keep bus lanes clear — a key responsibility of the NYPD.

The NYPD’s role remains a wildcard. As part of today’s announcement, the city plans to immediately unleash seven dedicated towing teams on its bus lanes. But it’s unlikely those NYPD teams are going to ticket one of the city’s biggest bus lane blocking culprits: the NYPD itself.

The NYPD has given out an increasing number of bus lane tickets recently, with little impact on bus speeds. To shore up those efforts, the city also plans to join Byford’s push for state authorization for expanded camera enforcement.

For all of 2018, de Blasio’s boilerplate response was to point to his administration’s continued commitment to the Select Bus Service program, which the MTA unilaterally put on hiatus over the summer. Advocates insisted that a new approach was necessary. Today, that’s what they’re getting.

In a statement, the Bus Turnaround Coalition — consisting of Riders Alliance, TransitCenter, NYPIRG’s Straphangers Campaign, and Tri-State Transportation Campaign — praised the announcement:

Mayor de Blasio’s plan to make buses quicker and more reliable is exactly what bus riders need for fair access to opportunity in the city. From the ambitious goal of increasing bus speeds by 25% within two years and the commitment to practical means of doing so like expanding and strengthening the city’s bus lane network with proactive enforcement, this new vision for bus improvements signals that the City is serious about solving the real challenges that bus riders face. Elected officials committed to transit improvements for New Yorkers should support these ambitious plans.

The Bus Turnaround Coalition lauds the City’s commitment to collaborate with MTA NYCT on its ongoing bus network redesigns and other rider-focused improvements like systemwide all door boarding on buses. We thank Mayor de Blasio, Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, and their staffs for their leadership in putting forth a vision for buses that riders can celebrate. We look forward to helping make this vision a reality.

After the State of the City address, Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz of the Bronx hailed the proposal as “tremendous news and a significant victory for my constituents in the Northwest Bronx.”

“Expansion of traffic-signal priority, widespread installation of bus shelters and countdown clocks, and acceleration of bus lane installation combined with improved enforcement are all important steps that can be accomplished at the city level,” he added. “I fully support passing state legislation to permit camera enforcement of bus lanes and will continue working with my colleagues to enact legislation that accomplishes this goal. I hope the MTA will join Mayor de Blasio in this step forward by accelerating the implementation of their new fare payment system to allow for all-door boarding so their customers can spend more time moving and less time waiting.”

  • Bus rider

    Nice that the mayor is finally coming around on improving bus speeds, but…

    25% faster sounds impressive until you realize that bus speeds are currently at about 7 mph. So we’ll get about a 2 mph increase in two years? Wow. Biking will still be faster. Just shows how desperately we need this dumb mayor or the next smart one to get behind congestion pricing, ending placard abuse, and other policies to reduce the number of cars on city streets.

  • Joe R.

    Instead of aiming for a 25% increase above a very low baseline, we should see what the minimum running time could be. Ideally, buses should only be stopping to pick up or discharge passengers. In between stops they should be running unfettered. Average speeds should be closer to 15 to 20 mph, not ~9 mph, when all the improvements are said and done.

    Ironically, this goal isn’t even an “improvement”. It’s more like a return to what bus speeds were maybe 10 or 15 years ago before heavier traffic slowed them down. This reminds me of politicians who say people got tax cuts but they neglect to mention taxes were raised prior to the tax cuts.

  • Danny G

    If the city could pull off a 25 percent increase in speed in two years, it is worth it. It will take guts, require a lot of bus lanes, and we will need traffic signals to prioritize bus traffic.

  • Bus rider

    Bogota rolled out an entire BRT network in two years.

  • hombre

    Bogota managed that through a corrupt and autocratic government and did that along half-mile+ freeways. Where TransMelinio hits dense and congested areas the bus priority isn’t that different than North American cities.

  • Jacob

    It seems like good NYPD enforcement isn’t coming anytime soon. Instead, the DOT should focus on putting bus lanes in the center of the street, where they don’t compete with other vehicles for space. Taxis aren’t trying to drop off customers in the middle of the street. Trucks aren’t making deliveries to the middle of the street. Cops are pulling over to grab a donut in the middle of the street. Yes, this means you need to build bus stations in the center, but that not rocket science. Cleveland did it just fine.

  • Tooscrapps

    NYC/NYS both have some close resemblances to corrupt and autocratic governments.

  • Jacob

    I can’t comment on corruption, but Bogota’s biggest bus problem is overcrowding. The bus lanes are well dedicated throughout the city, and operate in the center of streets. Yes, many use highway medians, but many others use the center of urban arterials (as much space for buses as for cars, plus protected bike lanes).

    In the very heart of the city, car were kicked out, and it’s a bus-only street.

  • AnoNYC

    The center running bus lanes on E 161st St in the Bronx work better than the those more common curbside lanes.

  • AnoNYC

    Any information regarding the soon to be open Bus Command Center in East NY?

  • kevd

    had too ride a bus the 6 blocks to the subway this morning due to injury.
    (it was also 22 degrees!)
    Was glad to see how quickly the driver could deploy the wheel chair ramp on the new, articulated buses (the blue and yellow Cuomo Specials withe USB ports).
    Was sad to see that loading took longer because of everyone dipping their cars.
    Tap payment cannot start soon enough. The 10-15 of us boarding could have simply got on through the back doors and tapped in while the wheelchair use was exiting from the front.