Op-Ed: My Commute on the M14 Bus is a Dehumanizing Disaster

Just another day on the M14. Photo: Richard Hutt
Just another day on the M14. Photo: Richard Hutt
Richard Hutt
Richard Hutt

I commute daily from my home in the East Village to my job on the Upper East Side. I walk, I take the subway and then to finish things off, I take the 14D crosstown bus. I “catch” the 14D at Union Square and my true ordeal begins. I have used public transportation all over New York, not just Manhattan, where I spend most of my time, but also the other boroughs — and I can tell you unequivocally that nothing compares to the experience that is the 14D bus.

It is the de facto mode to get home for residents in on the Lower East Side. Leaving behind the commerce of 14th Street, it serves a largely residential population that consists o, hipsters gentrifying the area, occupants of the many brownstone buildings in Alphabet City and also a huge swath of public housing that runs the length of Avenue D and beyond.

Although there is a schedule posted at every stop, this bus appears to follow no set timetable. It is common for buses to not show up for more than 20 minutes and then arrive three at a time. But it isn’t its erratic timekeeping that makes the 14D bus so memorable — it is the sheer volume of passengers that make the experience unforgettable.

It reaches full throttle by early evening, starting even before Union Square passengers cram themselves into the limited space. To simply get on is your mission and not everyone succeeds. Some drivers stick to the “stand behind the white line” rule while others allow any space to be used. I have often been pressed, illegally, against the front windshield for most of the journey.

As with any situation where you cram together a large volume of people, most after a working day, patience and tempers are short. Given the erratic timing of buses, you have a recipe for commuting disaster. Fights of various types are frequent. It only takes one push, the wrong word, a look, or a misplaced bag and all hell breaks loose. Everyone becomes involved, voicing an opinion — even if the opinion is just, “Shut up and let’s all get home.”

An uneventful journey is rare and there is no exaggeration in the volume of commuters packed into each bus. That is a constant. Even with the occurrence of two eastbound D buses arriving together the congestion remains the same such is the ridership of the service.

Sometimes I arrive at Union Square and find 75 people waiting at the stop. On those nights, I give up all hope and walk the 25 minutes home — often not passed by a single bus. Why should I walk? The 14D bus should take me home with a modicum of dignity. Not like a cattle truck. Where else can a bus ride be part boxing match, part cabaret, and part impossible all in one ride?

Richard Hutt is a transplant from the UK who writes and photographs life in NYC.

  • Altered Beast ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

    dude i would kill for my commute from ev to uws. that’s like 20 minutes for me on a citibike.

  • sbauman

    commute daily from my home in the East Village to my job on the Upper East Side. I walk, I take the subway and then to finish things off, I take the 14D crosstown bus.

    14th Street hasn’t been the Upper East Side since the 1820’s.

  • qrt145

    “Why should I walk?”

    Because you are human, and that’s the mode of locomotion we evolved with? 🙂 Seriously, walking 25 minutes is good for you, it’s nearly as fast as the bus, and is much less aggravating. I would do it every day. It’s not like you have to walk all the way from Staten Island. Leave those short bus rides for people who can’t walk for one reason or another and everyone wins.

  • BrandonWC

    Sounds like he’s taking the 4/5/6 from the UES to Union Square and transferring to the 14D for the last leg.

  • Joe R.

    In much of NYC, walking is often as fast or faster than taking a bus, given the slow bus speeds and (often long) waiting times. In Manhattan especially where buses often average walking speeds once they come, it makes almost no sense to take a bus unless you’re too physically disabled to walk. You’re taking longer to get where you’re going by bus, plus having the “privilege” of paying $2.75 to do so.

    Unfortunately, modern man is so averse to physical activity that we’ll often refuse to walk distances which humans used to walk all the time. Indeed, back before mechanized transport became common, people tried to live within 3 miles of work or school because that’s about the maximum distance most people could easily walk. Now it seems we consider walking anything more than three blocks a chore, or in the case of a lot of car owners, more like 0.3 blocks. When my late father drove all of 4 blocks to the local grocery I pointed to his legs, and told him these are designed to propel your body forwards. You just have to put one foot in front of the other.

    For trips of 3 miles or less, I generally don’t even consider any mode other than walking.

  • Richard Hutt

    I walk 14,000 steps every day. I think I deserve a decent commute home using public transportation! Its what it exists for

  • Richard Hutt

    BrandonWC is correct. I am talking about the reverse journey home

  • Richard Hutt

    I have tried citibike and occasionally still use it but the problem 2nd Ave traffic is mayhem particularly getting across the 59th St bridge. I am also far east on ave D so the journey is more like 30 mins on a bike

  • belowgrand

    Hey, don’t leave the 14A out of this. Everything you say about the D applies. PLUS, there is one A for every three Ds. Worst time of day to travel on the A is after school. The usual crush plus all sorts of kid activities, too.

  • sbauman

    It’s now been established that we know whether you are coming or going, let’s consider a couple of options. :=)

    1. You could take the L from Union Sq to First Ave. This would give you a shorter walk, if you are not working late or on weekends.

    2. You could take a Citibike from Union Sq. to one of the 4 Citibike stations along Ave. D between 12th and Houston Streets. N.B. there is a bike lane on 12th Street.

  • Richard Hutt

    Thanks for the options. I like the idea of citibike across from Union Square and there is a docking station close to where I live so something to consider in the better weather.

  • Bud Haas

    citibike?

  • MatthewEH

    Sounds like maybe you could use a Citi Bike just for the last-minute part of your commute, between Union Square and home. A lot of that turns on bike and dock availability at both ends, alas.

  • eastphilliamsburg

    Can we stop the pedantry and mode-shaming?

    Everyone has a reason why they take the bus, and the buses deserve to be better.

  • Wilfried84

    I concur. Going up to the UES is nice enough; the 1st Ave. bike lane is relatively unproblematic, but coming down is a major pain in the ass, and I haven’t found a good way to do it. I avoid 2nd Ave., but no matter what I do I get mired in the sociopathic lunacy that is drivers in Midtown.

    BTW, from the LES, I go up C, under the FDR, to the East River Greenway. At 37th, you can cross back under the FDR, and continue up 1st Ave. From work, I take 5th Ave, to Broadway, around Union Sq.,and onwards on Broadway to the the East Village, but I start at 34th St. so I miss most of the nightmare.

    Once upon a time I lived on Ave. D and 8th, back in the two fair zone days, and most days I walked to Astor, cause who wants to pay two tokens?

  • iSkyscraper

    NYC needs 3-door buses (or 4-door on the articulateds) and POP that pull people to the rear and allow much faster loading and unloading.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/31a9fb41e74e5f98629cb5be06a48ef51938b2344b0c689dc6f0e21aca4ee385.jpg

  • cjstephens

    Indeed. He’s asking for decent bus service, not a free limousine home.

  • Urbanely

    I appreciate that people are trying to give the order other commute options but “just walk” or “take a bike” ignores the fact that the service is crap and should be better. If most people on the route decide to leave it and walk/bike then I’m sure the MTA will point to decreased ridership as a reason to cut service…then we’ll all complain about lack of service on the route. We need to advocate for better service, period.

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