Dear Mayor de Blasio: Why are you consigning bus riders to "miserable" service?
That's what an all-star team of city and state pols is asking this week — a group of two borough presidents, four state senators, 17 Assembly members and 15 Council members that is demanding that the mayor reverse his plan to cut $8.4 million through next year on his own Better Buses initiative and build more than four times more bus lanes this year than he has ever done.
The cuts "all but ensure bus riders a grim return to miserable pre-COVID levels of service," the group said in a letter to City Hall sent on June 10 and coordinated by Riders Alliance, the Straphangers Campaign and the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. "The cuts also condemn the MTA to waste its increasingly scarce resources in stalled, inefficient street traffic. With public transit so fiscally imperiled and at the same time the basis of our city’s economic recovery, we implore you to take the critical step of investing in a more efficient and effective street network."
The letter follows a demand by the MTA for the city to create 60 more miles of dedicated bus lanes and car-free busways this year — a demand that was met by a mayoral promise this week to create 20 miles of such infrastructure, which itself is six miles more than the city has ever created, even in its best year. (Several of the signers of the letter did indeed praise the mayor after the announcement, but are still pushing for more.)
The letter reminded de Blasio — who has pledged an equitable recovery — that bus riders are among the poorest transit users, and 75 percent of bus riders are people of color. During the crisis, bus service has declined the least of any transit service because so many essential workers ride buses. The decrease in traffic during the pandemic has allowed the MTA to provide higher-quality service than before, a situation that will likely change as traffic returns and the cash-strapped agency has to make tough choices.
Bus lanes can help.
"Sixty new miles of bus priority along busy commercial streets in neighborhoods throughout the city and along corridors adjacent to subway routes will support an equitable recovery," the letter concluded. "Permitting unplanned traffic congestion to roar back will paralyze the economy. Given the immense benefits of better bus service to essential workers, emergency response, and air quality, the choice is obvious to us."
A spokesman for Mayor de Blasio really wanted to reframe the demand in terms of what the mayor has promised to accomplish this year.
“Our 'Better Buses Restart' is the most ambitious single-year bus lane expansion plan in the city’s history," said the spokesman, Mitch Schwartz. "We’re implementing the plan on a compressed schedule, amid concurrent budget and public health crises, with a reduced workforce. We’re proud to have advocates and elected officials join us in celebrating faster commutes for 750,000 working New Yorkers, and we look forward to making even more progress in the weeks and months to come.”
The full text of the letter is below.
Bus Letter to de Blasio by Gersh Kuntzman on Scribd