Data: Busway and SBS Are the Perfect Transit Marriage

More please, says the Council. File photo: Dave Colon
More please, says the Council. File photo: Dave Colon
It's our December donation drive. Please give from the heart (and wallet) by clicking the logo above.
It’s our December donation drive. Please give from the heart (and wallet) by clicking the logo above.

The Busway boom just keeps on going.

Ridership has been soaring since the MTA and the city created Select Bus Service on 14th Street in July —  and then turbocharged it with car-free lanes in October, with double-digit percentage improvements in ridership on a route that was once known as one of the city’s worst.

In November, the first full month with busway service, ridership increased by nearly 24 percent, compared to the same month last year — before SBS and car-free dedicated lanes (see chart). Ridership during the morning rush hour is also up 20 percent.

The data pleased NYCT bus boss Craig Cipriano.

Chart shows the average daily ridership by day in 2018 and 2019. Source: MTA
Chart shows the average daily ridership by day in 2018 and 2019. Source: MTA

“People have the option at that rush hour to choose between walking, the subway and the bus, and they’re choosing the bus,” Cipriano said.

He chalked up the increased ridership on the bus route to the ability to let stationary cameras and the buses themselves do bus lane enforcement, since the growing number of bus lane miles in the city is becoming difficult for the NYPD to keep up with. (Of course, getting cars off 14th Street between Third and Ninth avenues certainly helps. Preliminary data show that the 14th Street buses are completing their runs 30 percent faster than before the Busway, thanks to the car-free lanes created by New York City DOT.)

The growing ridership numbers are “a demonstration that when we provide well-enforced bus priority, the buses are a good choice that people will use to get around the city,” Cipriano said.

Right now, only the B44, M15 and M14 SBS routes are using automatic bus-mounted cameras to enforce bus lane privileges for buses only. But Cipriano said that the MTA set aside $85 million more for bus lane cameras in the 2020-2024 capital plan, and that the agency is going to roll out what he promised was “a very aggressive” proposal in early 2020 for the next wave of bus cameras.

In addition to bus lane cameras, Cipriano also credited the MTA’s new “Bus lanes are for buses. Are you a bus?” campaign for helping to change the culture around blocking bus lanes. (Can’t repeat this enough: getting cars off 14th Street between Third and Ninth avenues played an enormous role in improving bus speeds, too. The city DOT has also installed raised platforms to ease rider entry, also saving time.)

“I truly believe keeping bus lanes clear not only comes in the form of a violation, but in the form of us changing the culture of motorists in New York City,” Cipriano said. He claimed that public shunning can play a role in making drivers less of a nuisance — citing a prior concerted public effort to get drivers to stop tossing garbage out their windows, which Cipriano suggested is happening less and less.

“I know I would never consider littering out of a car, and I think this is going be a similar evolution. We’re trying to change the culture in New York City to prioritize buses, and a big piece of that is to let any bus blockers know that we need to keep these bus lanes open for the good of the city, that by keeping the lanes clear you’re doing something good for the environment and good for the city,” Cipriano said.

Yes that's OlafOddly, the MTA’s animated video of the car being frozen and removed by a bus-mounted camera, which was first posted on Dec. 6, features a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance by Olaf, the snowman from Disney’s “Frozen” (see still photo, right).

It’s a bit ironic considering that last week, the MTA got into a tussle with two upstate officials who were misusing the agency’s trademarked “If you see something, say something” public anti-terror campaign. Disney, of course, is one of the world’s most-litigious companies, so it is only a matter of time before the MTA gets its own “cease-and-desist” letter from Big Mouse.


MTA Plans Busway Beneath the M Train in Ridgewood

The MTA is working on a plan for a short busway in Ridgewood that would run for six-tenths of a mile beneath the elevated M tracks, between Fresh Pond Road and Palmetto Street. While the project wouldn’t transform a car-choked traffic sewer into a pedestrian-friendly transit boulevard (the right-of-way is currently a series of weed-strewn […]

DOT Plans to Bring NYC’s First Separated Busway to 34th Street

What the 34th Street transitway might look like between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. Image: NYCDOT When DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan hinted last Tuesday that bolder ideas were on the way for bus rapid transit in New York City, she apparently meant "next week." The DOT website now displays an updated plan for the next phase […]

The Cambridgeshire Guided Busway

Just when you think you’ve seen everything in the transportation world, you encounter something different. That happened to me on an infrastructure tour in Cambridge, England, when my guides showed be this guided busway. The video only shows a short segment of The Busway, but it’s fascinating. The wheels of the bus run between grooved concrete slabs along an old […]

The Comeback of Transit-Priority Streets in DC

Forty years ago, the Washington region had 60 miles of bus lanes on its streets, a network that was erased once Metrorail started operating. Today passengers make about half a million trips on Metro buses each weekday, not a great deal less than Metrorail, but there is no network of priority streets for buses. That’s starting […]